I happened upon a Netflix series called Abstract: The Art of Design, which has hour long programmes with notable people from various fields of design. For Graphic Design they have a programme on Paula Scher, who I had not come across before, who it turns out is noteworthy within typography. [In writing this blog I have discovered you cannot screenshot Netflix! So here goes for some dodgy iPhone pictures..]
Paula Scher has made a career in creating type that can embody the identity of a business/brand. She is a partner at Pentagram in New York, the largest independent design agency. She reached the height of her industry renown in redesigning the logo/identity for the Public Theater in 1994.
I was excited to see here my capital R being used as the example in the American Woodtype: 1828-1900 book Scher was referencing here.
I like American wood type because it’s powerful, and it has many forms. On this particular page were these Rs, and they go back to the skinniest form or to the widest form, and I realized I could make the word “Public” in the same kind of weights, and it would symbolize all of New York. Every type of weight was included.
You can create an identity for a whole place based on a recognizability of type.Paula Scher in Paula Scher: Graphic Design
The typography itself communicates something beyond the word it signifies, and when repeated carries a greater meaning that imbues an identity and recognisability. This is very interesting – I am used to thinking of the graphic of logos as a whole as brand identity (in my work in market research) but something as simple as the very first transformations we experimented with in the typography workshop (dimension) being ownable and recognisable is quite exciting.
Innovation does not need to be complex, nor require developing entirely new techniques to be groundbreaking!
Typography can create immense power. You’re working with things that create character. You’re working with weight. You’re working with height.
If you take an E and the middle bar is the same length as the ends of the E’s, it feels different than if the little bar is half the length of the E’s.
If you lift the little bar up higher, it will make the typeface look like it was drawn in the 1930s. The same thing as if you drop the middle bar lower, it will look moderne.
If a font is heavy and bold, it may give you a feeling of immediacy. If a font is thin and has a serif form, it may feel classical.
So that, before you even read it, you have sensibility and spirit. And that, if you combine that with a meaning, then that’s spectacular.Paula Scher
She started out by designing album covers, and found that for artists/albums that were lesser known or had a smaller following that the record company might care less about, she would have greater creative license and could experiment more with typography. This helped her build an interesting portfolio of unusual work.
I found her to be quite an engaging speaker and she did capture quite clearly how distinct types can be.
Another part of the documentary that I found interesting was her explanation of the perfect pitch meeting, and how client interest will change over the course of the meeting. Though their interest peaks at the beginning, you want to continue until they have begun to question this and you can resolve their initial queries and their interest peaks once again (to a lesser extent) and end the meeting there, otherwise you risk their interest in your proposed idea dipping too far below acceptability (with it tending lower and lower the longer the meeting goes on and they question the design further). This is rather a simplification I think but I recognise some truth in it from the design presentations I have attended so far!