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Paula Scher Cans

- History

Paula Scher: The best design is created through strong opinion

In the 1970s I watched as a massive influx of women into the design community transformed the face of graphic design. At the forefront of the charge was Paula Scher, who remains one of the bright stars of the profession as a principal of the iconic design consultancy firm Pentagram.

Paula Scher Porträt
Paula Scher zu Beginn ihrer großartigen Karriere.


Paula, how about telling us what or who has inspired you over the years?

Paula Scher: Sure. At first, when I was in art school in the 60s I rebelled against the Swiss International style (Helvetica in the grid). I responded to historical typography, and was inspired by Pushpin Studios, Victor Moscoso, sometimes Herb Lubalin and others who applied an eclectic typog?raphy in their work.
In the mid to late 70s I began experimenting with early 20th-century Modernism: Russian Constructivism (El Lissitzky and Rodchenko), the Bauhaus (Herbert  Bayer, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy), De Stijl (Mondrian, Piet Zwart), 30s poster art (Cassandre), Futurism (Depero, Martinelli) and mid-century Modernists (Sutnar, Tschichold, Herbert Matter). By the late 70s I began to dislike Herb Lubalin and typefaces designed by ITC, in favor of American wood types and more classical fonts. By the end of the 90s I began liking the Swiss International Style and admired Helvetica, though I still seldom use it.
My continuing heroes are my husband Seymour Chwast and my partners at Pentagram ... They inspire
me every day.

In your opinion what were the most important developments in design and society over the span of your career?

Paula Scher: The internet changed everything. Before the internet, style came in 7- to 10-year cycles. Now all styles exist at once. Look at the difference in car design between 1930 and 1950 and you see a tremendous shift. The difference between 1994 and now isn’t very big at all. It’s mostly comfort features like climate control or iPod connections. The style of the bodies is pretty much the same. The same is true in architecture, in clothing and in hairdos. Not much change. Everyone listens to all kinds of music at once. My team listens to the music on my iPod. I can’t imagine listening to my parents’ music when I was their age.

Paula Scher Fassadengestaltung für das New Jersey Performing Arts Center
Fassadengestaltung für das New Jersey Performing Arts Center


What about the future of design?

Paula Scher: I love what technology can bring. We just got a 3D printer and it will change the way I approach projects. That’s great, but I am reminded about when I first got a Cuisin art food processor and only made soft food for a couple of months. It takes a while to realize that you don’t need to grind up a lamb chop.
Technology creates possibilities, but it doesn’t trump the human imagination. Groups of people working together are socially considerate, but groupthink is inhibitive and can be an invention- and creativity-killer. I only worry for the future when I fear that designers will devalue their individuality and run away from it. I hope they don’t.

You once mentioned to me that you have a number of early issues of novum. How did that come about?

Paula Scher: I bought them in an antique store in Europe during my early Modernism phase. They were from the 30s.

Interview: Lanny Sommese

This interview was first publish in our jubilee issue novum 06.14. In there nine famous designers talked about nine centuries of graphic design. Single copies of this collector’s edition are available here:

You will find more interviews of this series here:

Paula Scher Poster