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Paula Scher with staff and students from Graphic Design

Paula Scher with staff and students from Graphic Design

Legendary Graphic Designer Paula Scher visits the School of Art

20 December 2019

Scher is known for her innovative typographies and seminal rebrand of New York’s Public Theatre

American Graphic Designer Paula Scher visited Manchester School of Art recently to share advice and experience gained from her extensive career with students on our BA Graphic Design course.

Scher had been in Manchester to deliver the keynote talk at Design Manchester, the city’s annual festival of design co-created by School of Art alumni Malcolm Garrett. As part of the festival, the School had been hosting ‘Paula Scher: Public Theatre’, an exhibition of the designer’s celebrated work created for New York’s Public Theatre during their 25-year relationship.

Postcard created by Graphic Design student Rosalie Wood
Postcard design from Graphic Design student Rosalie Wood

Scher began her career as an Art Director in the early 1980s, designing album covers for CBS and Atlantic Records and receiving four Grammy nominations in the process. Throughout the 1980s, Scher continued to develop new typographical styles before joining Pentagram as a partner in 1991. It was here that Paula was tasked with updating the branding for The Public Theatre - the landmark identity she went on to create would influence design for both theatrical and cultural institutions across the world.

“Paula is one of my biggest idols as I love her work with type and scale” said Graphic Design student Lauren Rasberry. “I’d never been a fan of typography and I used to shy away from it, however, when I watched Paula’s episode of ‘Abstract: The Art of Design’ on Netflix, this all changed. She shows that you can truly appreciate type, and use it enormously, without being an expert”.

“It’s definitely going to be one of the highlights of my design career as she’s such an idol to me, and I was so happy to get a photo with her! I asked how she’s finding Manchester and she loves it here, comparing it to the charm of New York.”

Fellow student Harry Wakefield echoes this sentiment, stating, “It was a great experience to meet and talk to someone of that significance within the design community. She was humorous, inspiring and always willing to give her two-pence towards any question we had.

“Some of her most famous pieces of work were first drawn on scrap pieces of paper. That idea of getting pen to paper immediately, regardless of what it is, really resonated with me. I now carry a little notebook with me all the time.”

In order to attend the talk, students were given a brief to design a postcard responding to the question “Why I should be invited to Paula Scher’s talk”. Student Rosalie Wood said that this was “great for everyone to delve into her practice and think about how to appeal to her. I would never usually just use type for a project, but that is her practice, so I did, and from making that postcard am now using type in my current project. I’m enjoying the challenge of making more with less. It’s crept in quite unexpectedly!”

Postcard design by Harry Wakefield
Details of postcard design from Graphic Design student Harry Wakefield 

“It was clear from the talk that Paula enjoys being in the thick of a project rather than overseeing or delegating. She also said that it was a ‘wonderful thing to stay with something and make it grow’, referring to her long-term client relationship with Public Theatre.”

“Paula said it took her 20 years in the job to realise she was good at it. Paula Scher! So I think that’s something to think about, isn’t it?”

Liz Wheeldon-Wyatt, course leader for BA Graphic Design, said that “Paula’s visit to the School was such an inspirational experience. Her reflection on managing change through her years as a designer and her down-to-earth approach to the subject really resonated with the students. Great questions and critical reflection for all."

All of the submitted postcards
All of the postcards submitted by students

Explore more work by the students featured in this article:

Rosalie Wood: @Ros.alie_wood

Harry Wakefield:

Lauren Rasberry: @LaurenRasberry