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Paula Scher Transcript of an interview conducted by Neal Shaffer in 2006. All rights reserved.

Note: this conversation is joined in progress because the early parts didn't fit my purpose for the article I needed to write at the time. PS: ...I do have a sensitivity towards it because...I dont want people to think about my age. Not because I dont want them to know my age, I just dont want them to think about it, I dont want it to be a factor. Just the same way I dont want being a woman to be a factor, or being short to be a factor, or being Jewish to be a factor, or anything that makes you outside some design norm that I dont understand anyway. That makes me nervous. NS: Well, in fact, thats sort of from where this idea springs for me. I agree with you, and I wanted to write about that more or less. As it happens this is for Erickson, but really I could be writing it for anybody. PS: OK. NS: Broadly speaking, I wonder if you could tell me what you do. Your words. PS: Well, I do different things. Im a designer. Im a painter. Theyre very different when I paint I do a different thing than when I design. But both involve aesthetics, both involve thought, both involve planning. Planning is design. As a designer what I tend to do, and whats different from being a painter, is that I interact with other people, and the people have things they need to have happen. They may have a...(inaudible examples)...they may have a building that they want people to navigate their way through, they may have a magazine that they want readers to find enticing, they may not know what they need. But they generally need an interaction with somebody who can help them plan something that tends to be visual, and thats what I do. It usually centers around identity, and identity means how do I get known? How do I express myself? and thats generally what Im helping somebody do. As I said it may be twodimensional, it may be three dimensional, it may be a public space, it may involve government, it may involve cultural institutions, it may involve corporations, it may involve editorial publications it can be anything, really. And then as a painter I make up projects for myself to express myself. And theres no client, theres no direction. Thats the difference. NS: How did you arrive at the decision? How did you realize that creativity, making a life of that, was the way to go? PS: Well I always drew. I was, you know, the school artist. I was the person who made the posters for the prom. Thats who I was. I went to art school when I was in high school. I didnt know what graphic designer was. I went to Tyler School of Art for college, and I went there to be a painter. I didnt know what design was. I took a design course in my second year and I liked it...it was called, I think it was illustration. So I decided t major in it, but I wasnt a very good illustrator so I became a designer they taught illustration and design in the same course. NS: Design, as such, seems to be a relatively new idea. Wheres the intersection for you between that art, and the idea now of design, as you said, working with people, solving problems. Is it different now? Is your conception of design as a field, as a discipline, is it different than it was then? Or do you still think of it just as art with a different goal? PS: Thats an interesting question, actually, because it changed. Design really can be anything. What design is...its the art of planning, and it is the art of making things possible. Really, everything is designed. The table is designed, the chair youre sitting on is designed, the shirt youre wearing is designed, you look out the window at a park that was designed, the parks got signage and an entryway that was designed, theres a thing called Shake Shack in the park that was designed... NS: Great design.

PS: Thank you. NS: Was that you? PS: Well I did do all of the typography. NS: Ahhh...its gorgeous. PS: The goal of design as it relates to visual things, to tangible things, is to raise the expectation of what something can be. Its not just to...OK, you can say Ive got a problem. Ive gotta build a hot dog stand in the park. You can build an ordinary hot dog stand or you can build a spectacular one, and you can do it sometimes without that much difference in money if somebody thinks about it. So what a designer does is he makes things possible that you didnt imagine could exist before, and it makes the world a better place. You know, its a great thing to be doing. A fine artist does that, too, but they make the expression for themselves, not for others use. Design always has a purpose, art has no purpose. Thats really the difference between them. Do I think one is better than the other? Absolutely not. I think they both fulfill functions. But having no purpose is the function of art, so somebody else can look at it and ask a question. Design is different youre supposed to understand whats going on. You can be delighted by it, intrigued by it, but youre supposed to know its a hot dog stand. NS: Its funny...when I talked to Milton Glaser yesterday he quoted Horace, he said the purpose of art is to delight and inform. PS: The purpose of art? NS: Yeah. I was talking about the same thing, that intersection, and he sort of used that as a jumping-off point. I thought it was an interesting way to put it, but its funny that you say art has no purpose." PS: No, no art has no purpose. It exists for its own sake. Design always has a purpose...Im sure in Miltons quote hes probably talking about some qualitative measure Im not putting any quality judgment on it. Fine art exists for its own sake. And design exists to serve some purpose. I think design, to a degree, is more generous and more humanistic than art, though great art can move us more. You know what I mean? They serve differently, but...the job of the designer is to make things understandable, usable, accessible, enjoyable...important to a public, that involves the public. NS: Its interesting that you say that art exists to be asked questions. As I was talking to Milton we rounded into the intersection of marketing and persuasion with design. You can design without the explicit intent to persuade or market, yet it seems the two things have to be somewhat inextricably linked. Or not? PS: Milton doesnt do enough work. I mean, really. He makes it sound like it's a moral issue. Marketing is neither good nor evil. Marketing implies that you want a public to relate to your product if its a product in a way that makes them want to use it. That is only good or evil in relationship to what the product actually does. If people that made products didnt market them and sell them wed have no economy and nobody would be working. So you cant say there shouldnt be marketing and (that) marketing is a bad thing. Marketing is a necessary part of the process. Now if youre making the Shake Shack which you saw and liked there wasnt heavy marketing data, and I was doing the thing with Danny (inaudible) in the park and the fact of the matter is how people were going to use and perceive this thing played into how we designed it, because design is planning. And planning involves considering how other people may use something. Now if you try to manipulate an audience in an underhanded way that is devious, especially if a product doesnt deliver on a process...if you look at an audience and you consider how (they) would enjoy something more, something thats reasonably pleasurable like going to a Shake Shack, then thats not devious or terrible. It really depends on what it is and what youre doing. Marketing is not inherently bad. Thats just dumb. Thats said by somebody that isnt doing enough work.

