Paul Rand was a leading figure in graphic design who made innovative visual identities for some of America’s major corporations and book and magazine publishers
We all have seen the designs of Paul Rand at some stage in our lives. He had a career spanning nearly seven decades. There is the seminal logo for IBM and the logo for ABC. There is the Westinghouse logo, the logo for NeXT computers. There are posters and packaging, book covers, record covers and a multitude of magazine covers.
Rand was said to hate academia, but he has been an influential professor at Yale University since 1956.
To design, he writes, “is much more than to simply to assemble, to order, or even to edit: it is to add value and meaning, to illuminate to simplify, to clarify, to modify, to dignify to dramatise, to persuade and perhaps even amusing. To design is to transform prose into poetry.”(from Principles of User Interface Design)
Rand had a prolific graphic design portfolio it spanned more than half a century. His work symbolised the modernist design ethic of the postwar era. In the 1930s when American commercial art and advertising were dominated by in-your-face copy and realistic illustrations. Rand introduced the avant-garde art movements to visual communication and publishing. His advertisements in the 1930s, 40s and 50s for such clients as Orbach’s department store, Disney Hats, Schenley Liquors, Playtex and El Producto Cigars as well as-as hundreds of book jackets and covers for Alfred A. Knof and other publishers, combined formal elements from modern painting with geometric purity of typography.
He had the ability to combine art and design and still distil the essence of a company or a product and discover the essence of a brand. A talent gave a brand an instantly recognisable identity to consumers. They were imbued with a distinctive wit and logic yet entirely devoid of personal indulgences.
His notion of visual identity placed the viewer in a more active role. The viewer’s curiosity stimulated the viewer himself must complete the meaning of the message.
Rand says that the stripes for the IBM logo came from a desire to soften the bluntness of the three-letter logo, first introduced in 1956. His inspiration, he says, was the striped background often used in legal documents at the time to prevent forgeries.
Stripes are, of course, a nearly universal design motif, but the IBM stripes have taken on a particular meaning. Although Rand did not associate them with wiring or communication, others did. Striped graphics became an understated, unintimidating signal of high technology. And stripes of a particular width and rhythm, even without the letters, communicate the message “IBM”.
Photography and Montage
He used photography and montage, cut paper and asymmetrical typography. He did not avoid complexity. However, his ideas were often “distilled to their most salient form.”
His poster design for the film, “No Way Out”, was a nod to the 1950’s style cubist works. He was one of the few American designers to follow the modernist traditions of Cubism and the Bauhaus and was influential in working with the New Typography. He moved away from the thought of the sentimental type and layout treatment of the 1930’s.
Rand thought that good design does not date, but the bad design does.
Rand often signed his design work. The reason he always insisted on signing his work was that he did not want to be subordinate to anyone.
The El Producto line of cigars was a classic example of his tasteful packaging. This campaign was designed for the 50th anniversary of Father’s day in 1960. They illustrate that Dad was the centre of the family, with affection and attention.
In the Schenley label, Rand used arbitrary typographic elements. The label did not look too austere of using the marbled paper for the background.
Paul Rand, despite the commercial pressures and the ebbs and flows of the field, was able to transform it for thousands of designers. He never faltered, changed, or questioned the rightness of his mission. He, more than any designer, gave the design industry credibility as an essential tool for communication.
More American Designers
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