Designing like Paula Scher

The new show “Abstract” was released on Netflix a couple of weeks ago, and I‘m obsessed. I immediately watched the pilot episode, titled “Illustration” which focused on the illustrator Christoph Niemann, and last week, I skipped straight to the graphic design episode, which focused on the legendary graphic designer and typographer Paula Scher. After watching the episode, I found myself inspired by her incredible portfolio of work, and decided that I was going to try and do a design like Scher would.

“I started trying to create a process with the identities I make where I go back and revisit them in 5 to 10 years because sometime they need tweaking. It’s hard to make that a guess so you want to design something that can be adapted to it’s time.” — Paula Scher

Scher brought up the point that she always likes to go back and rework her old identities she had designed. While I haven’t been in the news design world for 5–10 years yet, I thought I could at least go back to The Pendulum’s logo that I redesigned a year-and-a-half ago, and have some fun experimenting with a new and wild design.

The current logo for The Pendulum looks like this:

The version with a colored background that’s used in the paper.
The version that’s used with a white background.

There were a few things she mentioned throughout the episode that I thought I could follow. So let’s experiment!

Step 1: Go outside

“I walk outside and see typography everywhere.” — Paula Scher

It’s true, typography is everywhere. So I begrudgingly got up from my bed, left my apartment and started wandering around Elon looking for signs. Luckily, Elon has a million and one.

A few images of signs I snapped while wandering around Elon.

Step 2: Leaf through a good design book

“I was flipping through one of my favorite books ‘An American Woodtype.’” — Paula Scher, in reference to where she found inspiration for her logo for The Public.

I also enjoy browsing through a good design book to find inspiration, so I opened up one of my favorites, “The Best of News Design 36” by SND. As one might expect, there was plenty of inspiration to be found.

A group of pages that had some particularly inspiring typography.

Step 3: Get up from your desk, put on some lipstick and start sketching

“Go upstairs to the ladies room, put on your lipstick and figure it out.” — Paula Scher.

Me, in my bathroom, wearing aggressively red lipstick at 10 p.m. on a Thursday.

When confronted with a problem, Paula Scher puts on lipstick. So that’s exactly what I did. I got up from my own desk, walked to the bathroom, put on the only bright red lipstick I own. Despite that it was 10 p.m. on a Thursday and I was wearing sweatpants, I felt pretty awesome.

Step 4: Find your state of play

“I get my best ideas in taxi cabs. You know, sitting in traffic, drooling. I’m allowing my subconscious to take over so that I can free associate. You have to be in a state of play to design.” — Paula Scher

While I don’t quite have the money to go rent out a taxi for an hour, I did decide to get out of my usual design corner in my room and move to a new area. And by new area I mean the living room couch. Sure, it wasn’t very far away, but I’ve spent many a evening watching TV and drooling on there, so it has its similarities to a taxi cab.

I had quite an enjoyable time sketching, and I have to say, it’s something that I don’t do nearly enough. I usually only sketch designs when I can’t seem to fit an entire layout design in my head.

And it was refreshing. It was fun to get to experiment with typography (and use my new dot journal!) and play around with the ways letters can fit together, yet still be legible. While I wasn’t able to sketch out an idea for every bit of inspiration I found, I came up with three new logo ideas that I thought had some promise.

A few sketches I made of a new logo for The Pendulum.

After finishing my sketches, I uploaded them to my computer and adjusted the colors and shapes in Illustrator until I had a few fun logos that were in The Pendulum’s color palette.

The three new logo ideas in The Pendulum’s color palette.

I would have loved to make these a little more refined and a little less handrawn-y, but since school exists and I had homework, I had to leave them imperfect. But the imperfections is what gives them some great personality!

Step 5: Look Forward

“I’m driven by the hope that I haven’t made my best work yet.” — Paula Scher

While none of these are going to replace our current logo, it was definitely fun to experiment and play with a piece of our newspaper that largely remains untouched and unaltered 99.9% of the time. And who knows, maybe if we have a big cover story on doodling or artwork, we can use one of these options for a fun tie-in to the article. I know I’m partial to the first one.

And in four years, maybe the next design chief for The Pendulum will take some time to redo the logo, and I hope they spend time finding inspiration, sketching new ideas and putting on lots of lipstick. I know that’s what I’ll be doing at whatever job I have next!