Paula Scher by Rebecca Ledel


            Paula Scher is an American graphic designer, painter, author and educator. Graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Tyler School of Art in 1970, she has said she found graphic design in her junior year; “[graphic design] was the only thing I was good at, at school” (Hall of Femmes)

            Scher’s career in the early 70’s started out at CBS records where she worked in the advertising and promotions department before moving to Atlantic Records in 1974 to become Art Director. After a year at Atlantic, Scher moved back to CBS Records in 1975 and became Art Director for the cover department, where she designed around 150 album covers a year. One of the notable covers, which she designed in these years, is the album Boston for the band Boston. (Wikipedia)


            Her work in the record business has influence her work that she has since then been active with. In an interview with The Great Discontent, Scher said, “I approached work from what I would describe as a populist viewpoint: I designed things that mixed in popular culture with the goal of engaging people in the cover itself to make them interested in buying the record. That approach has continued to infuse everything I’ve done since.” (The Great Discontent Interview)

In 1982, after several years of success at CBS, she decided to leave and branch out on her own. Scher and Terry Koppel, an editorial designer who also graduated from Tyler School of Art, co-founded the creative studio, Koppel & Scher. (Wikipedia) The pair worked together for six years, until 1991, when forced to give way to the affects of recession, Scher started as a partner in the New York office of Pentagram.

From the early 1990’s Scher has pursued her own creative career while maintaining several jobs as a design educator, at for example the School of Visual Arts in New York, where she started in 1992. (Wikipedia) When asked to give advice to young designers today in an interview with the Swedish initiative, Hall of Femmes, Scher said, “Accept the fact that everything is fluid… Styles change, technology changes, peoples’ perceptions change, but people as a group never change.” (Hall of Femmes)

This notion of the flux state of design in the contemporary business market is something that she not only advises young designers to take advantage of but also a strategy Scher uses in her own career. To Hall of Femmes she said, “I push myself to take on things I don’t know how to do.” Scher believes that through naivety one can make amazing inventions. Her she references also to her work on the New Jersey Public Arts Theatre, a project, which started in 1994, when she was commissioned to transform the exterior of the theatre without having any architectural background. Scher found that the easiest and cheapest way to do so was to paint the building in a manner that resulted in a sense of architectural change. This notion of using typography to re-think design is a central idea to Scher’s working method, “Stanislaw told me, “illustrate with type”, and that was the best design advice I have ever received.” (The Great Discontent Interview)


In 1999, Scher started with a personal project on the side of her graphic design work, painting large-scale maps in a manner of exhibiting the political, social and cultural influences of the countries rather than their exact geographical reality. (Wikipedia) Although her previous and contemporary graphic work is still extremely in demand and notable, her maps have received a lot of attention and for some, are what define Paula Scher to them. On the change of direction from graphic design to painting, Scher has said,  “I was beginning to learn that if you get good at something and become known for it, then it’s time to change it. If you don’t, you’ll be stuck and will get tired of it.” (The Great Discontent Interview)


            Even though painting has become one of her many other professional listings, next to educator, author and graphic designer, Scher notes the importance of graphic design on a high level. “I think graphic design is an important profession because it’s part of what we put out into the world, and it’s what people see and perceive… I think all design matters and all design deserved to be intelligent.” (The Great Discontent Interview)


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