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Paula Scher: Do What You’ve Never Done Before

About this talk

Sometimes you have to ignore the brief, says renowned designer and artist Paula Scher. With a dry wit, Scher takes us behind-the-scenes on four landmark projects—from revamping MoMA’s identity to reinvigorating a Pittsburgh neighborhood through design—to illustrate how asking questions, pushing into uncharted territory, and doing something you’ve never done before leads to great work.

Paula Scher, Partner, Pentagram

For four decades Paula Scher has been at the forefront of graphic design. Iconic, smart and unabashedly populist, her images have entered into the American vernacular. She has been a principal in the New York office of the distinguished international design consultancy Pentagram since 1991. She began her career as an art director in the 1970’s and early 80’s, when her eclectic approach to typography became highly influential. In the mid-1990s, her landmark identity for The Public Theater fused high and low into a wholly new symbology for cultural institutions. Her graphic identities for Citibank and Tiffany & Co. have become case studies for the contemporary regeneration of classic American brands.
Paula has developed identity and branding systems, promotional materials, environmental graphics, packaging and publication designs for clients including, Bloomberg, Coca-Cola, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Opera, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Sundance Film Festival and The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. Scher has been the recipient of hundreds of industry honors and awards. Her work is represented in the permanent collections of MoMA, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and the Centre Georges Pompidou, among others. She has lectured and exhibited all over the world, and her teaching career includes over two decades at the School of Visual Arts, along with positions at the Cooper Union, Yale University and the Tyler School of Art.
Comments (13)
  • Brenda

    I’m a designer who is from the North Side of Pittsburgh. The bridges do look a lot cleaner, and more inviting, but I’ve only seen two installations since I’ve been here. I wish they would do more! They are only large pieces of art printed onto a big tarp that is hung along the wall under the bridge, (first a shot of the sky and now a colorful geometric thing) so you think they could produce them pretty frequently and under every bridge. I love this idea and wish it would get pushed farther. I guess I’ll have to get involved and make it happen 🙂

  • Paul Hebron

    Very inspiring.

  • Katherine

    Paula Scher also spoke at our school (U-M School of Art & Design.) It was a great talk, you can check it out here:

  • Weighted Decision

    That’s right, it’s all about asking the right questions. Who, what, when, why and how always get you what you need!

  • Dominic Gomez, Seattle

    I appreciate her effort to meld commercial art and fine art with the school mural project. It’s rare for such opportunities to come along. Another dichotomy between the two disciplines is that design is usually handled by a committee, from idea to concept to finished piece. Art is usually a one-person affair: your own idea, your personal visualization of it, your skills and talent on the final piece.

  • ppkmd

    I was very excited by this video and would like to share both it and Sher’s other work and career to my design students at a community college. This weekend I saw a logo that is used by Holiday Inns that is remarkably similar to the H that Sher designed for the High Line in NY. What is up here?

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  • Kate

    I loved this presentation. However, in the map part there is an error in on of the towns. In the Middlesex county portion it says “Wood Ridge” when the town there is actually “Woodbridge”. Wood Ridge is a different town in NJ. I only say this because I’m from Woodbridge, NJ. It was cool to see all the different towns though and knowing them, just a little bummed that there was an error with my town.

  • Jonathan Lumb

    Great talk. Very direct. Smart stuff.

  • Francisco

    Im Graphic designer from buenos aires argentina, i listen paula scher talking about design a few year ago in a conference in buenos aires, She start saying “i love type”. I say, i love her! and i think she is one of the most inspiring and amazing designer in the last decades.

  • Brant Day

    love the lesson but it should always be used with purpose. You can’t just skip the client brief all the time, anything you do must be backed with knowledge and reasoning.

  • Alicia Vaz

    Loved the talk! Very inspiring. Thank you.

  • Jannatul

    Its to hear from him.

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