If you think the most famous graphic designers are all men, allow me to introduce Paula Scher, probably the most famous female graphic designer in the world.
In the late 80’s, the Germanic/Swiss theory of order and mathematical precision had taken over in America and functional simplicity was seen as design canon. I don’t think Paula liked design canon back then, or now for that matter, as she vehemently argued against Helvetica saying it lacked any kind of emotional or expresses qualities as a typeface.
Paula Scher started her career working as a designer and art director in the music industry, moving between CBS and Atlantic Records, designing LP covers. Some great album art came out of those years like Billy Joel’s “Nylon Curtain” and Elvis Costello’s “Trust”
Koppel & Scher
In 1984 she and her business partner, Terry Koppel, founded Koppel & Scher design and advertising firm. During that time they authored a typographical inspired book called Great Beginnings which demonstrated how to use type in an emotive and energetic way using the copy from well-known novels.
Find out what the next thing is that you can push, that you can invent, that you can be ignorant about, that you can be arrogant about, that you can fail with, and that you can be a fool with. Because in the end, that’s how you grow.
Their most recognizable work came from Swatch, especially Herbert Matter’s photo-montage poster for Swiss tourism, which has been talked about way to much in my opinion but anyway… here we go again.
The original poster was done by Swiss designer Herbert Matter. His use of photography was both original and creative in the 1950′s. The Swiss, being a design-savy culture, hailed Matter’s unique style of design and his popularity prompted Switzerland’s department of tourism to commission him to create posters for use as promotional material at their offices.
Many years later the posters that Matter had created became iconic pieces of graphic design work which gained the attention of many aspiring designers including Paula Scher. It was re-edited by Koppel & Scher into the now famous Swatch Print ad. The controversy was around plagiarism. Can a designer edit someone else’s work for their own devices at whim? Well to that I say: Is design a study of physical subject matter or the thought behind it?
Anyway the debate rages on. People still argue as to where the line between plagiarism and creativity.
In 1991 Koppel & Scher ran into tough times and she and Koppel decided to go separate ways. Paula Scher joined the New York office of Pentagram, the legendary design studio started in part by another one of the famous graphic designers, Alan Fletcher. She went on to become a partner which she still holds today.
She has been designing posters for The Public Theater in New York since 1994. Her vibrant use of typography is a hallmark of the design.
“The best way to accomplish serious design … is to be totally and completely unqualified for the job.”
Most famous graphic designers can reflect back on a logo that they designed to brand a large corporate client. Paula Scher’s was Citi who’s distinctive blue and red umbrella logo came from this:
In 2001 Paula Scher was presented with the prestigious AIGA medal which is regarded by most designers as the Oscar of the design world. At the time of writing only 147 AIGA medals have been awards since 1920.
I’m not one to hide behind faux manners so I’ll be blunt. I struggle to relate to her work.
There appears to be no mathematical harmony in Paula Scher’s poster work at all, which is strange to me. I always understood design to be ordered creativity. The fundamental basis of order is mathematics which can either conflict horribly with art, or integrate harmoniously with it. In my opinion, it’s a designer’s job to find that delicate balance between art and science.
Perhaps I’m just not experienced enough yet to understand her work or perhaps I just have a different design philosophy, which is cool. That’s what makes this profession interesting. Never-the-less her success as a designer is irrefutable, proving once again that the creative fields are highly subjective.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Paula Scher.
Check the site out to find more famous graphic designers.
Two great books by Paula Scher are available at Amazon.com