Just came across this essay I wrote on Rand a couple years ago, which inspired these posters as well as his position as an absolute graphic design god in my eyes.
“Design is the method of putting form and 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.”[i] This famous quote by Rand at his last interview in 1996 serves as a basis for each and every design created in his 61-year career.
Paul Rand spent the first 20 years his long and fruitful career at advertising agencies. Beginning in the “bullpens” of different agencies Rand quickly moved to Art Director of Esquire magazines at the age of 23, but it was at the newly formed William H. Weintraub Advertising Agency Rand’s design aesthetic began to form. This is mainly due to Rand’s initial condition of employment from Weintraub, which allowed him total control and freedom from interference on all designs. As art director, Rand began to sign each final advertisement, an uncommon practice. At Weintraub and throughout his career Rand was known to openly criticize associates work when it did not meet his standards of “good design.” If the designers were willing to face the criticism, Rand would then provide helpful insight into improving the ad, breaking it down to only the absolute necessary images and text.
As Rand grew as a designer it became clear his innate ability to create a repeatable brand for a company was a key to his successful campaigns. His successes repeatedly boosted sales for companies such as Coronet Brandy, El Producto Cigars, and Dubonnet (a re-appropriation of Cassandre’s original drawing). This skill led him to the next step in his career, for which he today receives the most acclaim, creating corporate identities. Rand’s most simplistic designs, his IBM, abc, and ups logos clearly display modernist inspirations from greats such as László Moholy-Nagy, Walter Gropius, and Le Corbusier and in turn are his most successful. Although some may find Rand’s identities are overly simplistic and therefore easy to create he reminds, “Of course, these things look very simple, but they take forever to do.”[ii] Rand’s ability to create timeless logos and form unified identities for corporations kept him more than occupied for the next 40 years, a feat few other designers can claim.
Though Rand’s designs where praised for their quirky approach, most corporations hiring Rand were not as accepting of Rand’s quirky and seemingly stubborn approach to presenting his designs. Since his early years at Weintraub, Rand believed in providing only one final solution to the client, leaving them completely out of the design process. As Rand put it himself, “For the same reason the doctor doesn’t give you a million choices. If you’ve got a headache he will give you aspirin, he doesn’t give you a choice between that and exlax. … If I think its right why bother making anymore.”[iii] This is not to say that Rand did not provide reasoning and support for his final solution. To accompany the design Rand would provide a booklet thoroughly explaining the process to creating this final solution proving why his solution was the best for the job.
Rand showed utmost confidence in his design solution, which frequently brought conflict with unsure corporations who were looking for multiple solutions. Rand knew very well that art was subjective and has multiple solutions, but as the designer hired believed it was his job, solely to choose this final solution. “The smooth functioning of the design process may be thwarted in other ways, by the imperceptive executive, who in matters of design understands neither his proper role nor that of the designer…”[iv]
With Rand’s legendary status, companies easily viewed him as an authority on the subject of design. In essence, they put their trust in the powerful Paul Rand brand to create a successful design. When Rand first presented his iconic Westinghouse logo it almost never made it out of the presentation room. As most clients do, the Westinghouse executives wanted to see other variations to which Rand simply responded, “No.” With complaints growing, Westinghouse executive Cresap turned to Noyes to see if he approved of Rand’s circular logo Noyes firmly responded, “I’ll tell you how we decide it. I am your design consultant, and we got the best man to do it, and I say this is good and you should approve it.” [v] The design was then promptly accepted. This understood balance of power allowed Rand to continue his practice of a single solution, but for those without such world renowned fame attempting a similar presentation is rarely successful.
Luke Sullivan reminds in his guide to advertising, “We are in the service business. “[vi] The job of an advertiser, and therefore graphic designer, is to provide a design that most importantly functions for the company’s needs and to an extent personal preference. Each designer may believe he/she is the most intelligent and talented artist since Rand, but it is quite likely not. A designer should always present the most thorough reasoning for each of their designs, but next should be willing to listen to criticism from the client. This is not to say that designers should settle on mediocre designs that simply please the client, designers in Rand’s famous words should still strive to create “good design” at all times.
Paul Rand is an undisputed icon as an artist, graphic designer, and art director. His signature playful, but always-functional, style maintained relevance for his 61-year career and will continue to be admired by artists to come. His unwavering desire for “good design” when tested by clients, although idealistic, serves as motivation to improve mediocre advertising. His idol Laszlo Moholy-Nagy described Rand as” … an idealist and a realist, using the language of the poet and businessman. He thinks in terms of need and function. He is able to analyze his problems but his fantasy is boundless.[vii]
[i] Rand, Paul. Paul Rand at the MIT Media Library John Madea. 14 November 1996.
[ii] Rand, Paul. Interview with Graphic Designer, Paul Rand Miggs B. 1991.
[iii] Rand, Paul. Interview with Graphic Designer, Paul Rand Miggs B. 1991.
[iv] Rand, Paul. “The Politics of Design.” Rand, Paul. A Designer’s Art. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.
[v] Heller, Steven. Paul Rand. Regent’s Warf: Phaidon Press Limited, 1999.
[vi] Sullivan, Luke. Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2008.
[vii]Heller, Steven. “Thoughts on Rand.” Print (1997): 106-109.