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Make It Bigger

Make It Bigger, by Paula Scher is a mild anecdotal and quiet read. In the odd shaped, and seemingly large book you will find a story of sorts as narrated by its main character (and author).

More than talking about the end results, Scher talks about the experience of each project. Starting with her first job as a designer at CBS Records, she explains the layout in her office, what kind of people she had to deal with on a daily basis, the common challenges and problems she encountered and the kind of work she did (which I will not go into in this review). You sense a certain growth as the chapter progresses, a less naive designer emerging on the other end, but still one rather self-centered.

Soon after leaving CBS Records, work on two publications (Quality and Together) for Time Inc. provided her with a revelation. She started defining, first publications, and then design in two categories: coping and craving — how to and what you should want. Over the years, this thinking extended to all aspects of design, and she found herself surrounded by one or the other. She also started to discover what kind of client she wanted to work for, and which one could (or should) be ditched. Avoid advertising agencies, but do work for design-related business, and certainly seek entrepreneurs. This may sound obvious to you, though this is rather early in Scher’s career and still trying to figure out how she fit in the professional field. Seeking clients that had a strong voice and opinion, she soon learned how to proceed in a meeting, knowing mid-way if the design was dead or very much alive. Stirring clients one way or another, selling one idea over the others, taking into account the personality types (smart, dumb, lazy, energetic…) she had across the table.

When she started Koppel & Scher with long-time friend Terry Koppel, they distributed a beautiful promotional piece titled Great Beginnings (featuring opening paragraphs from famous novels designed in the period style) which proved to be very successful, as well as defining. Many new projects came their way, and many of them seeked the specific style found in the promo piece which was a frustrating experience for the partners who tried to steer away from this preconception. Many typographical solutions that have shot to fame, stemmed from this.

A while later she worked on �ola. She describes it as the greatest project mainly because of the creative freedom she had, and the two young and daring Swedish entrepreneurs. Later on she has come to realize that she gave the project away financially but has no regrets since she found it to be so fulfilling. Soon after, in part due to desktop technology, she discovered the art of hand lettering through a series of posters and paper promotions (among others) that have led to her now famous obsessive maps (image 1, image 2).

In 1991 she joined Pentagram and quickly learned a few things she had been doing wrong all along, and also realized she had been doing a few things right. She has found it a great place in which to be, since she has the opportunity to work as an independent, while benefiting from the cooperative. She has thrived in this environment, working on all sorts of projects, always in the look out for fun and unexpected experiences that she can obtain with the credibility that Pentagram provides. She prefers to have a balance between what can be deemed as “corporate”, and something “fun and interesting” to keep her focused on both and interested at all times.

This book has provided me with a rather insightful view to the Paula Scher behind the myth. I can see that like the rest of us, she has been afraid, intimidated, shut down and pushed every which way like the rest of the world. She is a strong woman, and her efforts have paid off. But, I can also see this book as a “look-at-me” monograph full of stories and large pictures. The one thing that has left me unsettled, is her over-simplification of the world. People are either smart or dumb, lazy or energetic, design writing is either coping or craving, design projects are either corporate or fun. Clients are worth “it” or not. If “the client” is not a strong individual that has the final word, the project is not as appealing and she seems to lose interest rather quickly. This is of course an ideal situation, but with larger and larger corporations taking over the world this is very hard to find, if not almost impossible. On the other hand, she steers herself away from a “style” that will define her, but if you flip through the book whitout reading the captions or knowing it all belongs to one designer, you will definitely sense a common thread, and a common line of thought. Everything is BIG.

Book Information Make It Bigger by Paula Scher Hardcover: 256 pages Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press ISBN: 1568983328
Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
ENTRY DETAILS
ARCHIVE ID 2118 FILED UNDER Book Reviews
PUBLISHED ON Oct.22.2004 BY bryony
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
Armin’s comment is:

As you can see, we are trying the book reviews in the "front page" for a little bit.