NS: Well he didnt exactly say that... PS: Well Ive heard him say that, though... NS: Oh... PS: He does think that. And he thinks that because his work was destroyed by people who do marketing. And they can, but its not because theyre doing marketing its just because theyre dumb people. Your work gets destroyed by dumb people and it gets enhanced by smart people and it really doesnt have anything to do with marketing. Really, Im sorry... NS: No, no...thats part of what I wanted to explore. I agree with you, but I know there are a lot of people, who I hold in high regard, who veer really perilously close to that idea. PS: I think theres a good reason for it. There is always the...assumption that people are being manipulated in terrible ways. I think in relation to our current administration I cant think of a better example of misuse of media...in every form, for ill-gotten gains. I find them corrupt, and I find my client at Citibank not terribly corrupt. You know, it seems like what they want to do is reasonable. They want people to go their banks, use their credit cards, and they want to make money. I dont find anything odd about that, thats what theyre in business to do theyre a bank. You go to the bank, dont you? NS: As far as I know almost everyone does. PS: Well, whatre you going to do, say there shouldnt be banks? They want you to go to their bank. How bad is that morally? I dont think thats bad. NS: I agree with you, and its funny that you say that he said that, because I think that he intentionally didnt say that marketing is bad when talking to me. PS: But you were left with the impression that it was. NS: Yeah. PS: Yes, I know. Its neutral its neither good nor bad. It fulfills a specific function. If its done right and the product is terrific and something is successful thats good for everybody. I mean, I think Apple is a wonderful example of spectacular marketing and I love having my iPod. There are the naysayers who say that nyah, nyah, it breaks and I think well, I dont like what Microsoft made... (were interrupted at this point and made to move out of the lunchroom) NS: The iPod, and Apple, that brings up another thing I wanted to address. How do you feel about what I would call the democratizing of design Target, Apple the bringing of this idea of design to the public as something thats no longer invisible. PS: I think its fantastic. I love that the level of mediocrity rises. What happens is people especially, I think, audiences in the United States people confront new things a little bit afraid. Its like when youre a kid and your mother puts something on your plate you never ate before. I think that American audiences are very much like that, and when they can accept something new they can accept the next new thing, its incredible. And what happens is that their expectation of what things should be is elevated, and thats really terrific for us. Now, in that always comes a lot of sameness. Were in this wonderful architectural revolution right now, and thats terrific, but then you start to see the same (inaudible) buildings, and you start seeing people doing things like Gehry did, and Gehry doing himself over and over again, so that the good side, the innovation part (inaudible)...but we went forward a huge way, so somebody like my mom can look at a building, a newfangled building, and think its interesting. She might not have been prepared to do that a number of years ago. Or that my brother, who never cared about what anything looked like, can perceive something as a cool object and say gee, why arent other things like that. And thats fantastic.

