Born in Brooklyn in 1914, Rand was creative from a young age. He studied art at Pratt Institute in Manhattan and practiced drawing constantly. One of his first jobs was laying out product spreads for Apparel Arts, a popular men’s fashion magazine owned by Esquire.
Soon after that he started doing magazine covers. His work was instantly noticed. By his early 20s, Rand was considered one of the most important designers of his generation.
In 1941, at the age of 27, Rand was named chief art director of the newly-formed ad agency William H. Weintraub & Co. American advertising at the time had changed little since the late 19th Century, especially in terms of how the ads were conceived.
“Before Paul Rand, the copywriter was the lead,” says Donald Albrecht, the curator of the new exhibition. The copywriter would supply the words—often times a great many of them—and the words would dictate the layout of the ad, often drawn from one of several templates or formats.
Inspired by the bold graphic work being done in Europe, Rand brought a radically different approach to the job. As he saw it, an ad’s effectiveness lay in the way words and images were combined on the page. “Rand’s ads have words and pictures, but they’re all fused into one symbol,” Albrecht says.
Rand introduced a crucial new ingredient into commercial art: form. By paring down copy and breathing white space into his compositions, Rand made his advertisements stand out from the dense copy surrounding them.