Icons of Design: Paula Scher

Posted on by Guy Cookson

There are few graphic designers with a reputation like Paula Scher.

Described by the New Yorker as being “responsible for some of the most recognisable graphics around,” Scher has been at the pinnacle of her profession for decades.

After taking a course in graphic design at art school because “it was a field about ideas – and I had ideas,” Scher began her career in the 1970s as an art director with a specialism in using typography to bring to life album covers for artists as diverse as Charles Mingus and Cheap Trick.

A partner at the famous design agency Pentagram in New York since 1991, Scher has produced an astonishing range of work that has influenced a generation of designers.

This includes everything from iconic logos for Citi and High Line through to highly distinctive visual identities for the Museum of Modern Art and, most famously, the Public Theater in Lower Manhattan.

In recent years Scher has given a series of interviews where she has shared some gems about her inspiration and processes that are a must-read for aspiring designers.

“I think you can’t be successful without having failures,” Scher has explained. “And I don’t think that success leads you anywhere. Because when you’re successful, you tend to repeat those things you already know how to do, and they become terrible crutches. Nothing like a good, sloppy failure to wake you up and make you reinvent.”

And reinvention is at the heart of Scher’s work.

“Designers have to grow, because otherwise, design doesn’t grow. Designers as they’re producing and making things cannot rely on past successes, because that is the path to mediocrity. If you make what is already perceived as good, by definition, you’re mediocre. You have to find the next way to do it that hasn’t been thought of before. Very often, you make failures on your way to do that because it involves experimentation and it involves risk-taking.”

Scher’s advice for new designers? “Keep it simple. Make it smart.”

Scher was recently featured in the Netflix documentary series ‘Abstract: The Art of Design‘ which I recommend.

A selection of logos by Paula Scher

The High Line in New York

Box office display at The Public Theater lobby. Courtesy of Pentagram.

Paula Scher, Bring in’Da Noise, Bring in’Da Funk campaign for The Public Theater, 1995–96. Courtesy of Pentagram.

A version of this article was published as part of a weekly column on marketing, design, trends and strategy in the Lancaster Guardian, Blackpool Gazette and Lancashire Post.

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