NS: Why arent all Shake Shacks designed? PS: Right. NS: So, you dont think that...do you think that the craft of design as a practice is moving forward because of that? PS: I think that its a great time to be a designer. I know that in my own work Im able to do all kinds of things I never thought Id be able to do. I mean, you started out by asking me if things had changed, in a way, or...if my view about being a designer was the same I cant remember quite how you phrased it, something like that and the fact of the matter is I never thought Id be able to design all the things Ive been able to design. I thought that Id be far more limited to a specific kind of work, and Ive been able to establish an incredibly broad practice in all different ways, and its because the expectations have gotten elevated. (interruption) PS: Anyway, I think that the ability of people to accept new things is growing, and thats good for all of us. NS: The technology to produce these things, the availability and what its capable of, has changed so much in such a short amount of time. Whats it been like to oversee that? To start your craft before Photoshop, before the Mac. PS: You know, Im married to Seymour Chwast, who is Miltons partner. And they live in a different generation from me. I mean, my expectation is that technology always changes. When I started out in school there was a... (inaudible background noise during this part of the interview) ...and then there was a stat camera when I went to work. When I went to work the type was set hand type, then it was set linotype, then it was set film type. All in the space of about five years. Then everybody got rid of their stat cameras and got Xerox machines. Then they threw out the Xerox machines and they got these Macs that only move things horizontally and vertically. Then the software gradually got better and the type got better and the Macs got better. Then the Macs could do all kinds of things that you cant imagine, then they could programs that were threedimensional, then they could do all kinds of virtual reality things. Now we can animate them. My expectation is just...it always changes. I find technology...irrelevant, really. Its not that it isnt part of my daily... (interruption) ...anyway, technology is something that grows and changes, and what I need to do is find out what it can do so it can do what I want it to do. And I want it to do whatever I want it to do really fast. And its fantastic. NS: How do you feel when your work is... PS: Wait, one more answer to that. Im not from Miltons generation and Im not from a generation of kids that grew up on a Mac. But the thing is, I think I have more advantage than either generation. Because Miltons generation was born without that form of quickly changing technology that accept will change. The generation thats come after me, the kids that learn a certain way, they have a hard time when the equipment changes again. I dont have any of those problems because I dont expect to ever know anything and the equipment always changes. So its actually a huge advantage because if theres something new Im not reactionary to it, I just expect its going to come and Im gonna figure out what the hell I can do and see if its something I need.

NS: He, in particular, is really against the idea of starting on the computer. He thinks the computer should be the last thing after the drawing. PS: Well, people draw on the computer. My team draws on the computer. I mean, they were brought up with it. Its like saying, well, you shouldnt draw with a ball point pen. I mean, thats stupid. Im sorry...its rules for no purpose. NS: No, I agree with you, but for me its right now just exploring the idea. And the flip side is...I mean, people just ten years younger than me, Im blown away by some of the things theyve never experienced. They dont know what its like not being in constant communication...and thats ten years. So its not about any particular generation to me, its just that to work creatively for any length of time, and to oversee those changes, and then to see the next person coming along who doesnt know certain things that you took for granted but who knows other things that youve yet to discover... PS: Thats why things look different from decade to decade and from generation to generation and from century to century. We dont do everything the same way we always did it. We just dont. We become different people and we adapt to our environments, but that doesnt have anything to do with being creative. NS: Really? PS: Because creativity isnt about the advantage or disadvantage of a specific time or culture. Creativity is something that comes internally from a human being having a genuine mistrust of rules. And that may be the constant. Its almost like theres some rebellion in it. It has to do with what came before you immediately, not what came before you a long time ago. I mean if you look at design trends theres always some reaction to the thing that was happening previously, so these things come in order. And theyre reinvented in new ways thats one thing you can say about style. For people who make inventions, whether they make scientific inventions or artistic inventions, theyre driven by pretty much the same thing. Its some mistrust from somebody saying it couldnt be a certain way, and overthrowing that. But that can happen at any point in history, at any time you come along. It doesnt get better or worse because youre born in this era or that era I think its more individualistic. It comes from within, you know, its an internal thing. Some people are in stultifying environments where there are rigid rules and rituals and they need that to thrive, where other people are just asphyxiated by stuff like that. I would be, and I think that the notion of being creative is the notion that, inwardly, you assume that many things are possible. And that you can try these things and that something will happen. I find that Im at my least creative point when I am doing something that Ive done in repetition and I know all the rules I never break the rules because I know them. When I dont know all the rules Im just wild. NS: How do you feel when your work is and this is especially true in your case with type, I would think when your work is appropriated and, ultimately, redesigned. Whats the personal reaction to that? PS: Well, sometimes Im flattered. Sometimes Im mad. Mostly it does a healthy thing to me. It makes me realize that Ive already done it, and Im happy to be doing the next thing. Because, what, am I going to run after them with a lawsuit? If somebody does it badly and makes what I did look banal it means I cant do that anymore. NS: I tried to pin Milton down to get his reaction to the DC Comics logo because, to me, whenever I see an iconic piece of design discarded I sort of get personally offended. And I wonder what the person who created it...and his reaction was, well, design is a temporal art, you know, I couldnt get him to respond directly to how it makes him feel when a piece of iconic design is discarded. You must have some reaction to that when it happens to your work. Take the Citibank logo...

