Muppet Master Carol-Anne Ryce-Paul Discusses Sesame Workshop

As Designer for Global Marketing and Creative Services at Sesame Street, Carol-Anne Ryce-Paul doesn’t just get paid to play with Muppets. (Although she did teach us that most Muppets need two muppeteers to work!) At the Sesame Workshop, Carol-Anne acts as a liaison for all in-house design projects, as well as volunteers for Sesame projects outside the office. If that isn’t enough work, Carol-Anne also designs fabric and handmade, eco-friendly wallets out of paper. The designer who loves patterns and making the world a brighter place for children tells us about nearly a decade spreading the Sesame spirit!

ADC: So what do you do at Sesame Workshop?

Carol-Anne: I’m in creative services. I straddle the marketing and branding department, and the global licensing and character design department. Basically, if something needs to get done in house, I’m the graphic designer who usually is available to do it.

For example, it can be a poster or an outreach project for example, stickers for Chinese Emergency Preperation. We really depend on our teams because my Chinese is not good!

Sometimes it’s just like pulling your hair out because everybody wants everything “end of day” which is crazy. End of day could be nine o’ clock at night, right?

And then if you’re working with China or Italy, you really have to think about the hours that they are ahead.

However, things always work out, and you’re working with the Sesame Street Muppets, so you’re kind of happy all the time.

ADC: Are the Sesame Street Muppets around the office?

Carol-Anne: When shooting for YouTube, they are around the office, and it’s so real!

The muppeteers are either on dollies or skateboards, being pushed, and they pop up while you’re waiting for coffee. People are singing or miming, and music playing. It’s very silly!

ADC: Sounds like an ideal job environment! How did you start at Sesame?

Carol-Anne: Seven years ago, Sesame Workshop called and asked me if I wanted to work in a coordinator position. My portfolio was up on a free portfolio site.

I was re-touching for a photographer and wasn’t going to take the job because I was making really good money freelancing. I never had a corporate desk job,where you have to come in at (God forbid!) 9.00am. Sesame sounded very corporate

Then I heard about the benefit package and said, “Yes. Yes, please.”

When I came in, I only did a few design projects then my role changed because Suzanne Duncan, Vice President Marketing and Brand Strategy, had a vision for the company: really good, clean and consistent design because no one knew “Sesame Workshop.” They couldn’t remember that it was the Children’s Television Workshop and associate that with Sesame Street.

It was beautiful to see the brand develop.

Now Suzanne doesn’t come and say, “Well, you know, I need blah, blah, blah.” It’s a little bit different than the early days when it was just us, a small group in a small space.

ADC: Discuss a project that you worked on with Suzanne that really changed your view on your work.

Carol-Anne: Military Families changed the way I thought of branding a property.

When it first started, it was just about talking to kids about their parents leaving and not being around then coming back because, sometimes, parents were gone for a year or two. Parents might comeback strangers to their kids.

It was using the power of Sesame Street and how powerful it is to children in order to help adults understand the way children react because usually you don’t think about how the kids are going to react. Sometimes they’re scared or they’re angry.

The first kit put that in perspective. Next we did the second and third kits, when the parents didn’t come back and when the parents came back with amputations or emotionally different.

The way that they interlocked with each other in terms of brand and in such a network: there was a special on PBS; Sesame went out to the military bases; they had live shows with the Muppets; they handed out kits and stickers in kids’ schools, and there were programs at afterschool programs.

The branding of the project always stayed consistent. The project elevated the brand in the viewers’ eyes. Sesame extended the brand outside of the show and the plush level. It had a different meaning when you’re associating it with your parent.

That made me realize that a brand doesn’t have to sell you something in order for the brand to grow. You strengthen the brand, but you’re not selling a show. You’re selling connections.

It’s kind of bigger than design and me. It is about people’s lives. It’s important because if you do this wrong, it’s wrong in somebody’s life. It has to be good.

ADC: We also know that Sesame Workshop encourages employees to reach out to the community. What has been your favorite volunteer project?

Carol-Anne: Recently, we “Sesamized” the intake rooms at NYC Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), where children stay after being take away from abuse or neglect. They must be scared, so it’s nice to have something recognizable and safe like Sesame Street.

Photograph Courtesy of Evan Cheng

We set up toys, which people donated: chairs,tables, DVDs. We assembled everything and put batteries in electronics. We installed a mural of the Sesame Street with life-sized characters. It was fantastic to see it kind of life size. The vinyl wallpaper used a pattern from our style guide. Although the licensees, who are the companies that use the Sesame characters on their products and use it often, it was fantastic to see it that big!

Photograph Courtesy of Evan Cheng

Photograph Courtesy of Evan Cheng

Photograph Courtesy of Evan Cheng

ADC: What do you think when you go home after accomplishing all of this?

Carol-Anne: I feel good. I don’t think about it.

Sesame has a place in pop culture, and it has a place in young children’s lives. Now, it’s almost like the air in our culture. People can identify the characters just by their eyes; that’s how prevalent it is in this society, so it’s a good thing.

Photograph Courtesy of Evan Cheng

Get LinkedIn with Carol-Anne to learn more about her, or check out her in-house Sesame Poster or Product Design! If you like her design, you will love her original fabric patterns on Spoon Flower.

If you’re a member and want to share your story, upcoming event or a new project, contact membernews@adcglobal.orgfor more information!