In Praise of Paul Rand

On the anniversary of his birth take the opportunity to gem up on the undisputed godfather of graphic design
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Paul Rand makes the nurse's needle a little less scary: Big Families advertising flyer 1947
Paul Rand makes the nurse's needle a little less scary: Big Families advertising flyer 1947

"The commonplace and even the comic strip have become ingredients for the artist’s cauldron,” Paul Rand famously said. “What Cézanne did with apples, Picasso with guitars, Léger 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 defamiliarise the ordinary.”

Rand was a pioneering figure and a continuing major influence in the field of graphics and visual communication. Born on this day, 15 August, he was an art director, teacher, writer and design consultant to major companies including IBM, Olivetti, Ford, Enron and Steve Jobs’s NeXT - the company Jobs founded when he left Apple for the first time.

 

Paul Rand, Eye Bee M (1981)
Paul Rand, Eye Bee M (1981)

Rand’s art direction was a marriage of the verbal and the visual, where one and one for once made three. Adopting what he called a problem solving approach to design, he drew on the ideas of European avant-garde art movements such as Cubism, Constructivism and De Stijl and synthesised them into his own graphic design language. He's acknowledged as the father of the expression of modern graphic ideas, that the essence of powerful communication had to be the unforgettable image. 

Rand's genius lay, in part, with his grasp of function. No matter what was being advertised, the overall design scheme had to function as art and persuasion - style was a mere byproduct. He had embraced design at a very young age, painting signs for his father’s grocery store as well as for school events. Everything he designed had to have a practical aspect because, as he said, "it's a practical problem."

 

Paul Rand, Westinghouse (1959)
Paul Rand, Westinghouse (1959)

In the image at the top he succeeded in putting a happy, if not witty, face on his drug client's products - even the traditionally unfriendly doctor's syringe. Likewise, in the image below, his 1952 cigar gift box for El Producto, he upturned the traditional formula of an embossed engraving of a historical vignette or figure in favour of a 'cigar album' with a photogram of different cigar styles. "What's the big deal?" he said of the radical concept. "I was just showing the cigars." This is what George Lois, author of Damn Good Advice (For People With Talent), has to say about him.

 

Paul Rand's El Producto cigar box
Paul Rand's El Producto cigar box

“‘Every art director and graphic designer in the world should kiss Paul Rand’s ass.’ That was the last line of a speech I made honouring Paul Rand while he was still alive. In the audience, Paul sat at the front and at the centre, his fair Marion at his side. At the close, he came up to me, held me close and rasped, ‘Ah, Georgie, you’re always too kind, too generous.’ Then he leaned even closer to my ear and said: ‘And every goddam word is true!’"

 

Paul Rand, Yale University Press (1985)
Paul Rand, Yale University Press (1985)

To learn more about this fascinating character Buy a copy of our Paul Rand book here. For more from George get this book; and for a primer on graphic design past and present get Graphic: 500 Designs that Matter.

Paul Rand


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