Paul Rand was an American graphic designer whose works were characterized by the use of humor, symbolism in visual image and the rebus-like pun. A self-taught designer who learned about graphic designs reading journals and books, he was famous for the creation of corporate logos and posters like that of IBM, ABC Corporation, Enron and Atlas among others. His two masterpiece creations, which are still in use today, are IBM logo and IBM poster. This paper has given an in-depth analysis of the two along with a glimpse into the life and career of Paul Rand and his contribution to graphic designs.
Reputed as one of the versatile designers ever born, Paul Rand was an American graphic designer famous for creating corporate posters and logo designs like that of UPS, IBM, Enron, Atlas and ABC. Known as the father of the Swiss style of graphic design, his career "spanned 6 decades, three generations and numerous chapters of design history" by the time he took his last breath at the age of 82 in 1996 (Heller 2000). It was he who introduced European modern art and design - Dutch De Stijl, Russian Constructivism and the German Bauhaus to the commercial art of America. His book 'Thoughts on Design' is regarded as the Bible of Modernism. He was greatly influenced by Le Corbusier's dictum "to be modern is not a fashion, it is a state", and throughout his life, he tried to produce good exceptional work (Heller 2000). His career can be divided into three periods; from 1937-1941, he focused on book design and media promotion, from 1941–1954, he concentrated on advertising design, and from 1954 onwards, he dedicated himself to producing corporate iconic logos and posters (RIT). This paper would present a detailed discussion upon Paul Rand, his early life and career, his contribution to graphic designs and corporate identities.
Early Life, Education and Career
Born on 15th August, 1914 as Peretz Rosenbaum in a conservative Jewish family, he with twin brother and an older sister was raised in Brooklyn, New York. His artistic sense manifested itself at an early age as young as three years old when he started drawing the Palmolive models that were on display on an ad in his father's store. Later on, he created designs and murals for school events. Since his father believed that art could not earn a livelihood, Rand had to attend Harren High School in Manhattan during the day while attending the night classes at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn (Heller 2000). However, none of these schools could provide him with much stimulation, and he often complained later on how at Pratt, graphic design was hardly mentioned. Though revolutionary modern design was very much in vogue in Europe, such things were not taught at Pratt.
It was at Macy's department store that Paul Rand first started his genuine education. It was there he came across the book on Commercial art which enlightened him about Modernism. Before that, he had never heard of "Picasso or Modernism". It was in the same year that he learnt about the works of Lázló Moholy-Nagy, Richard Lindner and Valentin Ziatara from a European magazine named Gebrauchsgrafik which was a premier advertising arts journal of Germany famous for routinely showcasing a slew of leading art practitioners (Heller 2000). He soon immersed himself in voraciously reading the rich collection of art books and European design journals at the New York Public Library. It was through his reading that he came to know of the works of Cubist-inspired advertising poster artists like E. McKnight Kauffer and A. M. Cassandre (Heller 2000).
As he continued to self-teach himself, he simultaneously also ventured out into the professional world by accepting part time jobs as a freelancer. He worked part time in a syndicate that supplied advertising cuts, maps and lettering to newspapers and magazines. As he made efforts to build his portfolio, he found himself at a great advantage due to his Jewish name, and therefore, he changed his name from Peretz Rosenbaum to Paul Rand (Heller 2000). With a new identity, he started his career in graphic design. Allen Hurlburt best describes Paul Rand’s career in four phases. Phase one from 1937 to 1941 saw him doing media promotion and cover design, phase two from 1941 to 1954 saw him building his career in advertising, phase three from 1954 onwards saw him producing corporate identities, and finally phase four saw him showing in design education as he started he to teach designs first at Cooper Union in 1942, then at Pratt Institute in 1946 and further at Yale University's Graduate School of Design in 1956 (Hurlbert 1999).
Contribution to Modern Graphic Design
Paul Rand’s signature style of modern graphic design was a fusion between European formalism and design philosophy and American wit and function. In his work of graphic designs, three major concepts including the use of humor, symbolism in visual image and the rebus-like pun played a significant role. It was in 1935 that Paul Rand started working as a graphic designer as an apprentice under the tutelage of George Switzer, an innovative designer whose works introduced the style of modern merchandising. Then in 1937, he started working in Esquire magazine. There he designed editorial layouts, cover designs for Apparel Arts, a quarterly magazine, and exclusive promotional and direct mail materials. The cover design of Apparel Arts bore no similarity with the contemporary style of covers used in magazines. He initiated the style of 'chalk salad' in which collages, montages and cropped photographs were used. The contemporary magazines at that time used hard-sell cover lines and representational comic or romantic paintings (Heller 2000). The use of photography was a rarity on covers, but Rand used the unconventional style of the cut and paste images with a rebus-style message related to season or theme conveyed on every issue of the Apparel Arts. The rebus is used like mnemonic device in Paul Rand's work to engage the readers and excite a lot of humors along the way. Few years later he got hugely influenced by topography of Jan Tschichold, and he began exploring more sophisticated versions of graphic design. He followed Tschichold's dogma on modern topography including his preference for asymmetry over symmetry, machine-made over hand-made processes and functionality over ornament (Heller 2000). Rand’s use of topography would be found in many of his works including the corporate logos he created.