On Oct.22.2004 at 10:10 AM
Jason T’s comment is:

Front page? Nice placement. And nice review. Scher strikes me as creative, smart, and opinionated. After reading about Paula in Profile: Pentagram, I'd like to know more. Bryony's review gives me a taste, and now I'm surely interested in this book.

On Oct.22.2004 at 10:17 AM
Adrian Hanft’s comment is:

We read this book for our AIGA book club, club(red). It was much better than I had anticipated. I was expecting the traditional "everything I have ever done is awesome, everything came easy, look at all these big photos of my work" type of biography. Instead she talked frankly about her struggles and successfully portrayed herself as a person rather than the design goddess she is. The best part of the book for me was some of the insider techniques she used to "sell" her clients on her ideas. Nice review of the book, by the way...

On Oct.22.2004 at 10:32 AM
Bryony’s comment is:

Instead she talked frankly about her struggles and successfully portrayed herself as a person rather than the design goddess she is.

Indeed. Through out the book, you come to realize that she is indeed human and that she has faced many of the problems that us, the “everyday” designers, also face. And she talks about this in her book, narrating what the problem was, and why it came up (or the best theory that she can imagine), what her struggle was, her proposed solution and the final outcome. As the book progresses you can see what kind of a problem solver Scher is.

On Oct.22.2004 at 10:48 AM
Jason T’s comment is:

...and as one could guess, a savvy business woman to boot.

On Oct.22.2004 at 10:55 AM
Don Julio’s comment is:

Before we all bow, the more design gurus and legends you meet over time, the more you will find are just as down to earth, neurotic, passionate, steadfast, obsessive and committed as many of us aspire to be.

It's great to confirm that Paula is "a real person," but from the title Make it Bigger, to the Speak Up Gain essay there is an unfortunate whining that seems to surface. If you read Tan's Economic Temperature Check, and then these two mentions about Paula, it seems one would be more appreciative of the clients and opportunities that have fallen in her path. Having not yet read the book, perhaps this comes across differently then in the two SpeakUp posts above. The cover somehow reminds me of her Metropolis redesign with David Carson photos and his newer close cropped, slice of the bigger picture style.

I was inspired by her work very early on and still have a 1989 Print article (sorry, no links back then) by Phil Meggs, titled The Women Who Saved New York. Paula was annointed with the magic elixir of greatness some time ago, so to still linger over the peon position in her beginnings that many of us held, or even retelling the cliché client joke "Can you make it bigger?" as a title, doesn't bode well for me when designers with high profiles could do far more good for this industry by touting what a difference design makes. The target audience seems to another design book for designers, rather than showing how great design builds successes for clients and business. That's where I get off the boat. This is going to have to go next to Kit Hinrich's book of flags for me, and I'll sit back and wait with hope for the Michael Beruit volume.

Clients are not a necessary evil, they are necessary, period, and not just as filler between more liberal, creative projects. As more clients learn to appreciate and understand design, the richer the experience becomes for everyone. The more we build and stregthen these relationships, the more they will have more trust in us as consultants and experts. They will be willing to take more calculated risks. Instead, I keep reading an imagined client directive between the lines "I do great work, so leave me alone."

Hooray for Paula, I still love her work, but enough whoa is me already. Oy vey.

On Oct.22.2004 at 12:43 PM
Ryan Peterson’s comment is:

Just finished this book a few days ago, so very fitting. Funny how I do it all day long, then go home and read books/websites about Graphic Design. Are all of us this obsessed, or is it just me? I'm also very prone to "Judging a book by its cover", in the very literal sense.

Anyway, I enjoyed Make it Bigger very much, and never thought of it as a "Look-at-me" kind of book. It seemed a little more like an in-depth portfolio review: Attend if you wish. If she wanted to talk about all the crap work and unenlightened clients she has worked with, this book would be ten times as large I'm sure.

