This week, I had the chance to sit in on a conversation with designer extraordinaire Paula Scher as part of the RE:Design Conference held at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs.
Two words: Wise. Lady.
For having such an influence on the world of design, she was quite humble and honest about her own journey.
For example, while designing the logo for Citibank in the 90′s, she admitted feeling somewhat imbalanced and unhappy. Having to deal with the bureaucratic processes of a huge corporation (going through approvals, trying to please higher-ups, etc.) in combination with the “invisible” nature of digital work, she craved making something tangible that allowed her complete creative control. And so was born her personal project of abstract, typographic maps painted with acrylic on huge canvases.
She explained that although things are in all the wrong places, cities are misspelled, and the maps don’t really make sense, she has complete control over the content and is able to express her feelings about the events in a particular location.
It’s something to think about: at any moment, you have the choice and the power to create work you love, that you control. It’s easy to get caught up in completing all the assigned tasks on deadline and catering to the needs and opinions of others… but at the expense of losing touch with raw creativity. A designer needs both to sustain a happy career. Or as Paula put it, “Do the work you need to do to fuel the work you want to do.” Balance.
The rest of the conversation circled many topics, including the shifting relationship between graphic design and the music industry. Paula’s first job was designing album art for CBS and Atlantic records. Not so long ago, the album cover served as an identity badge for a band; yet over the course of a couple decades, it has been reduced to a collapsible icon in the corner of iTunes. Sure, you can still buy a hardcopy CD if you choose. But streaming seems to be the way of the future. What does this mean for the branding of an artist and how the user experiences their music? Food for thought.
Aside from the keynote conversation with Paula Scher, I wasn’t able to attend any other part of the conference. But based on how inspired I felt after one hour, I’m really interested in attending the whole thing next year.
Afterward, I came home and stumbled upon her insightful TED talk from a few years ago. Definitely a well-spent 20 minutes if you have it.