Paula Scher is a graphic artist from America, who is often described as the “master conjurer of the instantly familiar” and is one of the most influential artists. In 1991, she became the first-ever female principal in Pentagram, a popular design firm. Her clients were prominent people and company, so it’s no wonder that her designs were popular. One of her most popular designs was the logo for Microsoft Windows 8. Her collections can be seen permanently in New York at the Museum of Modern Art and Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. Scher is also a painter as well as an art educator majoring in design.
Paula Scher Career
Paula Scher went to New York to pursue a career in design after earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Pennsylvania. She studied at the Tyler School of Art and graduated in 1970. After moving to New York, she found a job at the children’s book division of publishing company Random House. She was one of the layout artists.
By 1972, Scher started working for CBS Records in the promotions and advertising department. However, she moved to a rival label, Atlantic Records, for a more a creative challenge. At her new home, she got the job of art director where she was able to pour her creativity and soul into creating album covers.
After just a year of working at Atlantic Records, Scher went back to CBS. But this time, she was able to land a job in their cover department. Just as before, she was able to create several well-known album covers for CBS and its clients. A few of these covers were that of Boston for their “Boston” album, Bob James for “H” as well as Roger Dean and David Howells for “The Ultimate Album Cover Album.”
In 1982, Scher decided to work by herself. She would develop a typographic solution which was based on Russian constructivism and Art Deco. She would also be credited for her work in bringing back historical design styles and typefaces.
Come 1984 and Scher would co-found Koppel & Scher which is a designing firm. She partnered with another graduate from Tyler, Terry Koppel. Together, the two worked on several designs for logos, books, packaging, and advertising. The company also produced the infamous Swatch poster.
Scher began as a consultant and ultimately joined Pentagram by 1991 and became a partner of their New York branch. As time went by, she became the first ever female principal of the New York branch.
- Paula Scher was best known for her bold and modern graphics. Her more recent works bordered on minimalism, using a combination of bold and normal fonts to create the illusion of highlighting the main point of the design. Some of her works such as the logos for The Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Ballet were good examples of this style. This pattern can also be seen at a few of her other works which geared towards advertising. For example, there’s the 1995 poster for Public Theater’s “Bring in’Da Noise, Bring in’Da Funk” show. Apart from the change of bold to normal font and vice versa, there’s also the narrowing and widening of the fonts which was likened to a city’s streets.
- Most of Scher’s successful designs were initial ideas. She often sketches whenever an idea strikes her, and the first drafts were often the chosen ones. Her work with Citibank was an example. She was commissioned to do the identity for the largest and the newest financial company in the world in 1998 when Travelers Group and Citicorp merged. The design may have been extremely simple, but the T in the “citi” reminded of Scher and Travelers Group’s old identity which had a red umbrella on it. With the spark of an idea, she went ahead and sketched the first design on a piece of napkin.
- Scher also painted mostly maps. Just like with her designs, her signature dense, bold fonts scattered her pieces showing state names, zip codes, county names, and even median home prices. Her affinity for painting came from her love of art materials. Back when she first started in the 1970s, Scher’s office would be filled with art materials ranging from rulers to X-Acto blades. However, time passed by and everything was ultimately replaced by the computer. Although they did the work often faster, Scher missed her art supplies, so she turned to painting. She would drive to the country for more physical and mental space as Scher believes painting is a way to regroup and relax.
- Not only a master designer but Scher has also mastered to read her clients and teach them “how to see.” As a graphic designer, Scher believes in including the clients’ needs as well as preferences in design. To do that, she hops into calls with clients and often shares Pentagram’s portfolio of designs of logos they have created in the past and asked them to mark logos they like and don’t like. With this, Scher can combine her own take with every design but can create something that clients will love. Also, she would also school her clients on typefaces and how they matter.
- The themes and concepts of Scher’s work vary, often because it depended on what clients want from her. However, she does have a knack for creating volume and form through her fonts. She’d use narrow fonts and would then widen it at some point or maybe create an illusion wherein the typeface gets bolder and more intense. It develops a sense of importance as Scher often highlights words or phrases that describe the company she works with best.
- As the years progressed, Paula Scher’s work also geared more towards minimalism, which perhaps copes with the modern looks and tastes of people. In the age of technology, we tend to have shorter attention spans. The minimalism and crispiness of her works enable you to catch all of the design in one glimpse and easily commit it to memory. But while her designs may be simple, it took time to create the perfect form that would create a better understanding of what the design is without looking too bland and dull.
Paula Scher Biography
Paula Scher was born on October 6, 1948, in Virginia but she grew up in Pennsylvania as well as Washington D.C. One of Scher’s influences growing up was her father who was a photogrammetric engineer. He worked for the US Geological Survey, the one responsible for creating a device which captures aerial shots free of distortion.
Because of her father’s work, Scher was inspired to make hand-printed maps. To pursue a career in design, the artist attended the Corcoran School of Art located in Washington D.C. Soon after, she went to Elkins Park, PA for a Bachelor in Fine Arts.