As a young designer, sometimes I'm praying for inspiration on a project and think to myself "Can I really do this for 35-40 more years? Won't the well run dry?" Looking over the span of her career and the different and exciting projects she has worked on, gives me hope for longevity in this field. So THANKS for this book Paula. (Just in case the original accolades have stopped coming in.)

One last note, although it was originally published in a 1986 AIGA Journal, her article in the back titled "Back to Show in Tell" still seemed fitting/applicable to me.

On Oct.22.2004 at 01:28 PM
vibranium’s comment is:

HAND DOWN....one of THEE best design books out there.

I don't have it here with me in my office, it's at home...I bookmarked two pages that are single handedly the two brightest, poignent written works on graphic design I've ever seen.

That book changed my design direction.

On Oct.22.2004 at 02:47 PM
Bryony’s comment is:

I bookmarked two pages that are single handedly the two brightest, poignent written works on graphic design I've ever seen.

That book changed my design direction.

Please share when you get home. I would like to know which pages, and what they say.

Also, why did this book change your design direction?

On Oct.22.2004 at 03:06 PM
Don Julio’s comment is:

It sounds as if the book is better than the Gain presentation review. Thanks for the additional insight — I'll have to take a peek.

On Oct.22.2004 at 04:52 PM
Armin’s comment is:

I have read parts of the book here and there, I never got around to buying it so I would grab it at the bookstore every now and then. It's good. It's solid. It's not meant to "show the way". I think it succeeds, as Ryan said, by being a very thorough, in-depth portfolio review. And that's more than most monographies achieve. It's like when you are sitting with an interviewer or a prospective client and you are trying to explain what went on in the project, the good, the bad, the silly, the exciting, the just-plain-stupid. You can relate to the stories, to the designer and author and to the clients. The only difference is that every few pages you go "Oh, right, that's Citibank… not my logo for Joe's Tacos".

On Oct.22.2004 at 05:33 PM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

I look forward to Jason's next review being front and center. A suggestion would be adamsmorioka's Logo Design Workbook. I'm curious to read his thoughts on it.

On Oct.23.2004 at 12:17 AM
Rob’s comment is:

another design book for designers, rather than showing how great design builds successes for clients and business. That's where I get off the boat.

As one of the people who inspired me to actually become a designer, Paula is still quite a mystery to me. I have the book and read it. I liked it because it really showed the struggles that designer's can have while working in a 'corporate' environment—places where Paula got her feet wet. And it showed her growth as a designer. I met her for the first time here in Baltimore, and like a groupie had her autograph her book, and she seemed genuine and friendly. And touched that she had influenced my career. Her presentation here was an overview of her work and influences. It didn't floor me, since a lot of it is in the book, but it was nice to hear it from her in person.

Then we get the other Paula. The one described in the Gain piece sounds like someone who either didn't have or didn't take the time to prepare for the presentation. Either that, or someone put it together for her and she hadn't really gone through it. In any case, since I wasn't there, only those who were there know how bad it really was.

There's also the Paula that stuck a realitively young AIGA chapter with some outrageous and unreasonable expenses when she came to speak at an event they held. It basically sucked any profit away from the event and caused a deep financial crisis for this chapter. (And I realize I'm not giving away much detail, so you'll just have to trust me when I say some of her expenses were outrageous and unreasonable.)

So, as you can see, someone who I admire professionally, has one persona level, left me with more questions than answers. But the book is well worth reading and it offers some very personal insight into what it takes to really work well with your clients.

On Oct.24.2004 at 11:57 AM
Michael B.’s comment is:

Then we get the other Paula. The one described in the Gain piece sounds like someone who either didn't have or didn't take the time to prepare for the presentation.

Peter Sherrer may not have cared for her Gain presentation, but I assure you that Paula prepared long and hard for it.

On Oct.24.2004 at 12:39 PM
Rob’s comment is:

Knowing how well you know Paula and that you work with her, Michael, I'll take your word for it. As I said, In any case, since I wasn't there, only those who were there know how bad it really was.

