New York Public Theatre

In 1954, a man by the name of Joseph Papp decided to set up a theatre in New York that would showcase many of Shakespeare’s world renowned plays for free to the public. Little did he know that this establishment would grow to mean more to the city of New York itself, than any other theatre on Broadway. Although, it was not through the work of Papp himself, but through the work of Paula Scher who brought the city to the theatre with the contemporary graphic identity she created.

In 1994, the theatre was struggling to bring the crowds in and the management was considering closing it down until it was decided that the way to bring in the crowds, was by trying to create a new identity for the theatre; one that would appeal to younger audiences and make them want to see the free shows that were put on. Tasked in doing this was Paula Scher.

Paula Scher was a Graphic Designer who had previously worked at places such as CBS Records and was also a partner of Pentagram magazine. Since then, she has taught at many art schools and colleges across the country with her own design firm based in New York. She brought to NYPT a style that had not been seen in mainstream design since the 1930’s.

While at the Tyler School of Art in Pennsylvania, she had taken a large interest in Constructivism and the works of Alexander Rodchenko, El Lissitzky and many of their counterparts. During their time, this style and use of strong, tall typography was used to convey order and power; but Paula used it to convey a different meaning. She used it to convey the city of New York.

In a 2007 lecture she describes the city of New York depicted at the start of West Side Story. The buildings are tall, dense, dirty. Scher wanted to recreate this same feeling in her typography. She has taken a style of typography that meant something so strong and bold and turned it into something completely different; something reminiscent, almost romantic.

At around the same time that Paula Scher created this identity, there was a progressive movement starting in the form of Graphic Design that strayed from the almost traditional Swiss style which had been prominent for such a long time beforehand. Other designers such as David Carson and Stephan Sagmiester were becoming very well-known in the design world, creating work that seemed so unordered and so chaotic compared to the work of say Massimo Vignelli. The ‘Bring Da Noise’ identity was so effective for the time because it managed to incorporate themes and elements of both styles. As you can see on the left here; the type is tilted, wrapped, different colours, different styles, different sizes all centering round the man in the middle. It is in many ways, choatic. Yet, there is still a sense of order to the design too. The way all the type is in blocks and are all at specific angles with specific spacing between them. This is what made the design so appealing to the younger generation who wanted to see the crazy style that Sagmiester and Carson had but also to the older Vignelli admirers who loved order.

The release of this identity brought instant success to the theatre as flocks came to watch the free shows. Since then, the posters have been turned into an identity not just for the theatre, but for the city of New York itself with its ordered streets with all the ‘Noise’ and ‘Funk’ you could ever wish to find on them.

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