Meeting The World's Most Famous Plumber
We receive hundreds if not thousands of emails a day. Most selling you the best deal of the day or announcing a hot new release. I am no exception, and most of the email I receive ends up in the trash. One email seemed to catch my attention and I actually open it. An AIGA invite to a Paula Scher book signing. Now I’m not sure if it was my Jedi intuition or the cosmos were screaming at me to stop, but I noticed this email. I opened it and discovered a graphic designer’s dream, an evening of Adrian Shaughnessy and Paula Scher talking about their new book 522 Pages and 41 years. The last line was the most exciting:
After the event you are invited to join Paula and Adrian for a reception and book signing of Paula Scher: Works. Books will be available for purchase at the event.
I instantly purchased a limited edition hardcover version, that I would later discover there were only ten available. The event was for June 21 at the New School on west 14th Street. Those two weeks took forever, I’m not sure if it was the excitement to meet someone that I have admired since college, or that my work days were just a bit longer, but it seemed like forever.
The night was finally here, I left to head to the city around 5:15 so that I could have a good seat. This would actually be my first time inside the school, but I was already familiar with the area so navigating there wouldn’t be a problem. When I got to The New School it felt like half of the city’s designers were out for the event. The line wrapped around inside and out the door. I was about halfway in the line. As we checked in they would either tell you to head into the auditorium or head to the table to get your book. I was welcomed with a mammoth sturdy book wrapped in a tight plastic wrap. I started to walk into the auditorium and was met with a huge room constructed of a beautiful light wood, birch maybe? I was able to find a great spot nestled to the left about 6 rows in, and a perfect view of the interview chairs in the middle of the stage. The room filled steadily as I unwrapped my book and a unique smell fills my nostrils. The heavy pages had amazing tooth, but also an unexpected softness. The cover was a thick corrugated cardboard with a black spin overlay. The pages are laid out in ways that only a designer could appreciate. The book was quality and I started noticing all the soft cover books around me as I noticed a young lady looking at my book a bit envious.
The room filled up quickly as groups were chatting amongst themselves, and out of the corner of my eye I notice someone walking in from stage left. I focus a bit more and notice its her, Paula Scher walking up to Adrian as they greet each other, and I feel I am the only person seeing this right now. Nobody seemed to even pay attention, a Goliath was in our presence and everyone was too self absorbed to even acknowledge the guest of honor had arrived.
Shortly thereafter the lights dim and a representative from AIGA/NY hits the stage to welcome everyone and thank our guests. The spotlights illuminate the stage and in particular two black leather chairs. The host introduces both Adrian and Paula to thunderous applause. I perk up in my chair, attentive and alert. Adrian approaches the podium and he greets the crowd. He goes on about his accomplishments as a publisher, and why he wound up publishing design books,
“The book is the near perfect platform for art and design”
About midway into his presentation he starts to transition to why he created a book on Paula Scher and what that process was like. He then says she has been touted as the world’s best woman designer, to which she responds,
“I mean woman has become such a jarring term. What does that make me number 15? I mean woman what is that, I didn't understand that, that's nice.”
Listen To Paula discuss working at Pentagram and the Cape Test.
They start talking about her accomplishments, everything from The Public Theater, Citibank, High Line Park, and even going back into her history of album cover design. It literally felt like the Netflix Abstract episode but expanded to be even more detailed.
A Few of Paula's Well-Known Logo Designs
It was all stuff I had already known about a person who can be elusive at times. The event was a bit more of a reaffirmation of how much I already know about Paula Scher and her work, something already familiar, but at the same time it felt fresh and new. I’m not sure if it was the allure of her delivering this information in her own words, or if it was pure excitement that within the next 15 minutes I would actually be standing in front of her. What to say, I don’t want to sound like a dumb fanboy. The event ended with a humorous round of word association and a Q&A segment. This is where we gained a bit more insight into her process, what she has learned, and what she enjoys. Her answers seemed to cater to the student in the crowd. Topics like how to deal with clients and not to beat yourself up over your work. Even as a professional it was refreshing to see what a powerhouse in the field thinks. We discovered that while the event was happening, design royalty from Pentagram was present in the back of the house, including Michael Beirut. It was one of the best talks I have ever been to. Now that list isn’t super long, but it still is top by a long shot.
They tell everyone that there is a beer and wine reception in the other room, and that is where she would be signing our books. We entered a room that sort of looked like a dinging hall. I picked up my adult drink of choice, beer, and decided to get in line.
I was about 30 people in, watching others talk to her 2-3 at a time. I felt like the only designer who didn’t have an entourage, but that was cool. I was next in line and proceeded to walk towards the table. She had a welcoming vibe as I walked over and handed her my copy of the book. She smiled and took a glance at my name written on a post-it note on the cover. I said hello and she responded as such. The only thing to come to mind was telling her how much I admired her work. How excited I was to meet her, how I told my friends about the event and how they just didn’t understand my excitement. Her response was classic:
“Yeah that's understandable it's like saying i’m meeting the world’s most Famous Plumber.”
I giggled and reaffirmed that she was one of the best, whether people know it or not. I thanked her for her time today and left the line. We may not have talked as much as others in the line, but I think she said more to me than she had said to others. That one statement showed me that she was humble and was okay with half the world not knowing who she was. A world that is always feeding people ads and information, but most don’t realize that graphic designers work on nearly everything in both the physical and digital world. Since most of the world doesn’t realize the influence of designers, neither do they know who those designers are.
When people want fame and fortune by becoming an athlete or actor, designers like Paula Scher prove you can have both, but that is never why a creative gets into the industry. I may not have learned a lot about Paula Scher that evening, but one thing was clear. She loves to create with the philosophy that it's all about the problem, the process and ultimately the design. Nothing else matters.
Also Listen to Adrian Shaughnessy ask Paula 10 quick fire questions below.
About the Writer
Brian Anthony is the Creative Designer at Bigger Creative Agency. A comic book nerd who loves everything about design and technology. Born and raised in Brooklyn, like most New Yorkers, he isn't afraid to speak his mind. Brian is an outgoing designer who has had his work featured in USA Today, New York Fashion Week, and CES. He finds inspiration in everything and loves to throw on any tune and get to work.