Paula Scher was born in 1948 in Virginia and grew up in Philadelphia and Washington DC. During High School she embraced Art, stating that it was “the first place where I felt like I actually belonged” and she became a publicity chairman for her school, designing posters and pamphlets for school dances and events. She continued her interest in the arts and took night classes at Corcoran College of Art + Design. Her mother wasn’t supportive of her interest in the arts and insisted she should obtain a certificate in teaching so she would have something to fall back on, but Paula would go on to prove her mother wrong.
In the Beginning
Paula attended college in1966 with the intent to become a painter, but admitted that she couldn’t really draw so she decided to experiment with both metal working and print work. She went on feeling like she wasn’t good at anything, but then she discovered she had an natural liking for graphic design in her junior year. She went on to graduate in 1970 and against her mother’s advice and moved to New York City, where she was employed to design the insides of children’s books. Paula would go on to become an incredible designer, with her work winning dozens of awards and being featured in numerous museums including the New York Museum of Modern Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Paula’s first major role in New York was with CBS Records in 1972. She joined CBS as part of the publicity team and wasn’t involved with the design of album covers, which is what she wanted to do. She then left CBS a year later and joined Atlantic Records where she worked for a year designing various album covers and promotional materials.When Paula was 25 she decided to return to CBS Records to become their new Art Director for the East Coast. For the next decade, Paula Scher would design almost 150 record covers each year and countless more ads and posters. All of her album covers used imagery from popular culture in an effort to engage with the audience and make them more inclined to buy the record.
In 1982 she grew tired of the music industry and left it to form her own design agency with an old friend, Terry Koppel, who at the time was a magazine designer. Together Paula and Terry began producing brand identities, product packaging and book covers. Unfortunately with the Gulf War in 1990 and the recession it ended Scher and Koppel’s agency.
Soon after Woody Pirtle, a partner at Pentagram invited Paula out for coffee and asked if she would be interested in joining. She decided to join in 1991, and has stayed there ever since. Since joining she has designed identities such as; Citibank and Microsoft, exhibitions for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and editorial designs for Metropolis.
In 1998, Paula was tasked with creating an identity for the multi-billion dollar company, Citi. Paula designed the logo during an initial client meeting. The concept only took only a few seconds to sketch and was on a napkin. Pentagram was concerned that their clients would not pay for something that only took several seconds to design, but they did. Paula’s ability to design such an iconic identity on a napkin in a few seconds was from her abundance of experience that she had gained through her career.
Some of Paula’s lesser known work includes commissioned graphics for public buildings. Paula herself refers to these large-scale designs as ‘environmental graphics’, transforming blank space with the use of vivid colors and unique typography.
Recently she was commissioned by the PAVE Academy Charter School, to turn their range of motivational and inspirational messages into environmental graphics. Paula worked closely with the architects for the build, creating dimensional signage and bold super-graphics. The unique identity for the school has helped freshen the existing brand, and to create a memorable learning experience for students and teachers alike.
Alongside her professional work, Paula also works on a range of fine art pieces in her free time. She spends most of this time creating incredibly detailed maps by hand. Her father, Marvin Scher was involved with cartography, which is the science or practice of drawing maps. She spends a great amount of time adding tiny details to each map. The work forces her to have patience, which she says she lacks in her day job at Pentagram. Paula finds that both art and design compliment each other perfectly.
“Design happens quickly on a computer and the painting is laborious. Design is social. Painting is isolating. Design has a purpose. Art has no purpose. I can’t imagine one without the other.”
– Paula Scher
Paula Scher is a perfect combination of both art and design which creates a perfect blend of the two. Her work spans many fields, and has certainly influenced many designers in creating their own work.