The $1.5m napkin: Paula Scher’s 5 minute logo

In 1998 the largest financial services firm in the world came into existence with the merger of Goliaths of the industry Citicorp and Travellers Group, with a valuation of $140bn and assets under management of $700bn.

Today, despite the financial crisis of 2008, the firm has assets of $1.7 trillion.

This was Citigroup, with the consumer division known as Citibank.

With the merger came the need for a new brand for the combined entity, that encapsulated the diverse range of financial products the company now provided.

Enter Paula Scher and her ground breaking NYC design agency Pentagram.

Paula Scher, founder of Pentagram

After a brief negotiation the budget for the brand overhaul was pegged at almost $10m, with the design of the logo itself making up $1.5m of that.

Now $1.5m for a logo might sound like a lot of money. And it is. But the reality is that for a company as large as Citi the value of the logo more than justifies the cost.

Before the Pentragram team could get to work they met with Citibank leadership to discuss their challenges and what they were hoping to get out of the engagement. As she listened Paula started to idly doodle on a napkin.

“This is your logo.”

Paula’s 5 minute logo or Citi

And that was it. Citibank had the crux of what was to become their new branding. All in less than 5 minutes yet still for $1.5m.

The stylized version of Paula’s doodle

The thing I love about the story is Paula Scher’s amazing talent and confidence, the ability to distill 20 years worth of brand identity experience into a napkin sketch that solves the customer problem.

While the brand work didn’t finish there — it had only just begun — within those few short minutes Paula had set the stage for the future of the Citi identity. She had taken this enormous problem of the consolidation of these two companies and parsed it with her years of experience, knowledge of design theory and personal flair and produced what might look like a napkin but is actually a masterpiece.

It’s inspiring.

Few of us will acquire the skills in a lifetime to distill such complex problems down so artfully in such a short period of time but that’s why we call it a life’s work. I wish I had that amount of talent and experience. I strive for it. In entrepreneurship, management and product management.

And hopefully one day it will be mine too.

In the meantime I keep sharpening my knives, honing my skills by creating new work in and out of the office while always looking for an opportunity for input from those more talented than myself.

It’s not that I won’t command $1.5m for one of my napkins. It’s just not yet.


My latest product is called brb.life. It’s an out of office autoresponder for Slack. And this time I decided to tackle creating the branding ID for it as well and wrote about that experience here: The 5 minute logo.

And if you’re a Slack team wanting to better manage who is in and out of the office try out brb.life.

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