How do you capture identity? Furthermore, how do you create one? To answer these questions, Paula Scher, a partner at Pentagram—the design firm behind some of New York’s most iconic brands, like Shake Shack, the High Line, and the New School—defers to Aristotle.
Aristotle divided the elements of persuasion into ethos, pathos, and logos. Among the three, Paula’s domain lies in logos, the branch of reasoning and logic. Within logos, she wrangles familiar cues and connectors with the aim to create something unexpected.
For Shake Shack, she took the language of fast food—typically cute, cartoony doodles of French fries or burgers—and placed them in a modern, neon context. With the High Line, she looked to its history as a former train track to create a logo composed of overlapping tracks. History also played a role in developing the New School’s brand identity, for which she combined existing elements from the school’s 1930’s Joseph Urban building with a new typographic system to reflect the school’s role in making discoveries and breakthroughs.
She’s most proud of her environmental design and Public Theater work, whose ubiquitous posters featuring bold and lively typeface (Knockout) one could recognize from a city block away.
For Paula, that moment when she determines that a design can be terrific is euphoric, if fleeting. “Great ideas,” as she says, “are like drops of water. You have to catch them before they go down the drain.”
Interviewed by Alexis Cheung