Although Paula Scher realistically needs no introduction, allow me to indulge in disclosing some her many achievements throughout her design career. She developed branding and awareness for the Public Theater in New York, joined the legendary studio Pentagram, has taught as The School for Visual Arts in New York as well as the Tyler School of Art. Her list of awards ranges from the AIGA Medal in 2001 to the Master Series Award given by SVA for Make it Bigger. Her career ranges through the full gamut of what can be considered Graphic Design, including work in print, environmental design, book design, Graphic Design Education, systems design, painting, album cover / music design, and the list goes on.
While her career reads as one success after another, Scher’s most impressive quality is her humility. It is a trait that we don’t get to see too often in such successful designers and Scher spoke to us in a manner of sincerity that was refreshing to say the least.
Scher’s lecture really boiled down to “how to get to know one’s own self” through individual and collaborative design practice and demonstrated how she accomplished that ever changing task throughout her career. She urged us, a body of design students to push back against something we dislike, to “defy the career stairway” which she illustrated as a series of uneven steps starting in the early career of a designer ranging each decade until a designer’s late seventies. Urging us to continue changing our aspects and understanding of design, Paula stated that the designer should always be new at something and that personal expression outside the direct lines of Graphic Design is of the utmost importance.
She presented to us work that was perhaps not her most famous work, but was most illustrative of how she developed her own voice throughout her career. She showed some of her early illustrations for CBS Records and explained that her earliest experience with typography was a struggle until she started to understand it differently and illustrate with it.
Scher reminds us that, despite unprecedented and remarkable achievement in the field of Design, that designers are just people, not icons. It is with this notion that Scher urges us to always be changing our practice and perspective so that we are always exploring the unknown within our field. If we let our successes define us, we run the risk of growing stuck in our ways which can only limit us in our careers. Paula Scher’s humility and focus on design education is a model we must remember as we go forth into the earliest stages of our careers in Graphic Design.