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The A-List Podcast with Paula Scher

On this week’s episode of The A-List Podcast, host and DiMassimo Goldstein CCO Tom Christmann is joined by Paula Scher, the absolutely iconic graphic designer, painter and art educator.

Quite frankly, Paula Scher is a legend. The “Paul McCartney of design,” if you will. One of the most influential graphic designers in the world, with work so ubiquitous you don’t even know you know, but seriously, you know it.

After a decade as an Art Director designing album covers in the 70’s and 80’s (that iconic Boston spaceship cover was her) she became a partner at Pentagram in 1991. Yes, that’s 28 years. In that time she’s created world famous posters, logos, paintings, album covers, architectural designs and more.

Her work is featured in permanent exhibits around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York, the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and more. She was the first woman to receive the Type Directors Club Medal in 2006, served as the president of the Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) from 2009-2012, and in 1998 was named to the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame. She’s currently featured on the Netflix documentary series Abstract: The Art of Design.

Despite her incredible success, she’s still a proponent of trying new things, embracing failure, and admitting she still “doesn’t know.” Tune in for some serious wisdom.

Show Notes: 

  • [0:00 – 1:30] Intro
  • [1:31 – 2:31] How drawing became a respite from family disputes
  • [2:32 – 3:59] Getting inspiration from beatnik counter-culture at the Corcoran School of Art in D.C. and using artistic inclination to make social connections in teen suburbia
  • [3:59 – 5:33] Linking her talent to the field of graphic design
  • [5: 34– 6:56] Embracing time and failure as the greatest teachers, “For me, finding what I’m good at is an ever-evolving playing field.”
  • [6:57 – 8:13] The importance of pissing off the older generations. “To discover something you have to make errors. Discoveries look weird when they’re new. Then someone comes along and does it better. Discoveries may not be recognized, but they’re necessary.”
  • [8:14 – 19:42] The no-formula formula for rule breaking. “Be a brat, break the norm,” and how Helvetica became a symbol of corporate culture and the Vietnam War.
  • [8:14 – 23: 20] The benefits of smoking cigarettes in a cubicle with your boss
  • [23: 20 – 27:01] Becoming an Art Director at Atlantic Records and designing iconic album covers
  • [27:01 – 29: 02] Being “dead serious” about designing album covers, moving into freelance work, magazines, running a design firm, then finally joining Pentagram
  • [29: 02 – 32:34]  The benefits of learning through failure, what she’s most proud of, being unable to pick favorites, and always moving on to the next piece
  • [32:35 – 35: 04]  Teaching clients “how to see” and the benefit of taking the time to explain ideas
  • [35: 05 — 36: 49] Working at Pentagram for 28 years and their unique shared work structure
  • [36: 50 – 44:40] Advice for young designers, how time constraints have changed the industry’s portfolio review system, and the consequences of large tech companies on creativity

“The A-List” is a podcast produced by DiMassimo Goldstein, an inspiring action agency, recorded at the Gramercy Post, and sponsored by the Adhouse Advertising School, New York’s newest, smallest, and hippest ad school. You can subscribe and rate the show on iTunes or listen along on SoundCloud. For updates on upcoming episodes and guests, be sure to like the A-List Podcast on Facebook and follow host Tom Christmann on Twitter.