In 1998, Paula Scher turned 50. For four years, she had been designing the posters for New York’s Public Theater to huge popular and critical acclaim. Then she decided to abandon most of the visual vocabulary she had been using since 1994 (processed imagery, wood type straight out from Rob Roy Kelly’s seminal book) and changed to black and white photography and Tobias Frere-Jones’ Hightower as the main titling typeface. All other textual elements, including the Public’s logotype set in Ann Pomeroy’s specially-digitized 19th-century Gothics, were pushed vertically along the right edge of the format, in a solution slightly reminiscent of Pierre Mendell’s work for the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich.
Indeed, Scher thought the posters looked “mysterious, cool and European”. But George C. Wolfe, the Public’s director, was more circumspect — when being shown the new direction, he exclaimed: “Paula’s turning fifty! Let’s have a year of depressing posters.” (this being one of the many hilarious anecdotes told by Scher in her fine book about this spectacular collaboration).