PS: I was going to say, theyre trying to do it right now. You know, its like theyre killing my kid. You have to have a lot of kids. NS: Theyre going to replace it something with something involving gradients and swooshes. PS: Well whatever they do I always hope its terribly bad. What I hate is when something Ive done is replaced by something better than what Ive done. Its really embarrassing. So whatever they replace anything Ive designed, please let it stink. Thats my hope. NS: What still amazes you? What still makes you say wow? PS: What makes me say wow continually changes. It changes based on what I know. If I know something well, it no longer makes me say wow even if its really terrific, even if its a great iteration of it, because I know it well. What makes me say wow is usually something I havent encountered, in a new way...something I havent encountered before or something I have encountered that I see in a new way. And right now Ive become, because I do so much three dimensional work, Ive become much more interested in architecture than Ive ever been. And it happens to be an incredibly good period to be interested, so theres a lot that I say wow to. Some of it is specific architects bodies of work, some of it is technique, some of it is ways of thinking about spaces that Ive never thought of before. So I would say Im probably more inspired by things that are outside in the public realm, currently...and materials, and ways of doing things that I hadnt considered before. NS: Whats been the highlight so far? PS: Of what? NS: Thats up to you. Looking at a body of work, and a life lived creatively thus far, what stands out? PS: Well, Ill tell you what Im most proud of, and I dont know how long I can keep it going. Im most proud of the fact that I get to keep growing. That I get to work on things Ive never done before and I get better at it, and I can do things that are innovative. Which Ive done in my fifties, and want to continue to do through my sixties. Stefan Sagmeister says that nobody innovates past forty-five, but I think hes wrong. I want to keep doing it. He thinks my best work was in my fifties when I started doing architecture stuff...and the thing was that I was older, and I want to be able to do that again. To find a thing that I havent done before that I can reinvent. Its great. NS: And thats the crux of the idea of why I wanted to talk to you. I assume thats going to continue. PS: Thats my intention. I dont know if I was incredibly lucky, I dont know if its going to continue. We just did a thing with my team that I love that was fun to do but it wasnt an important project. Im hoping that I continue to be innovative on things that are tremendously visible and are still important projects. My fear is that when you become an expert in anything then the expectation somehow makes you ordinary, in a way, because you become the firm that does that, or you become the person that does that. You really need to change the form to make the discovery. Im not quite sure where Im going to make the next big push...its great to have a painting show. My first big painting show did really well last year. I didnt know that I could do that. That was new. NS: Whats next? Whats on the horizon, both immediately and broadly? Im assuming that theres no concept of retirement as such. PS: You know, I dont understand what that means. I mean, I could see deciding to make less money. In Pentagram, part of the condition of the partnership is making sure that Im supporting my end of the business. I have other people to be responsible to, so Ill often do projects because they pay well. There may be a time where I dont do that anymore, where I just do projects that I want to do. But I wouldnt call that retiring, I would call it not making as much

money making a conscious decision not to. But the idea of retirement seems to imply that you stop doing what you always did. Why would you do that? I dont get that. NS: I think its done by people who dont... PS: Dont like what they do. NS: Right. PS: No, I like what I do. So why would I want to stop doing it? NS: I dont think you would. PS: To me what really matters is that it shouldnt matter to you what day of the week it is. If it matters to you what day of the week it is then somethings wrong in your work life. Or the other life it could be that going to work is better than being home. But you should never think of days as the weekend. It should all be the same, it should all be stuff you want to do. And when it isnt then you have to change it, and you have to think about how you change it.

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