Recently, Josh Miles interviewed Paula Scher on his podcast, Obsessed With Design. Throughout this interview, Josh and Paula cover topics ranging from how Paula got her start to what advice she gives young designers today. Throughout this interview, however, the one thing that stuck out more than anything is the way in which Paula judges her own work.
Paula Scher is a design legend. Not only was she the first female Principal at Pentagram, but she has created work that transcends her own accomplishments. Over the past 40 years, she has produced inspiring work, including the brand identity system for the Museum of Modern Art and The Met. Her brand identities have become synonymous with New York’s highest class, but her work doesn’t always start that way. In fact, Paula has developed several brand identities that didn’t initially resonate with customers.
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In this interview, Paula gives great advice about how, when, and why to judge brand identity. Whether you’re looking to audit your own brand or judge another brand, it’s important to remember a few key principles:
Before you design or judge a brand, it’s important to understand the system as a whole. Unlike more narrow fields of design, brand identity design establishes a foundation for an entire communication system. A logo or icon set may look cool in a vacuum, but the best brand identities can be leveraged in millions of different ways.
“To design an identity effectively, you have to communicate in every channel,” Paula said.
What she is astutely observing is that brands live in the real world, and designers who can’t design for all of a brand’s potential real world applications will struggle with brand identity. That’s what makes brand identity so difficult, but also so valuable. As Paula puts it: “When you learn that, you learn everything.”
Possibly the biggest lesson Paula has learned about design critiques is that it takes a long time to judge brand identity.
“Identity systems have to live in the public. That’s why I’m very much against people who do instant criticisms on blogs on identities.” - Paula Scher
Because brand identity is so ingrained in your business, it’s impossible to judge its true impact right away. While some people are quick to judge brand identity systems based on their aesthetic, it’s impossible to truly judge them until you see the long-term impact of that visual identity on their business.
“Everybody now talks about Shake Shack because it’s a successful identity,” Paula pointed out, “but it was designed 10 years ago.”
Finally, the biggest piece of advice that Paula gives to designers who are new to the industry is to try to learn brand identity. While graphic design can be a moving target for some, there will always be work in designing great brand identity systems. “I believe that identity is one of the most secure places to begin to work,” Paula said. “If you can understand and master identity, it means you can do a really broad base of work.”
If you want to hear more insights on branding from the world’s best designers, subscribe to Josh’s podcast on iTunes!