Most influential designers; Paula Scher

The D5 Graphic Design Blog

This is the ninth part of a ten part blog series, if you’re looking to start from the beginning, go here. As part of their 50th anniversary survey GDUSA published a top ten list of the most influential graphic designers working today (amongst other creative professions). I’m going to work, in reverse order, through these top ten designers and establish just what it is that makes them so damn great and more importantly display some of their best works.

#2 Paula Scher

The only lady graphic designer to appear on this list and another New Yorker, Paula Scher, principle partner at Pentagram, one of the worlds leading and according to this list, the most inspirational design firm.

Paula Scher began her working career after graduating Tyler School of Art with a bachelors degree in illustration. She moved to New York City to look for work and began her first job as a layout artist for Random House children’s book division. After 2 years she obtained her first significant role at CBS Records (now Sony). At CBS Paula would churn out over 150 album covers a year, Paula herself admits that ‘90% of them were bad’ which she goes on to explain was a good experience.

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Wikipedia lists some of the most successful album cover designs she created during this time: Boston (Boston), Eric Gale (Ginseng Woman), Leonard Bernstein (Poulenc Stranvinsky), Bob James (H), Bob James and Earl Klugh (One on One), Roger Dean and David Howells (The Ultimate Album Cover Album) and Jean-Pierre Rampal and Lily Laskin (Sakura: Japanese Melodies for Flute and Harp).

In 1982, Scher left CBS to work on her own graphic design projects and in 1984 she partnered up with fellow Tyler graduate Terry Koppel to form Koppel & Scher. During the six years of their partnership, she produced identities, packaging, book jackets, and advertising, including the famous Swatch poster based on previous work by Swiss designer Herbert Matter.

In 1991 Scher joined Pentagram as a partner, here she has created some of her most iconic works. Scher’s work is recognisable, mostly, by it emphasis on and style of typography. Often, I would say, misplaced in the category of Post-Modernism. Scher herself, describes this distinguishing feature of her work to be influenced by her environment. New York City is tall, big, loud and in your face, elements present in almost all of her distinguishing works. However contradictory to those who would put Paula in the design school of Post-Modernism, her work mostly makes use of grid-systems, a principle outlined by Modernist legend Joseph Müller-Brockman and focusses heavily on direct and clear communication of an idea or theme. The Post-Modernists rejected the clean, simplistic over use of Helvetica and the corporate ‘big-wiggery’ of the United States at the time. Paula supports this, claiming that Helvetica and the corporate style of design was the face of the Vietnam war, of which Paula was very much against. Having started in the early 70’s, Scher’s creative career has lived through the Post-Modernism age, her work contains elements that could be argued to be within that genre but ultimately, it transcends its boundaries. Some describe the period of art and design were currently in as ‘Neo-Modernism’ and Scher’s work certainly resembles some of the ideals of that category. She uses elements of playfulness and expressive type but does not allow it to obscure or conflict with the message. Her work in my opinion is a logical creative progression of the field that embraces it’s own history and respects current trends.

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Next week, the final instalment of this blog series, Stefan Sagmeister.

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