An evening with Paula Scher
Paula Scher, is a rock star, it’s official.
Last night’s Typocircle event held at The Comedy Store cemented my opinion, grown from my years of working in comms for brand design, that yes, all those articles, the books, the podcasts, the fan girls, it’s all true. Scher is a rock star – and at this event nearly 400 designers, agency heads and students found out why.
If you visit the Museum of Modern Art in New York, pop into a Citibank branch, use Microsoft Windows 8 or walk past Tiffany & Co., then you're looking at the work of Paula Scher. A Pentagram partner (the first female principal joining the NYC office in 1991) she has spent decades working for some of the most important brands in the world (plus a very cool start to her career as record cover art director at both Atlantic and CBS Records in the 1970s).
Scher took us through the New York Public Theatre design story. Over 29 years she’s led a transformation of its identity, creating a graphic language and a dynamic look that has revolutionised the way arts posters everywhere communicated with their audiences. Something not lost on Scher.
Sniping is not cool
In fact, in a life filled with some of the biggest industry accolades, there’s so much she still wants to improve, and she opened up about her thoughts on key topics, including the issue of plagiarism, or in her words ‘being sniped’.
In simple terms, Scher’s doesn’t appreciate the obvious plagiarising of her look, saying; “Being ripped off isn’t flattering. It’s annoying.” Rip off other peoples’ ideas and no one has an identity. It takes away the point of brand identity - when everyone recognises a graphic, that’s identity!
The age of design by committee
The Q&A also offered up some great Scher insights into how technology is changing things. She’s of the opinion that technology can do great things, but often at the expense of true creativity. In the days of typesetting and screen printing, people didn’t mess with the designer’s eye, but with the advent of tech, it’s easier for people, often the marketing people, to suggest tweaks, endless tweaks.
In the days of craft over tech, Scher stated that “craft is a good enforcer of a certain kind of design behaviour”. Tech makes this sloppy. It’s easy to spend time making those changes.
Even the greatest people have self-doubt
Does she suffer from imposter syndrome? "Yes, every day," she admitted, “but what are you going to do about it?”, she shrugged, reminding us all that she is indeed a real person after all.
And yes, she says “the process of making things is mysterious. Somethings you make a breakthrough… but mostly you don’t.”
Thanks to Paula Scher for keeping it real, and to Typocircle for a very special event.