"They all started laughing because they couldn't believe the logo actually came from that first dumb sketch," Paula Scher on creating visual identities

sketch of the Citi logo
(Image credit: Pentagram)

Influential graphic designer Paula Scher famously sketched out the Citibank logo on a napkin during a meeting with Citi leadership. Her design was transformed into the Citi logo we know and love today, and the finished logo (below) really doesn't look much different from that initial sketch (above).

When I spoke to Scher recently, she told me how this was a common occurrence. "We have a box of my first sketches that my team saves, they look like little dumb scribbles sometimes," she explains. "But then when you see the actual thing and the scribble, they're the same thing."

Citi Bank logo

(Image credit: Pentagram)

I asked one of the world's top graphic designers more about her process. "I think about it and have initial ideas, sometimes in the very first meeting with the client – they'll say something and it triggers something, or I'll see something that they used to have that they're abandoning, but there's probably a part of it that should be kept, things like that," she explains. 

The next step is to make a sketch, and then she puts it away and does something else, before coming back to it two days later. 

"And all of a sudden, I've allowed my subconscious to work in that timeframe in between, so a lot of stuff comes pouring out. And then I make thumbnails and I pull the team in and we start working them up. And usually, the first time, everything looks sort of strange and then we start to find it, and actually [the end result] is not very far away from my first sketch."

image of Paula Scher

(Image credit: Pip Cowley)

Scher recalls one recent example: "I'm doing a project for the federal government. We had designed this logo for them and I showed them my first sketch, which I did in a pizza parlour. I had a blue and red pencil, and I had drawn a letterform that had stripes over it. And it looked funny, I put it up on the screen... and then ultimately [it turned into] the logo itself. 

"And they all started laughing because they couldn't believe that it actually did come from that first dumb sketch. But when you saw the first sketch next to the real thing, it made total sense. Which is fun, I love that."

To find out more about Paula Scher, sign up to her BBC Maestro course, or stay tuned as we publish more from our conversation with her.

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Rosie Hilder

Rosie Hilder is Creative Bloq's Deputy Editor. After beginning her career in journalism in Argentina – where she worked as Deputy Editor of Time Out Buenos Aires – she moved back to the UK and joined Future Plc in 2016. Since then, she's worked as Operations Editor on magazines including Computer Arts, 3D World and Paint & Draw and Mac|Life. In 2018, she joined Creative Bloq, where she now assists with the daily management of the site, including growing the site's reach, getting involved in events, such as judging the Brand Impact Awards, and helping make sure our content serves the reader as best it can.