There’s something a little off about The New School’s freshly debuted visual identity. It takes a second to pinpoint what makes your head tilt. And then you see it.
One of these letters is not like the other. In fact, none of these letters are like the others. At least, not exactly. The visual identity that Pentagram’s Paula Scher designed for the New York City university has a nuanced weirdness to it, owing to the fact that at any given time you’re probably looking at three different typographic widths in a single word.
The New School brought on Scher a year ago after realizing it had a recognition problem. Despite the fact that it’s home to Parsons, one of the country’s leading design schools, no one really knew what The New School was. The university needed a visual identity that distinguished it from the mass of other colleges out there. It also needed one that would tie all six schools of the university together without sacrificing individuality. “The New School is essentially an umbrella for listing lots of things,” Scher said during a recent presentation at the school.
Scher drew on the school’s physical architecture for design inspiration. The two lines that underscore the word mark are a nod to the parallel lines that run across the Joseph Urban building, and the area underneath the stripes acts as a vessel where any (or all) of the school’s names can sit.
Similarly, the typeface is an update of the font, Irma, which is used on the building’s exterior signage. Scher commissioned Peter Bil’ak to draw and program Neue, the updated sans serif typeface. Bil’ak created every letter in three sizes (regular, wide, and very wide); they stretch out like gum, sometimes to an almost uncomfortable extent. “The hardest thing when you’re developing different widths is what happens to corners of things that have angles, like Z’s or W’s,” Scher said, referencing the little notches in the peaks of some letters.
To automate the process, an algorithm scrambles together letters of all three widths, creating a nearly endless mashup of styles and word types. You’ll see a regular N next to an extended E, next to a very extended W—oh, that W! The word mark is wonderfully imperfect in its irreverence towards the traditional rules of typography. But not everyone loves it. Among the most popular question that Scher fielded during the presentation was in reference to the W, or as some people see it, the “double V.” Unperturbed, Scher says it’s only a matter of time until the naysayers start thinking normal Ws look kind of weird. “It’s your pet W,” she told the crowd. “Put your arms around it, it’s yours.”