Paula Scher on creativity as a small defiant act of misbehaving

"Small breakthroughs and how they came to be" was the theme for Paula Scher’s presentation at Design Indaba Conference 2013.

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“Creativity is a small defiant act of misbehaving,” said Paula Scher at Design Indaba Conference 2013. The renowned environmental graphic designer and partner at Pentagram, New York dedicated her talk to seven fundamental projects in which she established a “breakthrough” that changed either the project or her future designs.

Scher believes that creativity derives from situations where people feel uncomfortable, trapped or confined, and wish to find an alternate way to do something. She implements this in her own work by taking on projects that push her knowledge on environmental graphic design and typography.

Her redesign for the New Jersey Performing Arts Centre came from the thought that “no money, ignorance and arrogance saves the day”.  She took the existing building and used Photoshop to transform it into an architectural statement. The image was realised and today the building is covered in typography, creating a visually-grounded and established centre for arts in New Jersey. 

The Achievement First project was a result of Scher’s dedication to taking on projects out of love, fun and for social good. The Achievement First schooling centre encourages students to excel through displaying positive slogans on schooling material. Scher took these slogans and placed them on walls around the school. The project led her to complete another five schools using the same concept.

Using her renowned large-scale map paintings as inspiration, Scher painted a mural for a school in Queens. The map provided a colourful backdrop and highlighted the school's position in the city.

Scher further spoke about using her staff to design an identity for the Annual Type Director’s Club Competition. The identity system provided an extremely varied set of logos but still proved to be recognisable in terms of colour and form.  

What she thought at first was a failure turned into one of her biggest successes yet. Redesigning Microsoft’s logo saw her challenging the behaviour of the company in terms of the way it thought about identity and the behaviour of individual groups within the company, encouraging them to buy into Microsoft as a whole. The result was a series of logos, which adequately reflect the progressive nature of the company’s software.

After working on the identity for the Public Theatre in New York for 18 years, the project has become somewhat of an endurance test for her. Each year she designs the posters for the various events held in Central Park and has recently redesigned and created the environmental identity for the theatre’s lobby