Paula Scher was asked to design a logo for the North Side of Pittsburgh.
But what Paula does is really smart.
She doesn’t just accept the brief as if she was taking dictation.
Before she accepts a brief she asks what the problem is that the brief is solving, she wants to understand why the brief was written.
She wants to know if the brief really does solve the problem.
Otherwise, if her design doesn’t work, she could end up taking the blame for a bad brief.
In this case, she wanted to know what the problem was that they thought a logo would solve.
The problem was that the North Side of Pittsburgh had made itself very trendy.
It had the Andy Warhol museum, it had the Carnegie Science Centre, it had a football and a baseball stadium.
It even had the Mattress Factory, a collective of 750 artists doing experimental and experiential site-specific work.
The North Side was cool and they wanted more people to know about it, and to be attracted to come and visit it, so they thought they’d solve the problem with a logo.
They had in mind what the “I (heart) NY” logo did for New York City.
Paula Scher explained to them that that logo wasn’t done for NY City, it was done for New York STATE, and it had hardly any effect there because everyone thought it was for the city.
So she said their brief was wrong.
They wanted to change behaviour and logos don’t change behaviour, they change image.
So she ignored the brief and started with the problem: why aren’t more people visiting the North Side?
She found the problem was the road to the North Side went via an underpass under a grimy railway bridge.
It was ugly, dirty, totally off-putting.
If they wanted to get more people to go to the North Side along that road and under that bridge, they’d have to make the bridge more inviting.
So her plan was to turn the bridge itself into an art event, she’d done it before with the Hi-Line in New York City.
They had changed an old elevated-railway line into a 1.45 mile long park, featuring art events, it became one of the most popular tourist attractions in New York.
She suggested they do a similar thing with that ugly old bridge.
The bridge itself would become a regularly changing art feature in Pittsburgh.
She said that they should change it every month and at her presentation she showed them dozens of exciting ways the bridge could be transformed regularly.
The 750 artists at the Mattress Factory would jump at the chance to show-off their talent.
The news media would carry photos and stories every time it changed.
It would become a reason to visit the North Side instead of a barrier to it.
Pittsburgh accepted her idea and ran with it, the bridge and underpass became a huge success in attracting visitors to the North Side.
All because Paula Scher didn’t accept the brief she was given.
She was given a creative brief by people who weren’t creative, obviously that doesn’t work.
Those people should define the problem, not the solution.
Once the brief dictates the solution there’s no room for creativity, just styling.
So all you get is a new version of the same old answer.
Which is why Paula Scher doesn’t accept briefs, she accepts problems.
Then she investigates the problem.
Because often, the real problem is working out what the real problem is.