Graphic Designer Paula Scher on Serious Play and Not Becoming Solemn

Serious Play

Paula Scher is one of the great graphic designers of our time.  Being a master of typography, many of the memes we see in graphic design today could be attributed to her popular work. Even if you’re not interested in design, but you are interested in creativity and innovation, you should check out Scher’s TED talk below.

“In my youth, passion drove me into very serious play; a kind of play I could never do now because I’m too well educated. There’s something wonderful about that form of youth. Where you can let yourself grow and play and be really a brat” Paula Scher

paula scher designLike many creative people, Sher recognizes that often the best work comes from serious play. The unfortunate thing is that when we create good work from serious play and it becomes successful, then we tend to try and recreate moments of authentic spontaneity so that we can continue creating great work.  Well, trying to recreate a moment of spontaneous, uninhibited play that yields great results quickly causes us to become stiff, stale and as Scher says, solemn.


[sol-uhm] adjective

1. grave, sober, or mirthless, as a person, the face, speech, tone, or mood: solemn remarks.

2. gravely or somberly impressive; causing serious thoughts or a grave mood

3. characterized by dignified or serious formality

So what can we do about this very human situation that creative leaders in any field face?  Scher, has some interesting insights from her 35+ years balancing this tension between serious play and solemnity.

“This funny thing happened, I found I was no longer at play, but in this solemn landscape of fulfilling an expectation, which was not where I started…That’s a terrifiying factor because it means that all that’s left for you is to go back and find out what the next thing is that you can push, that you can invent, that you can be ignorant about, that you can fail with, because in the end that’s how you grow and that’s all that matters.” Paula Scher

Key takeaways

1. Start Embracing play and the unexpected

2. Take on jobs that are a little beyond your abilities

3. Don’t be afraid to be a fool and experiment

4. Don’t be afraid to start over

5. Don’t Cling to success

6. Helvetica isn’t as great as people think…


 “Play prepares us for the unexpected”  Marc Bekoff -Contemporary Biologist


Related Posts

Video: Tim Brown of IDEO on Why Serious Play is Important




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.