Paul Rand’s impact on the world of graphic design has forever changed the language and landscape of design today. Whether you be a designer or not, we have all been impacted by Rand’s work from his extensive work in corporate branding. Most notably are his logos for companies such as: Enron, IBM, Westinghouse, and UPS. Rand also is responsible fro several publications on the subject of design and design theory.
Paul Rand was born under the name Peretz Rosenbaum, on August 15, 1914. He was raised within a strict Orthodox Jewish household in Brooklyn, New York. Being Rand was raised in an Orthodox household he was forbidden by Jewish law to create images that could be worshiped as idols, which is ironic being he became known for creating corporate identities. Even with this hurdle in front of young Rand at any prospects of becoming an artist, he began copying images of models shown on the advertising displays of his father’s grocery store.
Rand attended Pratt Institute in the evenings after he attended Manhattan’s Harren High School during the day. Despite studying at Pratt and other institutions in the New York area including: Parsons School of Design and the Art Students League, he was mostly a self-taught designer, he is quoted as stating, “I had literally learned nothing at Pratt; or whatever little I learned, I learned by doing myself.”
“I had literally learned nothing at Pratt; or whatever little I learned, I learned by doing myself.”
Rand learned about the craft of design by spending most of his time at bookshops and reading European books and magazines on the topic, such as: Commercial Art and Gebrauchsgrafik. During this time is when Rand was exposed to the Bauhaus-ideas.
Rand’s career stated with a part-time illustration position creating stock images for various newspapers and magazines. Rand’s early twenties he begun to reach international acclaim, notably for his covers on Direction magazine, which he produced for no fee as long as he had artistic freedom.
Rand was convinced by his friends that a Jewish name might slow his career down. As a result he changed his name to Paul Rand.
1936, Rand was given a job setting the page layout for an Apparel Arts magazine anniversary issue, which earned him a full-time job, as well as an offer to take over as art director for the Esquire-Coronet magazines. Rand refused the offer initially, claiming he was not yet at the level that the job required, but a year later he decided to go ahead and take the job, he was only twenty-three.
Although Rand was famous for his corporate identity work in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the work he produced in page design in his twenties were the initial source of his reputation.
"Significant that the crucifix, aside from its religious implications, is demonstrated of pure plastic form as well…a perfect union of the aggressive vertical and the passive horizontal."
The December 1940 cover of Direction magazine proved to be an important step in the development of Rand’s career. The cover uses a barbed wire to present the magazine as both a war torn gift and a crucifix, is indicative of the artistic freedom he enjoyed at Direction. His book, Thoughts on Design, Rand states, “is significant that the crucifix, aside from its religious implications, is demonstrated of pure plastic form as well…a perfect union of the aggressive vertical (male) and the passive horizontal (female).” This statement illustrates Rand’s ideas dealing with high art concepts.
Indisputably, Rand’s most widely known contribution to graphic design are his corporate identities, many of which are still in use. IBM, ABC, Cummins Engine, Westinghouse, and UPS, among many others, owe their graphical heritage to him, though UPS recently carried out a controversial update to the classic Rand design. One of his primary strengths, as Maholy-Nagy pointed out, was his ability as a salesman to explain the needs his identities would address for the corporation.
Rand’s defining corporate identity was his IBM logo in 1956, which as Mark Favermann notes “was not just an identity but a basic design philosophy that permeated corporate consciousness and public awareness.” The logo was modified by Rand in 1960, and the striped logo in 1972. Rand also designed packaging and marketing materials for IBM from the early 1970s until the early 1980s, including the well known Eye-Bee-M poster. Ford appointed Rand in the 1960s to redesign their corporate logo, but afterwards chose not to use his modernized design.
“was not just an identity but a basic design philosophy that permeated corporate consciousness and public awareness.”
Although his logos may be interpreted as simplistic, Rand was quick to point out in A Designer’s Art that “ideas do not need to be esoteric to be original or exciting.” His American Broadcasting Company trademark, created in 1962, epitomizes that ideal of minimalism while proving Rand’s point that, "a logo cannot survive unless it is designed with the utmost simplicity and restraint.” Rand remained vital as he aged, continuing to produce important corporate identities into the eighties and nineties with a rumored $100,000 price per single solution.
"a logo cannot survive unless it is designed with the utmost simplicity and restraint.”
The most notable of his later works was his collaboration with Steve Jobs for the NeXT Computer corporate identity; Rand’s simplistic black box breaks the company name into two lines, producing a visual harmony that endeared the logogram to Jobs. If ever there was a pleased client, it was indeed Steve Jobs: just prior to Rand’s death in 1996, his former client labeled him, simply, “the greatest living graphic designer.”
theory & process
Though Rand was a recluse in his creative process, doing the vast majority of the design load despite having a large staff at varying points in his career, he was very interested in producing books of theory to illuminate his philosophies. Maholy-Nagy may have incited Rand’s zeal for knowledge when he asked his colleague if he read art criticism at their first meeting. Rand said no, prompting Moholy-Nagy to reply “Pity.”
Heller elaborates on this meeting’s impact, noting that, “from that moment on, Rand devoured books by the leading philosophers on art, including Roger Fry, Alfred North Whitehead, and John Dewey.”These theoreticians would have a lasting impression on Rand’s work; in a 1995 interview with Michael Kroeger discussing, among other topics, the importance of Dewey’s Art as Experience, Rand elaborates on Dewey’s appeal:
“Art as Experience deals with everything—there is no subject he does not deal with. That is why it will take you one hundred years to read this book. Even today’s philosophers talk about it."
"Every time you open this book you find good things. I mean the philosophers say this, not just me. You read this, then when you open this up next year, that you read something new.”
Dewey is an important source for Rand’s underlying sentiment in graphic design; on page one of Rand’s groundbreaking Thoughts on Design, the author begins drawing lines from Dewey’s philosophy to the need for “functional-aesthetic perfection” in modern art. Among the ideas Rand pushed in Thoughts on Design was the practice of creating graphic works capable of retaining their recognizable quality even after being blurred or mutilated, a test Rand routinely performed on his corporate identities.
Undoubtedly, the core ideology that drove Rand’s career, and hence his lasting influence, was the modernist philosophy he so revered. In, A Designer’s Art, Rand clearly demonstrates his appreciation for the underlying connections: “From Impressionism to Pop Art, the commonplace and even the comic strip have become ingredients for the artist’s cauldron.
"Revelation does not depend upon grandiose concepts. The problem of the artist is to defamiliarize the ordinary.”
What Cezanne did with apples, Picasso with guitars, Leger with machines, Schwitters with rubbish, and Duchamp with urinals makes it clear that revelation does not depend upon grandiose concepts. The problem of the artist is to defamiliarize the ordinary.”
This idea of “defamiliarizing the ordinary” played an important part in Rand’s design choices. Working with manufacturers provided him the challenge of utilizing his corporate identities to create “lively and original” packaging for mundane items, such as light bulbs for Westinghouse.