Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Paula Scher

Paula Scher is one of the most influential female graphic designers in all design history. Not only has she impacted the graphic design industry, but her paintings and drawings have also left impressions on the world. Paula Scher began her design journey by attending the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. In the 1970s she began her career by becoming an Art Director for record covers at CBS and Atlantic Records. From this point on her career soared. In 1984 she co-founded and designed for Koppel & Scher in New York. After seven years there she joined Pentagram Design, a famous and successful design industry. There, Scher defined her unique style by designing for companies such as The New York Times Magazine, The Public Theater, Sony, and numerous others. Not only is she an accomplished designer but also has taught 17 years at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Scher continues designing in New York and frequently writes articles for design magazines such as AIGA Journal of Graphic Design.

In 2001, Scher designed for the "Nouveau Salon des Cent" portfolio in honor of the notorious designer, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1901-2001). This unique piece (Piece 1) uses a smooth serif typeface which is strategically designed to flow and move throughout the piece while maintaining structure. Here, Scher is imitating Toulouse-Lautrec’s art nouveau style with the illustrated woman’s legs and the movement of the text. Scher’s strokes are unevenly weighted throughout the piece to improve readability and form the image of a woman dancing. The kerning and tracking used throughout this piece varies also due to the movement of the text. The text near the top of the piece appears tighter than the text which composes the skirt. By utilizing these techniques and typeface, Scher accurately conveys the classic art nouveau feel. I believe typeface she chose was perfect for this piece because it corresponded with art nouveau style and gave me the sense of classic art of the 1890s. This typeface, which is relatively versatile, also creates the structure and unity needed for this piece to be a success. When looking at Scher’s works, it is clear that this typeface was only chosen to match the era not because of her personal taste. Scher tends to gravitate toward Gothic, sans serif typefaces. However this typeface could be almost limitlessly used to communicate clear messages in a print medium for various organizations.

Paula Scher has left a significant mark on New York by designing posters for a variety of companies. Among these posters are those for The Public Theater. In 1994 Paula designed posters for the productions, “Guess Who” and “Jenifer Lewis’s one woman show” (Piece 2 and 3). These posters were considered a pivot point for theater posters by using symbolism to suggest the theme of the play. More specifically, in the poster designed for the Jenifer Lewis play, Scher uses a shocking but cohesive color palette of a yellow background with a blue woman’s face. The typeface is equally as entertaining. This stretched, bold, Gothic, sans serif typeface is slanted with varied stroke weights to create a visual hierarchy and easy readability yet adds motion. Scher chose to use tight kerning, tracking, and leading for her typeface which gives this lively piece a sense of organization for the viewer. The typeface used is very straightforward and readable so that the viewer is not tempted to look away because of his or her lack of symbolic understanding. This style and typeface used definitely made me feel like I was back to the 90’s. This typeface is particularly useful when a designer wants to show movement and grab the audience’s attention since its size becomes increasingly larger as it branches toward the viewer. It would be best utilized for print and digital environment designs.

As mentioned earlier, Scher does not limit herself to digital design. She is also an acclaimed painter. Her recent works are of maps of the world where she has used type to compose the shape of places while also naming countries, cities, streets…etc. In her piece titled Tsunami (Piece 4), it is clear that her choice of typeface was crucial for the success of the piece. Instead of the formal, neat typefaces Scher used earlier in her designs, she decided to use her own hand painted typeface to convey an organic tone to the viewer. This sans serif, bold, stubby, Gothic typeface varies throughout the entire painting. In some areas the lines of text are kerned, leaded, and tracked tightly while in other places the text seems to loosely branch across the continents. I’m sure the viewer would agree with me that because of the typeface she chose, the piece leaves a very aesthetically pleasing impression. This typeface is also unique in that it unifies the countries, but at the same time distinguishes them each from each other due to kerning, stroke widths, tracking, and color used. This typeface would best be utilized for print because of the scanning involved but could also be creatively used for internet sites for companies which would like to incorporate an interesting and natural touch.

Last year in 2008, Scher designed a poster for The Public Theater advertising Hamlet (Piece 5). I added this piece to particularly demonstrate the grid-like structure Scher uses with her type to create order in spite of the uncomfortable symbol of a skull. She used a bold, Gothic, sans serif typeface with consistent, tight kerning and leading to add to this order. To create visual hierarchy amongst the text, she greatly increased the stroke lengths of the title of the play and thinned the strokes on the text involving details. When I look at this piece I am uneasy because of the skull, but then the typeface stabilizes the piece. This typeface could serve a multitude of purposes whether it be promoting a company or organizing information for an event. This typeface and structure could be used for environmental, digital, print (such as magazines and flyers), and motion designs.

Overall, each of these pieces demonstrate Paula Scher’s ability to encompass numerous styles and typefaces in order to clearly express the content of her pieces. Over the years her typefaces have evolved to clearly distinguish her pieces from the rest of the design world. Whether it is her neat, bold, Gothic, san serif type or her hand-made, painted typeface, Scher’s style is evident. Due to her distinctive designs and beautiful typefaces, Paula Scher’s work will always be known for its uniqueness, boldness, and versatility.

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