What Would I Change: Eddie Opara, Pentagram

Continuing our series exploring what creatives would change about their industries, we speak to Pentagram partner Eddie Opara about anti-racism, the problem with working digitally, and having a more transparent relationship with clients

British designer, author and critic Eddie Opara joined Pentagram New York in 2010, after five years of running his own NY studio, The Map Office. In the decade he has been at Pentagram, he has worked across publications, exhibitions, installations, brand identities and packaging, UI and beyond, with clients ranging from Prada, Samsung and lululemon to NYU and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum.

More recently, Opara and his team at Pentagram worked on the design for photographer and activist Dawoud Bey’s new monograph Two American Projects, which brought together two separate photo series to highlight both the juxtapositions in Bey’s work while also examining the notion of collective memory.

Beyond his role at Pentagram, Opara has previously taught at leading arts educational institutions, and is currently a senior critic at Yale University. In 2013, he also authored a book, Color Works, which posited a set of best practices in applying colour to a range of design settings.

Here, he talks to us about his experience of lockdown, why designers need to step outside of their world, whether agencies should push back on working with unethical clients, and why equality is not a ‘project’.

Work-life balance in lockdown Initially, there was utmost anxiety from my wife and myself. We have two young boys – one is at nursery and the other is going into 3rd grade, so he’s nine years old. [We had] no childcare at the time – we have a nanny but because of lockdown, the aspects of quarantining were imperative – so trying to balance the day was arduous.

It was very, very complicated. We both work, so the planning of the day was very difficult. My wife is a clinical scientist who works with a lot of people around the world, so her days were really tight – her days are still really tight now. When it came to my work, at first I didn’t sort of plan it out as I just wanted to see how work and life go together, and then start to plan out certain elements, and try to get a regimen. Then at certain times, my little one, he would come over and interrupt a meeting, or the big one who’s nine would interrupt a meeting because they needed something.

There were a few laughs or people going ‘aw, it’s so nice!’ but there’s a sense that I’m not looking after them as well as I should be – I’m not really focusing on them, I’m focusing on my own career instead of teaching my own sons which is really, really annoying and really upsetting.