If anything, I was surprised by the comments but I believe her presentation is available for all to judge on the Gain website, unless I'm mistaken. Of course, one does have the opportunity to hear her present it, so it is taken out of the context of Peter's commentary, but like design, presentations are certainly a subjective issue.

On Oct.24.2004 at 01:38 PM
Feluxe Socksmell’s comment is:

this book as a “look-at-me” monograph.

Paula's BIG was scorched in EYE Magazine

for this very odd reason. Every monograph is "look at me" no matter the size. If you dont "look" it doesnt work. I thought the book was quite profound and refreshing in its anti-corporate/ beaurocracy theme, besides its a looker.

Peter Sherrer may not have cared for her Gain presentation, but I assure you that Paula prepared long and hard for it.

He didnt care for mine either, Micheal. Maybe Peter deserves the stage? (he lives in LA, go figure) Some of us, unfortunately, are merely able to design.

On Oct.24.2004 at 03:57 PM
Gunnar Swanson’s comment is:

I was not at Gain but I have heard Paula speak on many occasions. She has a gift for weaving a lesson into a narrative. She is consistently engaging, informative, and charming. I would not be surprised to disagree with her. I would be very surprised if she were unprepared.

I have also read reports on talks I have heard; I would never assume that one person’s brief dismissal of a talk means that I would have shared the person's opinion.

On Oct.24.2004 at 04:39 PM
ps’s comment is:

Peter Sherrer may not have cared for her Gain presentation, but I assure you that Paula prepared long and hard for it.

i'm sure she prepared long and hard for it. i guess i just expected something different. i don't claim that she was not prepared. and while i might not have liked her presentation, does not mean i don't like her work -- quite the opposite actually. i rate her metropolis re-design for example as very successful. i have not seen the book yet.

He didnt care for mine either, Micheal. Maybe Peter deserves the stage? (he lives in LA, go figure) Some of us, unfortunately, are merely able to design.

... yeah, go figure

On Oct.25.2004 at 12:10 AM
Shahla’s comment is:

“… I certainly did not hear an explanation on how to explain to ordinary people how extraordinary design can be. But that’s what I think she was supposed to show us.”, Peter said. And he’s right that that was the promise of Paula’s talk as presented on the Gain website. Checking out the conference resources I get a file that downloads as paul_scher.pdf which should only be 30 pages, but it has pages 12 and 13 repeated (as 14 and 15) and is very much like her book; hence my posting here on this thread.

This book was also �observed’ by one of the fearsome four : ) over at DO -pointing to Matt Soar’s article in EYE magazine. It was after reading Matt’s review that I good-naturedly poked fun at her �need for a barstool’ when posting comments on Jessica’s Graphic Flanerie thread. I had already read the book and Matt’s discussion of her �boat’ passage confirmed what I had already felt, coming away from reading it.

So, at this conference, did they give her a smaller lectern?

Armin, I was lol over Jose’s Tacos. Are they any good?

And back to the book: I would have liked to see those Pentagram floor plans rendered more artistic (akin to her maps) and not so similar to the corporate look of the earlier hierarchical diagrams. Also, her world map would have been much more interesting if each different �placename’ was written (drawn) in the local language; a difficult task, I'll admit. I wonder if it’s been done already. . .

On Oct.25.2004 at 01:06 AM
Feluxe Socksmell’s comment is:

Intersting note: Paula Scher and Pentagram crew designed new "America: the Book" by Jon Stewart and Daily show writers.

... now 3 weeks at No.1... nice.

On Oct.25.2004 at 10:06 AM
Jose Nieto’s comment is:

Make it Bigger is one of two design monographs I have actually read twice (Sagmeister's Made You Look is the other one). One thing that struck me about it was the extent to which she delves into organizational psychology; her analysis of the decision making process is one the more useful pieces of design writing I have ever read.

