Paul Rand

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This post section of my college thesis that features the 2nd designer I chose to focus on, Paul Rand. Below I also included some great interviews with and about Paul Rand. Enjoy!

Like Bass, Paul Rand portrayed abstract ideas with clarity that resonated with viewers. Paul Rand was a proponent of modernist design throughout his life; and was the driving force behind its adoption in the American corporate world. Even in his early editorial layout work, Rand portrayed his ideas directly (Meggs 374). His cover to the Museum of Modern Art’s catalog,  Modern Art in Your Life, redefined modern art for the viewer and served it up on an appetizing plate (see Figure below)(Eskilson 335). In this work and others, Rand recast modern art as something innocuous for the average patron, and no longer a radical political manifesto. This adoption of modernist ideas to mainstream communication shifted the work from rebellious to insightful. This same method of redefining a message would continue through Rand’s corporate work.

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The IBM logo is one of the earliest and most recognizable of Rand’s logos (see Figure below). International Business Machines needed to consolidate and revamp their image in order to remain competitive among a growing technology market. Rand took the acronym IBM and simply set it in slab serif heavy type. An instant icon, the logo would be slightly updated by Rand over the years (325). Instead of a plain black typeface, Rand took the same logo and split it into 8 or 16 horizontal bars. The logo was usually printed in light blue, making it less imposing, allowing the logo to fit comfortably in a variety of applications, from computer boxes to letterhead to advertisement. Rand was also one of the first designers to provide a usage guide for a logo titled: Use of the Logo/Abuse of the Logo. The success of the IBM logo guaranteed Rand’s position as the corporate identity go-to-man for the remainder of his life. Rand designed logos for UPS, Yale University Press, Westinghouse, ABC, Ford, Enron, NeXT Computers, and others. His influence can be seen in Saul Bass’ Bell Telephone Logo, Lindon Leader and Landor’s FedEx Logo, as well as, Tom Geismar’s and Eliott Noyes’ Mobil Logo. Modernist design is still prevalent in the modern corporate world thanks to Rand’s effective use of iconic sans serif type and simple, direct imagery.

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Rand did differ from his Swiss influences in his playful nature. His illustrative style often had the appearance of construction paper cutouts, and his willingness to use visual puns made corporations more human and approachable (The eye, bee, M poster, for example) (Meggs 405). He also wrote and designed books for children with his wife, Ann. The perceived simplicity of these projects belies Rand’s problem solving ability. In the end, it is that ability that gave Rand the influence he still holds. Today, designers add more and more layers in an attempt to make their work relevant, while Rand gained more from reduction. He stripped all that was unnecessary away from the problem and solved its core.

  • Eskilson, Stephen. Graphic Design: A New History. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2007, 300–333.
  • Meggs, Philip, and Alston W. Purvis. Meggs’ History of Graphic Design. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2006, 357–423.