Scher was once on a panel at Rockefeller University, where they were trying to figure out what motivated both artists and scientists. “The thing we agreed upon was a real contempt for rules,” she explained.
Before 1994, the Public Theater was focused on promoting its seasonal programing. It made sense: The theater’s employees wanted the public to come see the shows, so they promoted the shows. But promotion for the shows was only as successful as the shows themselves.
For Scher, the expectation for a given project is just a starting point. “I sort of flopped that expectation by making it about the place, and the show became an aspect of the place—not the other way around,” she said. The visual identity she was crafting for the Public Theater gave the place a voice and a point of view in the public imagination. Scher acknowledged that during the first dozen years she designed for the theater, she did some “very nice” posters, but she feels that her current work is much better. Indeed, the precedents and expectations Scher subverts today are often her own past work.
And while the desire to challenge and subvert can fuel innovation, sometimes the job at hand is not that exciting. Scher likens it to being overdressed for a casual get-together with friends. At the end of the day, graphic design using typography has to be legible, informative, and efficient. “So many of the things that need to be designed, in a funny way, they sort of don’t matter,” she said.
Scher admits that graphic designers often have projects that don’t give them space to make breakthroughs—and that can be demoralizing. But, as she’s learned through her painting practice, it’s important to recognize that “there are small breakthroughs and there are large breakthroughs.”