Paul Sahre’s (pronounced “say-er”) story should be widely known by now. He is often a design show judge and lecturer. He is widely respected as a designer, with notable posters for New York’s SoHo Rep Theatre, plus numerous book covers, op-art pieces in The New York Times, as well as recent efforts as an author of books. But he remains an enigma—or at least hard to characterize. My first encounter with Sahre left me curious. It was during an interview for STEP’s 2004 Design 100 Annual, in which Sahre served as one of five judges.
STEP obliges its Design 100 judges to make one “top pick.” Most select a thing they find especially well designed and well produced. Sahre selected something that bothered him, something that reminded him of what he considers the unpleasant choices designers face between commerce and art. He called attention to a logo for a state Lotto, juxtaposing it with a silkscreened poster for the arts he liked that was created by the same design team.
Sahre intended his comparison to make a larger point, that even the best designers face difficult choices: Work they love for clients they love and work they need to make ends meet that sometimes originates from clients with whom they may feel conflicted.
Sahre said then, “On the [one] hand, I know things like this [are sometimes] necessary to keep things afloat and to allow you to do work you love. But where and when do you draw the line? I’ve faced my own difficult choices in my career. The thing about thresholds is sometimes they move depending upon your economic circumstances.”