10 Lessons from Paula Scher
How often do you get the opportunity to spend an evening with graphic polymath Paula Scher!! I was privileged to have been at the right place at the right time to spend an evening with her (along with several others) this May. Unit Live editions had just launched Paula's new monograph 'Paula Scher: Works UNIT 30' and put together this small delightful event in celebration of her new milestone.
Having been on the forefront of graphic design for decades, Paula is undeniably one of the most prolific graphic designers of today. Apart from being an absolutely brilliant visual communicator, she is also an artist, innovator, and Pentagram partner. On top of that, she was recently part of a new Netflix documentary series, Abstract: The Art of Design. Meeting her was both an inspiring and humbling experience — a good reminder of how much I have yet to learn, and a prime illustration of how genuine passion never really dies out, but dies with you.
‘Paula Scher is the most influential woman graphic designer on the planet.’
— Ellen Lupton
Drawing from her wealth of experience, Paula began to share sharp insights and enlightening stories on navigating our industry. She ended by encapsulating her experiences into 10 succinct points that personally gave me a clearer sense of direction as a young creative. I hoped this blesses you as much as it did for me!
- Fall in love with something that was designed
We become what we love. Thus, what we choose to love is important; be it people, ideologies or objects. For Paula, she fell in love with how music translated into record covers and began her creative journey there. As for me, I guess I am still figuring it out!
- Have heroes and/ or mentors
I have always believed in independence and hard work as means to good design. With that mindset, I never saw the value of mentorship in this area until Paula shared about hers! It led me to the realization that independence also meant knowing where to look for guidance especially in times of need.
- Find something that currently exists that you absolutely hate
'I hate Helvetica,' and that was how she brought this point across. This is probably the most unconventional piece of advice I have ever received throughout my creative journey — finding something to hate. Why and what you hate (or strongly disagree with) will gradually influence the kind of design critique you become. I hate passivity.
- Defy the career staircase
To begin with, the creative route in Singapore is already a road less traveled. So that's step one completed haha. But moving along, I do believe that design education cannot and should not be limited to the walls of an institution. It has to be built upon multiple experiences, observation, and exposure. Defy the career staircase ya'll! And if need to, design your own roles.
- Go the distance
We don't have to constantly compete in this capitalist rat race with the rest of the world, but we should (at the verse least) attempt to stroll or walk there. This would mean taking the initiative to learn from people or to get yourself involved, doing whatever you can to get to where you want to be.
- Be a neophyte
A neophyte is someone who is constantly new to a subject or activity. The spirit of curiosity and wonder are key ingredients to becoming a neophyte. Check out my research on curiosity and design here!
- Find a personal expression
Designing is all about predicting, expressing and communicating to meet the needs. Having an alternative avenue for personal expression will fuel your individualism and creativity. It could be something completely unrelated to design, like music, art, or sports. For Paula, it was through painting maps. For me, it is probably through music.
- Work for free
This is the time where you can do things that you can't do when you're tied down with a fee. You are liberated to become most creative when you work without strings attached!
- Hang around those who inspire you or whom you are intimidated by (multipliers)
A friend once told me that there are four types of people in our lives.
Subtracters: Those who constantly take from you without adding to your life
Dividers: Those who destroy you
Adders: Those who add value to your life
Multipliers: Those who inspire you or whom you are intimidated by
- Do what you do best but change with the times
Nothing is timeless, everything changes with time. So should you.