Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Paul Rand

On any given day we take in thousands graphic design pieces: from product packaging to textbook covers, nearly every inch of our world is covered in an advertisement, a logo or some form of branding. This has become the norm, but in the early-mid twentieth century this cultural phenomenon created by the graphic arts was just beginning to emerge. A notable pioneer of this design frontier was typographer, designer and innovative businessman, Paul Rand. He produced numerous advertisements, corporate logos and even children’s books that changed the way design interacts with the general public and altered the way designers and their clients conduct business. Before this design revolution came many great art movements: Cubism, Constructivism, De Stijl, Expressionism, Bauhaus (just to name a few) and Rand used these movements as inspiration for his own style. As I will further explain, he came to appreciate a relationship between geometric form and color through the works of artists like Wassily Kandinsky, Adolphe Mouron Cassandre and Moholy Nagy as well as an understanding of line through the works of artists such as Paul Klee. Rand developed elements from these artists and fused them with the American Modernist Movement that grew out of the 1930’s. Modernism was a movement that continued to change and grow as the twentieth century progressed. During Rand’s time, modernist art expression started to merge with American pop culture. Other designers of the time, such as Lester Beall, Saul Bass and Bradbury Thompson embraced this exposure of design to the mainstream through advertising, logo design, poster design, book jackets, packaging, etc. Most of these artist’s works from the time incorporate bold color, basic geometric form, playful typography and a obvious experimentation with formal decision-making. These elements are repeated in Paul Rand’s work but in a style that is indicatively his own.
Born and raised in New York City, Rand was educated at well known art schools, such as the Pratt Institute and Parsons School of Design. He started working in magazines, which grew into a successful career as an art director for Esquire and a cover artist for Apparel Arts Magazine and Direction. Rand then focused his passion for print desig
n work into advertising, creating ad campaigns for El Producto Cigar Company, Coronet Brandy and many other recognizable brands of that time. Later in his career, Rand took on more freelance work, designing everything from posters to corporate logos and even a series of children’s books.
Paul Rand believed in the importance of transforming the familiar, often mundane, visual world with aesthetically pleasing, yet simple design that could appeal to a mass cultural base. He believed “Design is th
e method of putting form & content together. Design, just as art, has multiple definitions; there is no single definition. Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics. Design is so simple, that’s why it is so complicated.” Rand looked for what he considered a proper balance of visual content (the image) and technical content (type). He strived for a “functional-aesthetic perfection” of modern art. Rand also incorporated symbolism into his work, part of what he referred to as “New Advertising”, the idea that design should create a relationship between the designer and the viewer through the interpretation of these simple symbols.
Other Modernist designers of the time, such as those mentioned above, seemed to follow more of a social agenda through their work but Rand operated more like an opportunist, using his design skill to further his reputation as well as his pocketbook. In 1986, Rand reportedly took $100,000 for designing the
NEXT logo. Steve Jobs, creator of NEXT, once even called Rand “the greatest living graphic designer”, an almost unopposed conception in today’s design world. But was Paul Rand really the “greatest” or did he just market himself accordingly? He even signed most of his works, as if they were pieces of fine art rather than print designs for mass consumption. In most interviews, Rand seemed quite dogmatic, praising his own work and criticizing post-modernist design. There is no doubt that Paul Rand was a highly influential designer of the twentieth century who aided the transition of art into the mainstream, but perhaps he is given far too much credit and not enough critical perspective.

In the 1940s, Paul Rand strayed from conventional standards of typography and layout, and started incorporating Swiss style of design into his creations. He merged American visual culture i
nto modern design, incorporating Cubism, Constructivism, the Bauhaus and De Stijl into his work. This poster for the New York Subways Advertising Company was designed by Rand in 1947. He incorporated geometric forms and colors that can be seen abstractly or as a target, symbolizing the idea of “hitting the bull’s-eye,” in the ability to reach a large audience through advertising in the subway.

Rand was best known for his corporate logo designs. He revolutionized how businesses identify themselves through simple yet functional logos and packaging, further bringing design as an art form into the mainstream. His most famous logo design was for International Business Machines Corporation. In 1956, Rand created a typeface for the company called City Medium, which provided a more solid, grounded and balanced presence than Beton Bold, the logo’s former typeface. Then, in 1972, Rand finalized the logo by running horizontal bars through the letters (in two versions, 8-bar and 13-bar), to signify the "speed and dynamism" of the corporation. This design exemplifies Rand’s desire for simplicity, his attention to symbolism and his unique branding style that is still imitated today. The logo has been the official logo of International Business Machines Corporation since 1972 and remains a globally recognizable brand today.

After some success, Rand desired to make more playful designs. This desire manifested itself in children’s books which Paul’s wife Ann wrote and he illustrated. The books are geared toward children so they feature much less symbolism and complexity of thought but still contain those bold Rand images combined with purposeful text layout. Paul and Ann Rand collaborated on four children’s books, “ Spin & Sparkle” (1957), “Little 1” (1962), “Listen! Listen!” (1970), and “I Know a Lot of Things” (1973).

Paul Rand influenced a wide range of the print design work we see today. Many corporate logos, such as Rob Janoff’s 1977 Apple logo and Saul Bass’ 1984 AT&T logo, have a clear resemblance to Rand’s simple style. Other contemporary designers such as, Alan Fletcher, Edward Johnston and many others, seems to have taken elements from Paul Rand’s bold style and incorporated them into their own, creating successful new designs with geometric shapes, basic color and simple typography.

Re-designing a menu reminiscent of Paul Rand’s innovative style is a difficult task. It requires a delicate balance of text and image working together to convey a single, legible concept. With this in mind, I decided it would be best to divide the menu into sections so that each section would have corresponding text and image to rely on. The images are food icons I created that mimic Rand’s use of geometric forms and basic color in corporate logos. I condensed the text to balance the logos and left plenty of white space to frame each section. The finished product was a twenty-first century Rand-inspired menu that I can only hope did justice to the name.

Works Cited:

Paul Rand Official Website: www.paul-rand.com

Grove Art Online: Paul Rand

IBM Archives: http://www-03.ibm.com/ibm/history/exhibits/logo/logo_1.html

Logo Blog: http://www.logoblog.org/wordpress/paul-rand/

Abrams, Janet. "Paul Rand: A Profile." ID Magazine, 1994
Rand, Paul. “Listen! Listen!”


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