Skip to main content
NewsMay 01, 2024

DesignThinkers Podcast: Paula Scher

In the debut episode of the RGD's new DesignThinkers podcast, Paula Scher reflects on her journey to become the legendary designer we all admire today.

Hosted by Nicola Hamilton RGD, the DesignThinkers podcast features conversations with speakers over the last 25 years of the conference as they discuss the experiences and ideas that have shaped their careers, and our event. Episodes launch every Monday, with bonus episodes featuring past brand partners for the conference releasing on Wednesdays.

Paula Scher has spoken at three DesignThinkers Conferences, in 2003, 2014 and again in 2023. RGD Members have access to recordings of her talks from 2023 ("I Am Not Done Yet) and 2014 ("All Design Is Social") in the RGD's video library.

Here's a glimpse of some of the discussion between Nicola Hamilton with Paula Scher in the first episode of DesignThinkers Podcast:

Nicola Hamilton RGD:  "You shared what I call the staircase of power. Where you sort of map a creative career by decades on a staircase. The incline is steep and steady in your 20s and 30s. By your 50s, you've sort of completed the ascent and your power starts waning. Do you map your own career in decades like that?"

Paula Scher: "No, I just think about it in retrospect. There are significant changes, and the changes are really based on what you know and what people's expectations are of you. And that when you're young, you don't know anything. So if you don't know anything, you're going to learn a lot. So that's why you grow so much in the first 10 years, because you don't know anything. By the time you're 30, you know more and so you're sort of moving along on a much more plateau level, though you're still usually getting raises or getting more important and influential jobs or learning your craft or whatever you're doing. And the thing about that is some are not always true. It's really based on luck. But what happens in your 40s, and I know this very much happened to me before I joined Pentagram is that you can't start your career without getting hired in youth-oriented jobs. Youth-oriented jobs are fun to do. They tend not to pay very well, and so you need things that pay more money." 

"Then the clients that you have start hiring younger designers who are the same age as you were when you started working for them. You have to kind of redefine yourself, this is generalization. It doesn't happen to everybody, but I've seen it. That 40 is for people who did youth-oriented things or book jackets or things that sort of have a fast turnaround, it's harder for them moving from 40 to 50 unless they find themselves in a position of really being believed as a design guru and consultant, and you get bigger projects. And then that Pentagram is very good for that. Most of the people who joined Pentagram joined between 30 and 40 or early 40s. That's the point in time Pentagram is the best option."

Nicola Hamilton RGD: "For emerging designers listening, what advice do you have for them? Where to focus their effort and energy heading into the industry?"

Paula Scher: "I think they have to spend a couple of years working with somebody they admire that they can learn from just to get the sense of how the game is played. And then I think they're going to need to be facile with the technology of the moment. And they're going to do extraordinarily well. That's actually a triple threat for us. If you master that, if you know how to see, and you know how to think and you can master the equipment, you can do as much as a big firm. You've got it all there in the programming of the equipment. You can animate, you can create artwork, you can create templates, you can manipulate copy, you can do all kinds of things. And if you have taste and sensibility and feel good working with that, you're going to do terrifically well, much better than a generation ahead of you. I remember there was sort of a lost generation when computers came in."

"When I joined Pentagram, we had no computers. And then there was this period where we all hated it because the computer couldn't do the things with typography that you could do by hand. So there was this, and even my students who came out of that period, I think, had the worst time with their career because they couldn't easily adapt to the change. But I think that if you're young, and you're open-minded and you can see, meaning you can make great scale relationships, you have ideas, you learn typography, you can have a very successful early career."

The first episode of the DesignThinkers is out now. Listen to learn more about Paula Scher's journey. And subscribe to the podcast to get updates on future episodes!

The next episode featuring Lauren Hom launches May 6 followed by a bonus episode with Vanessa Eckstein RGD, owner of blok design, our 2021 DesignThinkers brand partner. Stay tuned!

Related Articles