From then on, she would move to New York City and begin the career she pursued, working with big names and creating a name for herself. In her years in CBS Records, Scher created a minimum of 150 album covers every year. And due to her work, she has received hundreds of awards and industry honors.
Among her awards was the Chrysler Award for Innovation Design which she received in 2000. She was also awarded the AIGA Medal which was the American Institute of Graphic Art’s highest honor. Scher was also the first woman ever to receive the Type Directors Club Medal.
During her senior year in the Tyler School of Art in January 1970, Scher met Seymour Chwast through a Pushpin interview, arranged by Harris Lewine who was an art director. Scher was to deliver her portfolio to him. In 1973, the couple was married but five years later, decided to get a divorce. However, they remarried in 1989.
Apart from being an illustrator, painter, and designer, Scher also became an educator and shared her vast knowledge in designing to aspiring students. She taught at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) located in New York. She was also seen in a Netflix docu-series entitled “Abstract: The Art of Design.”
Paula Scher Notable Artworks
While Paula Scher has worked on thousands of designs for a variety of purposes, several artworks were definitely more iconic than others. Here are some of her most notable artworks by the graphic artist.
Poster for CBS Records (1979)
During her career in the ’70s and early ’80s, many of Scher’s work was deeply influenced by past art movements. This CBS Records poster had undertones of Russian constructivism, Dada, and a dash of Futurist style.
According to the artist herself, the poster was made with wood types. She angled and formed the words into a Russian constructivist approach and then had it printed on kraft paper.
This was perhaps the design that catapulted Scher into popularity. After the release of the poster, she was dubbed as a Postmodern graphic designer. Many more designs would follow the same route until she reaches a modern and simpler design which is she well-known today for.
Swatch Swiss ad campaign poster (1984)
When Scher co-founded a company with Koppel, they landed a designing gig with Swatch. This became another design that heightened Scher’s title as Postmodern graphic artist. In fact, the poster became a controversial piece because of its “borrowed style” from past art movements.
Nonetheless, Scher confirmed that the ad campaign was a parody of another poster — and quite a famous one at that. At first glimpse, you can see the extreme similarity between the Swatch Swiss poster and a poster of Herbert Matter. This may have been one of the very reasons why this ad poster became one of Scher’s most iconic works.
The Public Theater
Scher worked with The Public Theater in 1994 and created several designs for their posters. One of the most well-known is the poster for the Public itself. The design showcases Scher’s love for different fonts for the same wood typeface as the word “public” was created in a Bold to normal font.
The artist also created the design with the word “public” getting more attention. They made it big, so the people will know that they are going to the Public Theater.
Most of Scher’s work with the Public Theater focused on typography was closer to that of street typography — mainly graffiti. This was to bring in more diversity to the design, bringing the Theater’s goal to bring a diverse range of people.
Scher also used flat but bright colors and silhouetted images. She would only use two or three colors at a time, making a more uniformed look and often highlighting the theater’s name or the show’s.
Russian constructivism remains one of her main influences, especially posters of “The Diva is Dismissed” (1984) and “Him” (1995).
New York City Ballet
New York City Ballet is one of the biggest dance companies in the world. It was established in 1933 by Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine. It may have an identity before, but the company decided to rebrand with a new logo, and Paula Scher handled it along with fellow Pentagram designer Lisa Kitchenberg as well as Luis Bravo of NYCB.
The logo is a lot more modern, using the DIN typeface. Looking at the typeface, it has the slight effect of stacking up layer by layer. Meanwhile, the color palette includes gray, white, and black with a gradual transition from slight transparency to a more solid, black.
One of the latest works by Scher was the rebranded logo of Windows 8 which brings back the infamous logo to its origins: a window. Her design reimagined the identity from a four-colored symbol to a simpler but more geometric shape. In fact, she asked Microsoft why their symbol was a flag when their name was Windows.
Since the old Window design looked flat, Scher created a design that conveyed actual motion by playing with the receding of lines into space to suggest dimensionality.
Scher was deeply influenced by her photogrammetric engineer father to pursue a career in design. During her early years in the profession, her works were mostly influenced by Russian constructivism as well as other postmodern art movements like Art Noveau and Dadaism.
Today, Scher remains to be one of the most influential graphic artists and designer, with every student and aspiring artist looking up at her.
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Wikipedia. Paula Scher. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paula_Scher
Paula Scher. Retrieved from http://www.csun.edu/~pjd77408/DrD/Art461/LecturesAll/Lectures/UCLA_PaulaScher.html
Pentagram. Paula Scher. Retrieved from https://www.pentagram.com/about/paula-scher
Famous Graphic Designers. Paula Scher. Retrieved from https://www.famousgraphicdesigners.org/paula-scher
Cortes, Michelle Santiago (2018, Oct 18). Legendary Designer Paula Scher on How to Get Started in Graphic Design. Retrieved from https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-legendary-designer-paula-scher-started-graphic-design