10 Real Life Lessons for Designers

“Fall in love with something that was designed.”

That was one of the 10 life lessons for designers shared by Paula Scher during her recent talk at the Royal Geographical Society’s lecture hall in London.

The hall, according to Mark Sinclair writing in Creative Review, “was packed with people who’d come to hear Scher talk and to discuss her life and work with Adrian Shaughnessy, co-editor of Unit’s extensive new monograph on her career to date.”

The talk coincided with the publication of the book “Paula Scher: Works,” and offered practical advice mixed with a philosophical look at design work. According got Sinclair, the New York-based designer and partner in Pentagram is an engaging speaker and kept the audience rapt.

“There are things that never change about being a designer,” Scher said as she began. “They’re very much part of me.”

She pointed out the importance of having mentors and heroes, saying they can ground you and inform your thinking about the creative process. She also is a strong advocate for pushing back against a status quo (hers was to rail against Helvetica, which she finds akin to “cleaning one’ room”) and finding your own path to success by defying the “career staircase.” She encourages designers to “challenge what we think is expected of us at any time in our career [to] help define our own path.”

Taking on a rather controversial subject, Scher also made the case for working for free on things that matter.

“This,” she announced, “is going to sound a bit controversial … but working for free is important, because you take a job on a ‘pro bono’ basis when you either like the cause or have the opportunity to do something the way you want [to]”.

Hanging around with smart people is high on her list of “dos,” as is keeping up with rapidly changing times. The challenge comes in learning to keep doing what you do best, and still evolving with the world at large.

The creative challenge for designers is a daily beast, and this kind of advice from one who’s been in the field for years is invaluable. And while we hope there’s a Ted Talk on this in the future, I’ll definitely be buying the book.