Born: Brooklyn, New York
“Don’t try to be original; just try to be good.”
– Paul Rand
All images are copyrighted and strictly for educational and viewing purposes.
Paul Rand (born Peretz Rosenbaum, August 15, 1914-November 26, 1996) was a well-known American graphic designer, best known for his corporate logo designs. Rand’s education included the Pratt Institute (1929-1932), the Parsons School of Design (1932-1933), and the Art Students League (1933-1934). He was one of the originators of the Swiss Style of graphic design. From 1956 to 1969 and beginning again in 1974, Rand taught design at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Rand was inducted into the New York Art Directors Club Hall of Fame in 1972. He designed many posters and corporate identities including the logos for IBM and ABC. Rand died of cancer in 1996.
If the word “legend” has any meaning in the graphic arts and if the term legendary can be applied with accuracy to the career of any designer, it can certainly be applied to Paul Rand (1914-1996). In 1951, the legend was already firmly in place. By then, Paul had completed his first career as a designer of media promotion at Esquire-Coronet – and as an outstanding cover designer for Apparel Arts and Directions. He was well along on a second career as an advertising designer at the William Weintraub agency, which he had joined as art director at its founding. Paul Rand’s book, Thoughts on Design, with reproductions of almost one hundred of his designs and some of the best words yet written on graphic design, had been published four years earlier – a publishing event that cemented his international reputation and identified him as a designer of influence from Zurich to Tokyo.
In an interesting way the chronology of Paul Rand’s design experience has paralleled the development of the modern design movement. Paul Rand’s first career in media promotion and cover design ran from 1937 to 1941, his second career in advertising design ran from 1941 to 1954, and his third career in corporate identification began in 1954. Paralleling these three careers there has been a consuming interest in design education and Paul Rand’s fourth career as an educator started at Cooper Union in 1942. He taught at Pratt Institute in 1946 and in 1956 he accepted a post at Yale University’s graduate school of design where he held the title of Professor of Graphic Design.
In 1937, Paul launched his first career at Esquire. Although he was only occasionally involved in the editorial layout of that magazine, he designed material on its behalf and turned out a spectacular series of covers for Apparel Arts, a quarterly published in conjunction with Esquire. In spite of a schedule that paid no heed to regular working hours or minimum wage scales, he managed in these crucial years to find time to design an impressive array of covers for other magazines, particularly Directions. From 1938 on, his work was a regular feature of the exhibitions of the Art Directors Club.
Most contemporary designers are aware of Paul Rand’s successful and compelling contributions to advertising design. What is not well known is the significant role he played in setting the pattern for future approaches to the advertising concept. Paul was probably the first of a long and distinguished line of art directors to work with and appreciate the unique talent of William Bernbach. Paul described his first meeting with Bernbach as “akin to Columbus discovering America”, and went on to say, “This was my first encounter with a copywriter who understood visual ideas and who didn’t come in with a yellow copy pad and a preconceived notion of what the layout should look like”.
Paul spent fourteen years in advertising where he demonstrated the importance of the art director in advertising and helped break the isolation that once surrounded the art department. The final thought of his Thoughts on Design is worth repeating: “Even if it is true that commonplace advertising and exhibitions of bad taste are indicative of the mental capacity of the man in the street, the opposing argument is equally valid. Bromidic advertising catering to that bad taste merely perpetuates that mediocrity and denies him one of the most easily accessible means of aesthetic development”.
In 1954, when Paul Rand decided that for him Madison Avenue was no longer a two-way street and he resigned from the Weintraub agency, he was cited as one of the ten best art directors by the Museum of Modern Art. This was the same year in which he received the gold medal from the Art Directors Club for his Morse Code advertisement addressed to David Sarnoff of RCA.
By the time that Paul started working out of his Weston studio he was well known as a designer of trademarks. He had completed designs for several companies including Esquire, Coronet Brandy, and Robeson Cutlery. By 1955, the fates that continued to play a fortuitous role in channeling the Rand talent toward critical areas of design began to set the stage for his third major design career – corporate identity. Thomas J. Watson, Jr., had come recently to the presidency of the International Business Machines Corporation, and his search for a graphic designer to create the corporate image led to Paul Rand. The rest is design history.
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, a pioneer typographer, photographer, and designer of the modern movement and a master at the Bauhaus in Weimar, may have come closest to defining the Rand style when he said Paul was “an idealist and a realist using the language of the poet and the businessman. He thinks in terms of need and function. He is able to analyze his problems, but his fantasy is boundless”.
Originally published in Communication Arts March/April 1999