Potting Shed Heroes: Paul Rand

Potting Shed Heroes: Paul Rand

If you were to sit down and write a list of what you consider to be the ten most powerful brands of all time the chance is that at least 3 of the will have been designed by Paul Rand.

Born Pertetz Rosenbaum in New York, 1914, he decided to camoflauge his overtly Jewish name by changing it to Paul Rand. He chose this name not for personal reasons but for aesthitic ones. He figured that 'Paul Rand,' four letters here, four letters there, would create a nice symbol, design always came first for Rand.

As a young designer launched into a profession where so much form without function pervades Rands approach and colossal body of work was a beacon to be followed. He asserted that form and function were as important as each other and design which had one but not the other failed to either convey the message or stimulate the senses. It's a simple enough notion but one that is hard to adhere to religiously when deadlines loom and tried and trested aesthetic crutches are so easy to fall back on. It is this complacency that Rand railed against vehemently.

As a young designer in the 1940s the then dominant American "streamlined" forms were often nothing more than superficial coverings that allowed the old to appear new. Rand, however, influenced by European Modernism, embraced a functional, systematic, yet extraordinarily expressive approach to graphic design in both his editorial and advertising work. Though Rand's approach for a book jacket is substantially different from that for a package design or a corporate identity, each solution is underscored by a sensibility that is grounded in wit, simplicity, and of course, appropriateness. In addition to his contributions to the design of books and magazines (he was art director of Esquire and Apparel Arts when he was only twenty-three years old), Rand has devised benchmark corporate identities for IBM, Westinghouse, UPS, and NeXT.

As the interview with Steven Jobs above attests to, Rand had a somewhat brash presentation style. He often gave corporate chiefs only one logo to "choose" from, accompanied by a booklet explaining why his design was not merely attractive, but inevitable. "I was convinced that each typographic example on the first few pages was the final logo design, " Steve Jobs recalls of Rand's book for NeXT, which showed the four letters, then paired them with the computer's signature black box, and then arranged them in a square.

Jobs thought he was getting lovely typography, but Rand's final logo was more than that. "I was not quite sure what Paul was doing until I reached the end. And at that moment I knew we had a solution... Rand gave us a jewel, which in retrospect seems so obvious."

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, pioneer typographer, photographer, and designer of the modern movement and a master at the Bauhaus in Weimar, may have come closest to defining the Rand style when he said Paul was "an idealist and a realist using the language of the poet and the businessman. He thinks in terms of need and function. He is able to analyze his problems, but his fantasy is boundless".