Paul Shaw is a designer and a design historian. He has a BA in American Studies from Reed College and both an MA and an MPhil in American History from Columbia University. For three decades he has researched and written about the history of graphic design with a focus on typography, lettering and calligraphy. Among his areas of interest have been W.A. Dwiggins, George Salter, Morris Fuller Benton, Bartolomeo Sanvito, Andrea Bregno, blackletter and the signage of the New York City subway system. He has received scholarships and grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Smithsonian Institution, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, the American Printing History Association, the Printing Historical Society, and the Book Club of California. In 2002 he was a Fellow at the American Academy in Rome.
Although trained as an historian, Shaw has concurrently spent much of his career as a graphic designer. For nearly thirty years his firm Paul Shaw / Letter Design has executed calligraphy, hand lettering and typographic design for department stores, cosmetic companies, food conglomerates, universities, advertising agencies, design studios and others. His work has won awards from the Type Directors Club, AIGA, New York Art Directors Club, Print and Letter Arts Review. From 1992 to 2001 Shaw was a partner with Garrett Boge in the digital typefoundry LetterPerfect. He has designed or co-designed 18 typefaces, among them Kolo, Donatello, Bermuda, Old Claude and Stockholm.
Shaw is a contributing editor for Print for whom he co-writes the Stereotype column (formerly known as Hot Type) and has also contributed to Eye, Baseline, Codex, Letter Arts Review, Design Issues, Typography Papers, Fine Print, Printing History, Journal of the Printing Historical Society, Bibliologia, Alphabet and Scripsit. He was the co-curator, with Peter Bain, of the groundbreaking exhibition Blackletter: Type and National Identity. Together they co-authored an accompanying monograph (1998) and catalogue (1999). On his own he completed the trilogy with The Calligraphic Tradition in Blackletter Type (2001). Recently, he wrote the acclaimed Helvetica and the New York City Subway System (2009). Shaw is currently working on several projects, including a critical biography of W.A. Dwiggins, a multi-volume book on digital typefaces, and a book about lettering in New York City.
In 2008 Shaw established Blue Pencil, a slow blog dedicated to research and education about topics in graphic design history, typography and lettering.
Since 1980 Shaw has taught calligraphy, lettering, typography, book design, the history of graphic design and the history of typography at a variety of New York-area universities and design schools. Currently, he is teaching calligraphy and typography at Parsons School of Design and the history of graphic design at the School of Visual Arts. He has led calligraphy workshops in the U.S. and Italy and has lectured widely on a variety of lettering and design history topics. From 1997 to 2000 Shaw co-led the Legacy of Letters tours of Rome and Tuscany with Garrett Boge. He revived the tours in 2010 and, with the help of Alta Price, refocused them on Northern Italy.
Shaw’s diverse activities have one thing in common: letters and words. Whether visual or verbal, they are the heart and soul of his research, his writing, and his design.