School of Art, Media, and Technology

BFACD Faculty Highlight: Paul Carlos

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Communication Design faculty, Paul Carlos is co-founder, along with Urshula Barbour, of Pure+Applied, a multidisciplinary design studio that works in the fields of art, architecture, history, and urban design. Pure+Applied has worked for 15 years on two-dimensional, three-dimensional, and digital projects, at a variety of scales and locations. Paul works closely with his varied clients crafting solutions and designs to convey complex information clearly, for both experts and lay people alike. The studio professes to not have a singular style. Instead, Pure+Applied allows its design aesthetic and solutions to evolve according to the context and content of a project. Critical to the studio’s process is hearing their partners discuss their hopes, concerns, and goals in person, in an open and collaborative atmosphere that allows everyone involved to develop a clear understanding of the possibilities at hand. 

Designing Home for the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco would be a “typical” project for Pure+Applied. The studio would design the exhibition from space layout, circulation, exhibition furniture, object display, and wall graphics. The studio would also design the exhibition catalogue as a record of the exhibition.

The studio has received recognition from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Metropolis, Newsweek and Time as well as design annuals, blogs, and other magazines. Pure+Applied has won awards from organizations such as the American Association of Museums, AIGA, the Art Directors Club, and the Society of Experiential Graphic Design. Paul was an Art Directors’ Club Young Gun in 2002. Recent clients range from the Museum of Modern Art, Museum of the City of New York, Library of Congress, and the New York City Department of Transportation to Gabriel Orozco, Suzanne Tick, and James Stewart Polshek. Paul graduated from The Cooper Union School of Art and has taught at Maryland Institute, College of Art and The Cooper Union. Paul is currently on the board of the Type Directors’ Club serving as its Vice President.

A couple of exhibitions for the New York Public Library showing smaller and larger scale displays and installations. In both instances, we have to design within a nationally registered historic interior and devise solutions that will not permanently alter the space.

How did you get into design?

I had great teachers at The Cooper Union, George Sadek, Richard Poulin, Stephen Doyle, Tom Kleupfel, Barbara Glauber, Day Gleeson, Michael Bierut and whole host of others who always encouraged and pushed me with my assignments and projects.   

Was there a defining point in your career, and if so, how did it shape you as a designer?
I don’t think there’s a single defining point for me but a series of points. Charles Nix mentoring me when I was a student was personally a major point. Getting my first job and learning the business. Joining Design/Writing/Research with Abbott Miller and Ellen Lupton helped me hone conceptual ideas with design craft. Becoming an art director at a magazine helped me to see design as editorial.

Book designs in collaboration with the artist Gabriel Orozco. We have now worked on six books in the past five years.

Outside of other design and illustration, what sorts of things inspire and influence your work?

As part of my and the studio’s practice, working with great artists, architects, urban planners, curators, industrial designers, and historians helps motivate my/our work. The content that our clients provide pushes us to develop further as designers, storytellers, and cultural producers.

Various reports and manuals for the The New York City Department of Transportation and the National Association of Transportation Officials. Pure+Applied helps organizations develop designs that can display complex information clearly.

What tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started in design?

First, be curious, find out how things get made, and ask questions.

Second, experience first hand and look at a lot of art, movies, design, architecture, music, etc. (culture in general)  because it’s all intertwined.

Third, convert that curiosity and experience into making things.


Various book covers and designs for the Museum of the City of New York. The content ranges from the history of NYC Graffiti to midecentury photography to 1970s American fashion design. In many cases, the books are catalogues to exhibitions we designed as well.

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