In an age of changing pop culture, Paula Scher became a designer. She majored in Illustration at the Tyler School of Art in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania and earned a BFA in 1970. She was awarded a Doctor of Fine Arts from the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington D.C. As a student, Paula didn’t think she could draw, and she avoided graphic design because she didn’t think she had “neatness skills”. She soon discovered she had the talent of coming up with ideas and illustrating her concepts with type.
In 1972, Paula became the art director for CBS Records in New York City, where she designed about 150 album covers a year. She gathered imagery from illustrators and photographers and combined that imagery with typography to give visual personalities to the musicians’ album covers. A year after Paula became an art director, she married the well-known designer Seymour Chwast, only to divorce him, build up her career, and then marry him again in 1989. She spent her single years constructing a distinctive identity for herself, which is difficult for any designer but was especially difficult for a woman in the 1960s and 70s.
When Paula left CBS Records, she formed the studio Koppel & Scher with Terry Koppel in 1984, an experience that taught her to successfully manage her own business. In 1991, she became a partner in the New York office of Pentagram, a distinguished international design consultancy, where she mastered the art of identity and branding. She started teaching at the School of Visual Arts in New York in 1992.
Now, Paula is the principal of Pentagram’s New York office and specializes in brand and identity design, promotional materials, packaging design, publication design, and environmental graphics. She is best known for the identity she created for The Public Theater in 1994, which led to a movement of symbology for cultural institutions. She continues to create identities for many big clients, like The New York Times Magazine and The American Museum of Natural History. She is known for her typography and for her large, detailed, typographically opinionated maps.
I’m most inspired by Paula because of her journey. It’s encouraging to know that she didn’t know exactly what her career would consist of when she entered college, but discovered her talent for typography as a student and let that discovery carry her into the world of graphic design, despite the fact that her major was in illustration. I admire the way she strove to develop smart concepts more than she strove to make things look good. She clearly understood the value of good ideas, and I hope I can search for good ideas with the same interest and care.