Joe Marianek

The fare at New York City takeout mecca Shake Shack is
undeniably tasty, but perhaps it’s the Shack’s design that
has established it so firmly in New Yorkers’ hearts. The shakes
come in toffee-colored cups with clean-lined blue illustrations of
ice-cream cones and burgers; the same drawings grace the menus. At the
top of the building’s slanted roof, the Shack’s name stands
in elegant steel Neutraface letters more than two feet high. It’s
modern, yet reminiscent of luncheonettes and Automats gone by.

classic marriage of Middle American hominess and New York chic was
created, in part, by Joe Marianek, whose own kindly, forthright demeanor
speaks to his Midwestern upbringing as well as his city home. He was
born and raised in Ohio (Columbus, then Cleveland); Marianek’s
great-uncle owned a printing company, and nearly all his relatives
worked in graphic design. “There was always some big person
saying, ‘You’ll do this someday,’” he

Marianek’s first (and only) college choice was the
Rhode Island School of Design. In his junior year he did an internship
with no less a figure than Milton Glaser, who paid him in posters. He
reveres Glaser’s “strong beliefs”: “You see a
lot of people theorizing about design but not really practicing it with
conviction,” he says. “Most people are just like,
‘I’ll do it for the money.’ They’re not
successful practitioners.”

His second internship was at
Pentagram under Paula Scher, who hired him after graduation. “It
was like going to grad school,” Marianek says. “I did more
work—and cooler projects—in one and a half years there than
in the rest of my life combined.” It was with Scher (“one of
the most charming and brilliant people I’ve ever met”) that
he developed the Shake Shack identity. Of his illustrations, Marianek
explains, “They’re meant to be very architectural and
un-delicious. I knew they didn’t have to be seductive, because the
food would be great.”

This kind of project-specific approach is
manifest in all of Marianek’s work. His student poster for a
lecture by David Byrne features an illustration of a camera and a
pants-wearing tripod, deftly capturing Byrne’s offbeat
sensibility. Equally effective is a retooled identity for the Cleveland
Clinic, in which new colors and a standardized print system lend
updat-ed meaning to the hospital’s existing logo and

That project is among many that Marianek oversaw at Landor
Associates, where he was senior designer until this January, when he
returned to Pentagram to work under Michael Bierut. Using design to help
others is key to Marianek’s personal philosophy: “If
you’re going to do this kind of life pursuit, you should solve
something other than stylistic issues.” To that end, he volunteers
for the Taproot Foundation, which connects small nonprofits with
designers, and teaches at RISD (and, soon, SVA). This year, in addition
to tackling personal projects—such as a book devoted to his
great-aunt’s collection of miniature books—he’s hoping
to launch a design collective for cultural institutions.
“I’d like to work for visionaries, people with good
intentions,” he says. Happily, Marianek’s eye is as good as
his heart.