Abstract: The Art of Design

I recently watched one of a season of shows on the art and science of design with some of the world’s greatest designers. Season 1: Ep. 6 of the Netflix documentary showed the story and work of Paula Scher, a well-established and highly regarded graphic designer who is known as the goddess of graphic design. She develops the visual identity of iconic brands and institutions around the world.

Scher starts the film by stating, ‘Typography is painting words.’ We see how quick paced her design team work and how involved she is with solving design problems and looking over at her team members. She believes that she sees more than she will see than if she is working by herself; team working is therefore everything.

Scher explains identity of a whole place based on the identity of type. She designs to raise questions, rather than to ask them. She used to paint her fonts by hand but they became computerised by the 1990’s, however she misses the physical aspect of creating by hand. She is happiest when she is making things.

I now understand that typography can create immense power; you are working with height, weight and size. All of these factors create a different meaning, message and connotation. For example, thin type may feel classic. Before even reading the text, the viewer gets a sense of sensibility and spirit; combining this with a meaning is then spectacular.

As a young designer, she was influenced by abstract culture: zigzags, records. She combines illustration with typography, especially when she once designed record covers. Jazz artists allowed Scher to be a bit more creative; she was the artist and was able to control what the covers looked like.

Scher was always part of popular culture but bringing a more modern aspect to this by incorporating typography. She believes you have to be in a state of play in order to create something. I believe she is referring to removing yourself from focusing directly on the outcome and the ideas will come to you when you least expect them to; in bed, walking, on transport, etc.

She finds fun in pushing things as far as they can be pushed. She often tweaks a creation in five/ten year’s time. She does this to keep up with the times. For example, she redesigned the Public Theatre logo three times and no one even noticed! It is crazy, in your face and just like New York. There was type everywhere, it was aggressive but definitely brought the fun. It was everywhere and put her on the map. It was like New York ate the Public Theatre Identity; people started recreating it.

I found it quite inspirational because she shows how tough typography can be. She is constantly looking, observing and hunting for new ideas. She is passionate and open. I like the fact that she makes the text visual. Design is about human behaviour; she aims to create an emotional connection. Even small details have a large impact on how people react to her work. She seems very assured but modest; she just has a passion and wants to portray this through her creations. Watching this has inspired me to find what I love and care about and what makes me happy. I admire and respect her aspiration and how fulfilled she is.

Overall, she is one of the most influential designers out there. I loved the fact that she isn’t afraid of sharing her views and showing her feministic stance. She stresses her negative opinion on the sexism in the industry; her work quality should be focus rather than judging her as an older woman. The key is to develop a visual language; you don’t need to see a logo for the brand to be easily recognisable. Going beyond the expectation forces people to ask questions and creates intrigue.

‘Making stuff is the heart of everything.’ – Paula Scher


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