Let’s Talk Maps! Paula Scher, Pentagram, And Why It All Matter

When I started my graphic design classes at School of Visual Arts, our instructor in the typography class gave us a term-long list of the designers (and books), who we absolutely should know and reference to.

This list only has 11 names, which is a very little percentage of the graphic designers in the world that any self-respected graphic designer should know and the instructor told us so, that this is just a very small list.

The first designer on the list that we should get to know the works of was Paula Scher.

I’ve been a huge fan of Scher way before I started the graphic design courses, because in the past few years I’ve been working closely with the designers and have been interested in graphic design for years – so, all the major influencers were familiar to me. But Scher was one of the reasons I, actually, decided to go back to school to become a graphic designer.

She was also one of the reasons why I’ve subscribed to the Pentagram newsletter – she’s been a principal at Pentagram since 1991, one of the best and highly respected design firms in the world. Every month I get a newsletter from Pentagram telling about the latest projects and in almost every issue of the newsletter there’s something that Scher did. I look at what Pentagram does and their work blows me away. To work at Pentagram is, probably, a dream of many graphic designers and which might never come true, but I will shoot for an internship, at least.

Scher is also an instructor at the School of Visual Arts and teaches an advanced course on the portfolio building, which, I will definitely take, as well as a course from Louise Fili, another great designer of our time, who also teaches at the school. So, back to the assignment.

The assignment was – to research who Paula Scher was (duhh, I’m rather surprised by the students who wouldn’t know WHO she is), what work she did, etc., etc., etc. Since I’ve known all about her biography, I went deeper as to study each of her design works over the years: from posters and logos to packaging and MAPS! I also looked at all possible interviews with her and presentations on YouTube. I will list some of them below so that you can listen, adhere and learn from her. I’ve watched most of them – twice! – as from the early childhood I was always curious to see ‘what’s going on in a head’ of a genius  when she/he creates something that blows public’s minds away. This is exactly how I feel about Tarantino movies – I’d like to get in the head of Tarantino and see, what’s going on in the mind of a person, who creates films like Django Unchained and Pulp Fiction. Anyway, I went deeper in my research of Paula Scher.

Besides being a genius behind the logos of Citi Bank, Windows 8, TED, Bausch + Lomb, MET, and many more, she is, basically, THE person behind all that you might know and love so much about the New York City: she did brand and identity for such NYC institutions as The Metropolitan Opera, The Lincoln Center, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMa), The Public Theatre/The New York Shakespeare Festival, The New York City Ballet, etc. And if you are a big fan of music and still hold the CDs in their original cover boxes, you might want to take a look at a few from the hundreds that Scher designed for CBS Records, where she worked for eight years prior the Pentagram. During her years at CBS Records, she is credited with designing as many as 150 album covers a year. Some of those iconic album cover designs are Boston (Boston), Eric Gale (Ginseng Woman), Leonard Bernstein (Poulenc Stranvinsky), Bob James (H), Bob James and Earl Klugh (One on One), Roger Dean and David Howells (The Ultimate Album Cover Album) and Jean-Pierre Rampal and Lily Laskin (Sakura: Japanese Melodies for Flute and Harp). In addition her designs were recognized with four Grammy nominations. She is also credited with reviving historical typefaces and design styles. Too bad that the CD covers is soon to become a lost art, according to our typography class instructor, the online and digital music sources are slowly, but surely replacing the hard-copies of CDs – a sad farewell for many designers out there.

It’s pretty fun to design the CD covers – and I’ll show you my CD cover work in the next few blogs.

Scher developed a typographic solution based on Art deco and Russian constructivism, which incorporated outmoded typefaces into her work. The Russian constructivism had provided Scher inspiration for her typography; she didn’t copy the early constructivist style but used its vocabulary of form on her works. You can see it in the following designs by Scher for The Public Theatre, like this one – the image of the screaming person, where the type comes out of the mouth has been originally used by Alexander Rodchenko. See how he did it here.

So, the question that comes to my mind – what does she NOT do?

One of her very latest projects was to redesign and rebrand Weight Watchers. Anyway, I can talk endlessly about Paula Scher, her work and how inspirational she is to me, and I will be doing it quite a lot in my next blog posts.

So, what’s about ’em – the maps?

I think Scher, basically, started the map trend, because I see more and more of the design shops doing maps, however, Scher might be the first designer, who actually started doing it at the capacity that comes to live as in print as in the architecture, where Scher’s maps are applied to the exterior and interior design of the buildings, like she did for Queens Metropolitan Campus in Forest Hills. See Paula Scher’s MAPS here. You can also buy her MAPS book at the Barnes and Noble bookstores, as well as online.

Mr. City Printing's maps.

Mr. City Printing’s maps.

Here’s one of the contemporary designers, who specializes in the maps – click here to see and buy a poster of the Manhattan, Berlin, Barcelona, Portland, London, Miami, Cleveland, Chicago, and etc. from Mr. City Printing.

And here’s the list of the videos featuring Paula Scher that you absolutely must see, that is, of course, if you are serious about your graphic design craft:


9 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Maps! Paula Scher, Pentagram, And Why It All Matter

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  9. It would be real nice if these companies obeyed the copyright laws! Mr. City Printing breaks the OSM copyright every-time he sells one of his maps with their copyrighted date and NO proper credit! This country has become a bunch of scamming crooks. Please DON’T steal data and obey the international copyright laws…

    Don’t buy digital art made with copyrighted uncredited data!!!

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