Design icon Paula Scher on embracing noise to recapture the creative edge

Conversations About Your Voice: The revolutionary Pentagram partner lets us into her all-embracing design world that upholds boredom as the key to getting the best ideas.

by Zohra Khan Published on : Jan 07, 2021

Graphic designer, painter and art educator Paula Scher’s work embodies the spirit of New York. It is loud, urban, evocative and proud. It is in your face and it is everywhere, you know it and you embrace it - be it her design of corporate brand logos for Citibank and Tiffany & Co. that people all over the world recognise with the blink of an eye, the roaring posters for the historic Public Theatre productions, or the collection of iconic record covers from 70s that still remind how cool that decade was.

  • Paula Scher’s personal work weaves complex information into mural-scale paintings | Conversations About Your Voice | STIR X Kyoorius Designyatra 2020 | STIRworld
    Paula Scher’s personal work weaves complex information into mural-scale paintings Image: Courtesy of Pentagram
  • USA Interstate (2015) traces the curves of the US highway system in red and blue markings | Conversations About Your Voice | STIR X Kyoorius Designyatra 2020 | STIRworld
    A painting of the USA Interstate (2015) by Scher that traces the curves of the US highway system in red and blue markings Image: Courtesy of Pentagram
  • The maps are filled with intricate lettering; pictured here is a portion from the map of Europe (2000) | Conversations About Your Voice | STIR X Kyoorius Designyatra 2020 | STIRworld
    The maps are filled with intricate lettering; pictured here is a portion from the map of Europe (2000) Image: Courtesy of Pentagram

While her professional work is 'reductive' and often defined by an all-embracing sensibility, her personal work reveals a synthesis of what she calls 'too much information'. The latter comes together in her colourful, typographic paintings of world maps that reflect the inexhaustible spirit of the 72-year-old trailblazer who believes she is yet to do her best work.

  • Brand identity for the Mental Health Coalition with the mission to destigmatise mental illness | Conversations About Your Voice | STIR X Kyoorius Designyatra 2020 | STIRworld
    Brand identity for the Mental Health Coalition with the mission to destigmatise mental illness Image: Courtesy of Pentagram
  • Brand identity for Citibank | Conversations About Your Voice | STIR X Kyoorius Designyatra 2020 | STIRworld
    Brand identity for Citibank Image: Courtesy of Pentagram
  • Identity for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center | Conversations About Your Voice | STIR X Kyoorius Designyatra 2020 | STIRworld
    Identity for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center Image: Courtesy of Pentagram
  • Identity for the Museum of Modern Art in New York | Conversations About Your Voice | STIR X Kyoorius Designyatra 2020 | STIRworld
    Identity for the Museum of Modern Art in New York Image: Courtesy of Pentagram
You have to respond to things by moving the noise away. – Paula Scher

Often cited as the goddess of graphic design and a master conjurer of the instantly familiar, Scher is globally feted for a career that spans over 40 years. A partner at the New York office of international design consultancy Pentagram since 1991, her work comprises design of brand identities, environmental graphics, packaging and publication.

  • Bring in ‘Da Noise Bring in Da Funk’ (1995) – a poster for the Public Theatre by Paula Scher | Conversations About Your Voice | STIR X Kyoorius Designyatra 2020 | STIRworld
    Bring in 'da Noise Bring in 'da Funk (1995) – a poster for the Public Theatre in New York by Paula Scher Image: Courtesy of Pentagram
  • The Diva is Dismissed (1994) – another poster for the Public Theatre in New York presenting information in a dynamic, expressive way | Conversations About Your Voice | STIR X Kyoorius Designyatra 2020 | STIRworld
    The Diva is Dismissed (1994) – another poster for the Public Theatre in New York presenting information in a dynamic, expressive way Image: Courtesy of Pentagram

Speaking with STIR, the passionate New Yorker shares how she addresses noise in her creative practice, what inspires, nags and intimidates her, and how does she overcome a mental block.

Scher at her CBC Records office where she was responsible for designing 150 covers a year | Conversations About Your Voice | STIR X Kyoorius Designyatra 2020 | STIRworld
Scher at her CBC Records office where she was responsible for designing 150 covers a year Image: Courtesy of Pentagram

In the 10-minute conversation, Scher looks back at growing up years, recollects thrill of her first job as a record cover artist, and reflects on the crossroads ahead when a transition in her interest from illustration to type design landed her at Pentagram.

  • Scher with her team at the New York office of international design consultancy Pentagram | Conversations About Your Voice | STIR X Kyoorius Designyatra 2020 | STIRworld
    Scher with her team at the New York office of international design consultancy Pentagram Image: Courtesy of Pentagram
  • Scher with husband Seymour Chwast who is a celebrated graphic designer and illustrator | Conversations About Your Voice | STIR X Kyoorius Designyatra 2020 | STIRworld
    Scher with husband Seymour Chwast who is a celebrated graphic designer and illustrator Image: Courtesy of Pentagram

She relays stories of projects where politics determined the result of her works and talks about the various voices that have inspired her through the way. She also reminisces the time when at the age of 50 while ‘trapped in those Citibank meetings’ was when she felt she was losing her creative edge and fondly reveals how she bounced back to recapture the lost time.

To stir creativity, Scher upholds looking at a lot of books, stimulation by long walks, or allowing herself to do nothing. “Ideas come in all kinds of ways. I get my best ideas when I am stuck in traffic,” she says.

She continues, “One needs to be in a state of play to design. I generally push something as far as it can be pushed. For me, that’s the fun".

Tap on the cover video for all this and more!

STIR X Kyoorius Designyatra 2020: Conversations About Your Voice
The 2020 edition of Kyoorius Designyatra (#KDY20) themed around ‘Your Voice’ caught many stellar creatives from the world of design and visual arts in a moment of self-reflection. As #KDY20 Exclusive Media Partner, STIR spoke with design luminaries Paula Scher, Seymour Chwast, Hyesu Lee, Frank de Ruwe, and Anita Fontaine to know what it takes to live one’s voice. To know more, click here.

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