On July 21, I found my way to the CDIA in Georgetown on the threshold of a dark, cavernous room. I was among 30 area designers there to experience an ADCMW Paula Scher type workshop. She began the day by showing samples of her work, and providing insights and personal asides about how several logos, identities and subsequent branding programs (of which she spearheaded) were approached from beginning to end.
It was inspiring to learn about her first-hand account of these projects; it was interesting to note that her constant assertion that many of these ideas were generated and “visualized” within minutes. She expressed how the Devil really is in the details and that a designer earns her keep by agonizing over which font, which thickness, which shade of chocolate brown is BEST for the work. But the idea itself, that magical concept that cements an image to a meaning, is something that we designers immediately intuit and should therefore, trust.
Next, she detailed her side work: typographically driven geographic paintings. Paula relayed (with surprise and touch of dismay) how her personal work transitioned from a side art “escape” to become a business success. One of my personal favorites was her illustrative diary featured in Print Magazine detailing the evolution of many newspaper headlines from 2001 to 2003. Her typography expressed the media frenzy from sex and sensation to terrorism and fear with lusty reds, black, jags and angles. Marks that originally conveyed shock and scandal became ones of frantic and enormous screams.
This piece, among others, evidenced Paula’s pension for hand-rendering letterforms to tap into the spirit and emotion of what she is trying to express. This approach frees her from the methodical trappings of computers and (blessedly) reminded me to bring back my personal touch. It was musical to hear.
With respect to our work that day, I learned that a lot of the DC brands in the cultural arena are seriously stale. Look left, and look right and you see the same ALL CAPS to express a museum title. Theater signage is safe and cemented, and institutional websites are a complete abomination. Her thoughts on the whole designscape of our region is that DC needs our help.
In response, my one-day classmates came up with clean and lively work that instantly changed the face of DC (or could). Further, Paula encouraged us to seek out these clients and find ways to convince them to use our inspired designs.
What did we come up with? We strove to be bold and three-dimensional. Paula then reminded us to apply our solutions to surprising surfaces and forms (think stair wells, air-conditioning ducts, windows, terraces, floors, elevator doors, etc…). Next she encouraged us to apply strident and consistent branding language to all of our many surfaces and materials. Safe and soothing was out. Instead, she pushed us to “hit people over the head” with our brands, even if that means two years later we redo it again to keep things continually fresh.
I left the workshop dizzy from a day of drilling designs knowing for certain I would never again use Trajan.