Paul Rand through his designed liked to establish a communication with the readers, and nothing can better achieve this other than the use of symbolism. Hence, his works are fraught with symbols. The cover magazines of Direction, a cultural magazine with a left-wing slant and anti-fascist bias, are notable in this regard. In 1938, when he started working for Direction, he used a cut-out map of Czechoslovakia against a white background in his first Direction Cover that symbolized German annexation of the country. In the Christmas cover of 1940, Rand used the image of a barbed wire positioned like a ribbon across the image area with pops of red circles symbolizing the drops of blood shed in the Second World War (Heller 2000). The use of abstract concept in visual representations and symbolism established Rand as one of the cult graphic designers in the world.
His Contribution to Corporate Identities
Paul Rand is famed for his contribution to the creation of corporate identities. He created an array of logos and posters for a number of companies including UPS, IBM, ABC, Atlas Software International, Cummins Engine, Westinghouse and even Steve Jobs' NeXT Computers. Two of his memorable works on corporate identity include IBM logo and IMB poster. The analyses of both are given below:
IBM logo has been a defining corporate identity that gave Rand a worldwide fame. The simplicity of the IBM logo is very attractive, and it clearly represents the brand name and quality. The logo is an embodiment of superiority, innovation, confidence and uniqueness that characterize the IBM products and has been an important part in promoting the company in the IT market. It was in 1956 that Rand first designed the IBM logo. He used solid block letters in City Medium type font to write the word IBM. Rand modified the logo again in 1960s and created the thirteen striped logo of IBM. That logo was used for the 360 family of computers introduced by IBM in 1964. Though this logo was created by Rand in 1960, it was not visible to public until 1967 when the first Disk storage system was introduced with the 360 family of computers (Bradlee 2006). The masthead used was a solid black bar and the letters written in thirteen stripes in silver matched with the black look. The thirteen stripes represented the next generation of users, and this logo was used even when the 370 family of computers came into operation.
The logo was again modified by Rand in 1970. At that time, instead of thirteen stripes, eight stripes were used. The use of eight stripes gave the logo a refined look, and it is still in use today. Going with the sophistication of the IBM brand, the current logo projects a very strong image of corporate identity. The horizontal stripes representing dynamism and speed depict the youthfulness of the company (Famous Logos 2012). Highlighted fashionably, the company name written in capitalized block letters projects an image of authority. The shade of blue used in the logo looks very professional, and gives away the image of dominance and strength of the company. The current logo also famous as 'Big Blue' stands for equality as the horizontal lines parallel with each other reinforces the quality of equality. Furthermore, the term 'Big' refers to the big market share and big size of the company (Famous Logos 2012). The IBM logo created by Rand is truly a marvelous creation that brings out the simplistic yet sophisticated style of Rand as well as that of the company.
The 'Eye Bee M' poster created for an in-house event in 1981 has been another masterpiece that has immortalized Rand's name in the history of graphic designers. 9 years after the creation of IBM logo, the 'Eye Bee M' poster was created. He has taken the help of homophones and presented in visual symbols. The visual pun, thus created, is both entertaining and informative. Instead of using the letters 'IBM', Rand has used the symbol of actual eye for 'I' and bee for 'B' (ACCD 2014). The use of these visual signs gives a humorous and harmonious effect. The black background with the icons drawn against it accentuates the beauty of the poster which is a nice visual mixture of typography and images. The poster is memorable because of its uniqueness. Furthermore, the poster has an appeal of Rand's use of the word puzzle known as rebus (ACCD 2014). Rebus is the creation of a puzzle through the use of words and images.
Perhaps, Rand wanted the viewers of the poster to 'think' keeping in with IBM's motto of 'THINK'. It is to be taken into account that 'THINK' is a one-word slogan created by Thomas J. Watson, Sr, IBM's founder. IBM is run by the culture of 'THINK'. This one word motto encourages every employee of IBM to be a thinker at how best they can contribute to the success of the organization. Watson believed that knowledge is the product of thought and thought is integral to success (IBM 2014). His 'THINK' motto also corresponds well with the Smarter Planet initiative of IBM. Since thinking is an act associated with intelligent and smart people who are forward-thinking and know exactly how to achieve their targets, IBM also emphasizes on the recruitment of smart people in the organization. The smart people capable of thinking are the brains behind the Innovative, Big and Multinational (IBM) success of the organization, and it seems wonderful how Paul Rand using such a simplistic design of ‘Eye Bee M’ on the poster has portrayed the message of the ‘THINK’ culture of IBM so powerfully. Each of the icons used in the poster also stands for something meaningful. The image of ‘eye’ in the poster symbolizes the eye for innovation, ‘bee’ for the speed and dynamism and ‘M’ for the multinational and multi-faceted aspect of the company.
Paul Rand was an American graphic designer reputed for creating corporate posters and logo designs like that of IBM, UPS, Enron, Atlas and ABC. He is also known for blending European modern art and design with the commercial art of America. A self-taught designer, Rand's contribution to graphic design is unparalleled. His designs are marked by the use of humor, symbolism in visual image and the rebus-like pun. His creation of corporate logos and posters has made him an immortal icon in the history of modern graphic designers. The IBM logo and IBM poster are both examples of his sophisticated yet simplistic sense of style. His versatility as well as his uniqueness in the creation of graphic design has made him a famous iconic designer of all time.
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