The fare at New York City takeout mecca Shake Shack isundeniably tasty, but perhaps it’s the Shack’s design thathas established it so firmly in New Yorkers’ hearts. The shakescome in toffee-colored cups with clean-lined blue illustrations ofice-cream cones and burgers; the same drawings grace the menus. At thetop of the building’s slanted roof, the Shack’s name standsin elegant steel Neutraface letters more than two feet high. It’smodern, yet reminiscent of luncheonettes and Automats gone by.
This classic marriage of Middle American hominess and New York chic wascreated, in part, by Joe Marianek, whose own kindly, forthright demeanorspeaks to his Midwestern upbringing as well as his city home. He wasborn and raised in Ohio (Columbus, then Cleveland); Marianek’sgreat-uncle owned a printing company, and nearly all his relativesworked in graphic design. “There was always some big personsaying, ‘You’ll do this someday,’” herecalls.
Marianek’s first (and only) college choice was theRhode Island School of Design. In his junior year he did an internshipwith no less a figure than Milton Glaser, who paid him in posters. Hereveres Glaser’s “strong beliefs”: “You see alot of people theorizing about design but not really practicing it withconviction,” he says. “Most people are just like,‘I’ll do it for the money.’ They’re notsuccessful practitioners.”
His second internship was atPentagram under Paula Scher, who hired him after graduation. “Itwas like going to grad school,” Marianek says. “I did morework—and cooler projects—in one and a half years there thanin the rest of my life combined.” It was with Scher (“one ofthe most charming and brilliant people I’ve ever met”) thathe developed the Shake Shack identity. Of his illustrations, Marianekexplains, “They’re meant to be very architectural andun-delicious. I knew they didn’t have to be seductive, because thefood would be great.”
This kind of project-specific approach ismanifest in all of Marianek’s work. His student poster for alecture by David Byrne features an illustration of a camera and apants-wearing tripod, deftly capturing Byrne’s offbeatsensibility. Equally effective is a retooled identity for the ClevelandClinic, in which new colors and a standardized print system lendupdat-ed meaning to the hospital’s existing logo andlettering.
That project is among many that Marianek oversaw at LandorAssociates, where he was senior designer until this January, when hereturned to Pentagram to work under Michael Bierut. Using design to helpothers is key to Marianek’s personal philosophy: “Ifyou’re going to do this kind of life pursuit, you should solvesomething other than stylistic issues.” To that end, he volunteersfor the Taproot Foundation, which connects small nonprofits withdesigners, and teaches at RISD (and, soon, SVA). This year, in additionto tackling personal projects—such as a book devoted to hisgreat-aunt’s collection of miniature books—he’s hopingto launch a design collective for cultural institutions.“I’d like to work for visionaries, people with goodintentions,” he says. Happily, Marianek’s eye is as good ashis heart.