The Geography of Design Interview with Paula Scher - FAD Magazine

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The Geography of Design Interview with Paula Scher

The Geography of Design is a two part short film interviewing the artist/graphic deisgner Paula Scher. Scher is probably best known for her typographical map paintings, and she has spoken at the TED conference.
The Geography of Design films are by Nicolas Heller
We will be posting Part2 next week

Paula Scher plunged into the New York design world in the early 1970s, a moment when progressive art directors, illustrators, and graphic designers, as well as architects and product designers, were drawing energy and ideas from the parking lots of Las Vegas, the Factory of Andy Warhol, the creative boutiques of Madison Avenue, and the tragi-comedy of the Nixon Administration. This was the nadir of the Pop movement, a period when American design, music, fashion, and fast-food had become a global vocabulary—more profoundly international than the International Style. From New York to London to Tokyo to LA, Helvetica was outpaced by the lascivious swashes of Herb Lubalins lettering and the exuberant curves, serifs, in-lines, and outlines of a veritable harem of decorative typefaces revived from the dustbins of an ornamental past.

It was in this culture that Paula Scher came of age. She majored in illustration at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, finishing her BFA in 1970. As a student, Scher avoided graphic design because she lacked the necessary neatness skills and didnt like arranging Helvetica on a grid. She didnt draw well either (a modest liability for an illustrator), but she discovered what she could do: come up with concepts and illustrate them with type.

In 1972, Scher jumped into the belly of popular culture; as art director for CBS Records in New York City, she designed approximately 150 album covers a year, and produced innumerable ads and posters. During her decade in the record industry (one year with Atlantic Records, the rest with CBS), Scher made work that was accessible but smart. She collaborated with illustrators and photographers to interpret music in suggestive, poetic ways—she preferred to invoke a mood or stage a mysterious scenario than provide literal depictions of bands and performers. Scher often drew on typographic styles from the past to complement the imagery she had commissioned. The economic crash that gripped the late 1970s pushed Scher to rely increasingly on letterforms over illustrations; the impulse to convey content and identity through typography became the hallmark of her mature work.

An enormous influence on Scher was designer Seymour Chwast, whose clever blending of image and type inspired countless students and young designers in the 1960s and 1970s. But Scher didn’t just admire Chwast, she married him. At age 22, she embarked on what would prove to be a long and complicated relationship with this towering hero of popular design, a man 17 years her senior. They later divorced, and Scher built a life and career on her own, pushing ahead in the competitive design world of New York to construct a distinct identity for herself—a difficult achievement for any designer, and a feat especially rare among women. She married Chwast again when she was 40, and today each enjoys the others hard-earned stature and independence, alongside their shared love and company.



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