I had the opportunity to do a poster design workshop with Paula Scher a couple of years ago, and I found her to be generous, articulate, and gracious (it may have helped that she liked my poster). Asked to explain her design process, she gave us a line that may offer a bit of insight into the title of her monograph (I'm paraphrasing here): "If I'm designing a poster and I find that it's not working, I make it bigger. If it's still not working, I make it even bigger. If that doesn't fix it, I make red."

BTW, there are new books out by Ellen Lupton (Thinking with Type), Timothy Samara (Typography Workshop), and Kimberly Elam (Grid Systems: Principles of Organizing Type). It's starting to feel a lot like Christmas...

On Oct.25.2004 at 11:07 AM
Jose Nieto’s comment is:

Just noticed the review of Thinking with Type, seconds after I clicked post. I guess it's a good thing that the book reviews are now making it to the feature well...

On Oct.25.2004 at 11:09 AM
DesignMaven’s comment is:

I read the Critique in EYE Magazine as well.

Thought it was CRAS.

I know Bullshit. When I read it.

PAULA IS A GODDESS.

I understand EYE ragging on Carson's new book.

Hell, I'm getting out of Design.

Going Back to FINGER PAINTING !!!!!!!

Nothing like MODERN ARTE.

My last post on S.U.until:

1. WHO MADE THE MARKS 2004 BEST AND WORST.

2. THE SAUL BASS Biography 2005

Whichever comes first.

I'll be FINGER PAINTING !!!!!!!

TO HELL WITH DESIGN !!!!!!!!!!

On Oct.25.2004 at 03:53 PM
vibranium’s comment is:

SORRY!!!

Prob. way too late but...

pages 164+165.

"The Tragedy" and "The Answer"

I liken it to Art Chantry saying (recently, while speaking in Orlando) If your clients 'don't get it' you're not doing your job well enough. To go on a tangent...if you're seen Art speak before but get the chance again TAKE IT! He is BRILLIANT, and has quite possibly thee best take on this industry...

On Oct.25.2004 at 08:11 PM
Rob’s comment is:

Maven, having a BAD day?

Paula's insight into what it takes for design to survive and flourish in a corporate environment is dead-on. And the book is absolutley fabulous and one of those design books that one can actually learn and grow from — I find to few of those.

I loved the book the first time I read it and will most definitely read it again. I did download her presentation and I can only say I'm just sorry I didn't get to hear her present it in person.

On Oct.25.2004 at 09:28 PM
Feluxe Socksmell’s comment is:

Chantry... thee best take on this industry...

unfortunately he doesnt takein much. but i half heartedly agree.

Maven-

stop Finger Painting

and pull your head outta your Bass.

Finger Bangin'swhere it at.

:)

On Oct.25.2004 at 10:31 PM
vibranium’s comment is:

whatchoo mean Felix? Not being argumentive, just curious.

Best monographs: TIBOR, SCHER, WASH SOAK RINSE, TELLMEWHY, MADE YOU LOOK, SOME PEOPLE CANT SURF.

Past the first 3 it's a tie for 4th.

On Oct.26.2004 at 09:45 AM
Feluxe Socksmell’s comment is:

take = make.

Chantry, while great, is very linear. His Surf book - admit it- is terribly designed. It would have been more appropriate/nice if it were printed on newspaper better yet- if the entire thing was zeroxed.

Tibor's book is uglier/more heavy-handed than Art's.

best monograph of late goes to Zero.

On Oct.29.2004 at 06:05 PM
Randy’s comment is:

> retelling the cliché client joke "Can you make it bigger?" as a title, doesn't bode well for me when designers with high profiles could do far more good for this industry by touting what a difference design makes

Paraphrasing Paula Scher for an alternative title tie-in that I find often true: "Inexperienced designers make type too big; experienced designers make type too small." So...make it bigger!

> His Surf book - admit it- is terribly designed.

Having been at the same talk Vibranium references, I have to say. Art in person is fabulous and engaging, but Some People Can't Surf is a bore to me. I respect his work greatly, but would not consider it a staple of my library by any means.

On Nov.11.2004 at 01:20 AM