Paul Rand, more than any other American designer, is credited with bringing the modernist design movement to America. Over a career that spanned more than six decades, he produced a body of work that included editorial and poster design, illustration, and most famously, logo designs for corporations like ABC, IBM, UPS and Westinghouse. Rand was born in Brooklyn, New York and attended various New York art schools before beginning his design career as an editorial designer for magazines like Apparel Arts, Esquire, Coronet, and Glass Packer.
He had a knowledge of modernist painting, particularly the works of Klee, Kandinsky and the Cubists, and he was able to manipulate visual forms and distill them to a symbolic essence without making them overly simplistic or boring. While Rand is most famous for the corporate logos he created in the 1950’s and 1960’s, it is his early work in editorial design that established his reputation. From 1941 to 1954, Rand worked with copywriter Bill Bernbach at the Weintraub advertising agency.
His collaboration with Bernbach became the prototype for the art/copy team working together to create an integration of visual and verbal information. In the mid 1950’s Rand became more involved in corporate trademark design. The IBM logo, designed in 1956, is probably the design for which he is most famous. Rand also designed the logos for the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), United Parcel Service (UPS), and Westinghouse.
Most of these designs are still in use; the UPS logo was only recently updated from Rand’s classic design. Some of his other logo designs may be more infamous for reasons Rand had nothing to do with, such as the logos for the Enron Corporation and the Next computer where is was hired directly by Steve Jobs. Rand was one of the few graphic designers that wrote extensively on design. He published several books and countless magazine articles. Thoughts on Design, published in 1946, is a classic book on graphic design.
Rand wrote in another of his books, Design, Form and Chaos, “To design is much more than simply to assemble, to order, or even to edit. It is to add value and meaning, to illuminate, to simplify, to clarify, to modify, to dignify, to dramatize, to persuade, and perhaps even to amuse. To design is to transform prose into poetry”. Rand remained a modernist throughout his career despite the various design trends that came and went during his long career: “I haven’t changed my mind about modernism from the first day I ever did it….
It means integrity; it means honesty; it means the absence of sentimentality and the absence of nostalgia; it means simplicity; it means clarity. That’s what modernism means to me…” Paul Rand is arguably the most celebrated American graphic designer of the twentieth century. Many of his logos remain current even today though they were designed more than forty years ago. His writings, some going back to the 1940’s are still applicable to design today and his work continues to inspire future generations of graphic designers.