Among these young Americans it seems to be that Paul Rand is one of the best and most capable [. . .] He is a painter, lecturer, industrial designer, [and] advertising artist who draws his knowledge and creativeness from the resources of this country. He is an idealist and a realist, using the language of the poet and business man. He thinks in terms of need and function. He is able to analyze his problems but his fantasy is boundless.
– László Moholy-Nagy
Paul Rand was born in New York City in 1914 to Jewish parents. He would eventually take on the name Paul Rand in an effort to somewhat conceal his very Jewish given name – Peretz Rosenbaum. A true modernist, Rand’s brought Swiss design principles to the United States, and created some of the most iconic pieces of graphic design we have today. His skill, hard work, and philosophy effectively changed the way graphic design functions as an industry, and created a pathway for emerging designers to follow.
As a kid, Rand painted signs for his father’s grocery shop, as well as for his school. Under pressure from his father, he attended high school while taking night classes at Pratt Institute. Rand claimed that he learned “nothing” at Pratt, and so is widely regarded to be self-taught. Graphic design education didn’t really exist at this time, so Rand learned mostly from European magazines Commercial Arts and Gebrauchsgrafik, where he was introduced to Bauhaus ideas and styles. He later went on to study at Parsons School of Design and the Art Student’s League.
Rand’s early work was illustrative, and freelance. His first “regular” job was for Apparel Arts magazine, where he was given quite free reign to experiment on unique covers. His unique skill for composition and design was recognized quickly and he was then appointed art director for Esquire magazine at the tender age of 23. When one of the senior partners at Esquire left the company to create Weintraub creative agency, Rand followed and became the agency’s new art director.
Rand achieved huge amounts of success at Weintraub, eventually earning twice the pay for half the amount of time he was working before. His distinctive designs required intelligence from the viewer, but were widely popular and well – known. He used simple, sans serif fonts (usually Futura) as well as his own handwriting.
Paul Rand is perhaps best known for his work on logos, for the notable companies IBM, ABC, UPS, and Ford, among others. His philosophy with logo design was that they did not need to “create” the meaning of the brand, but convey what they company was already known for.
It is only by association with a product, a service, a business, or a corporation that a logo takes on any real meaning.
Rand’s logos were simple, and not because he aimed strictly for that end, but because he was aware of what he wanted to communicate. He said that logos should aim to convey one idea only, more than that would confuse the message.
Ultimately, the only mandate in the design of logos, it seems, is that they be distinctive, memorable, and clear.
Upon their first meeting, Lázló Maholy-Nagy asked Rand if he read art criticism. When Rand said he did not, Maholy-Nagy replied, “Pity.” From then on, Rand consumed art criticism and philosophy books at a rapid pace. He developed his own theories of graphic design and published them in numerous books.
Rand’s impact on the design world has been to nearly revolutionize the way it operates. Not only did he embrace modernist design, he introduced the iconic art director and copywriter combination when he began working with Bill Bernbach at Weintraub agency. He also famously presented his logo clients with presentation books that showed the choices he made when creating the logo, and their relevance to the final deliverable. This practice, which has now become standard, was at the time new and surprising. His logo booklets not only showed his process, but contained information on color, typography, form, and symbolism.
Paul Rand continued working hard until his death at the age of 82. The legacy he ultimately left changed graphic design forever. Through his lifetime, he received awards from the American Institution of Graphic Arts, the Art Director’s Club of New York, an honorary doctorate from Philadelphia College of Art, and was inducted into the New York Art Director’s Hall of Fame in 1972.