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Paul Rand: How a Paul Klees Admirer Shaped the Graphic Design and Art World

Not to be confused with the politician of the opposite name, Paul Rand (born Peretz Rosenbaum) was a graphic designer and art director who was best known for his corporate logo creations. Rand made logos for some of the biggest companies of our time, including UPS, IBM, ABC, Enron, Morningstar, Inc., NeXT and Westinghouse.

Rand was one of the first designers to embrace the Swiss Style of graphic design, and he was inducted into the New York Art Directors Club Hall of Fame in 1972.

Paul Rand was one of the most influential graphic designers of the 20th century.

About Paul Rand

Paul Rand was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1914. As a young child, he would paint signs for his father’s grocery store and his school’s events. Rand’s talent was evident at an early age, but his father didn’t believe that art could provide his son with a sufficient livelihood. Rand’s father had him attend Haaren High School in Manhattan and take night classes at the Pratt Institute. 

Unlike other designers of his time, Rand was mostly self-taught. He learned and study the works of Moholy-Nagy and Cassandre from European magazines. 

Eventually, he attended the Art Students League of New York and Parsons The New School for Design.

Rand’s early career was humble. He began with a part-time position creating stock images for a firm that provided graphics to magazines and newspapers. 

Rand amassed a large portfolio pretty early on thanks to his work and his class assignments, which were largely influenced by the Germany advertising style known as Sachplakat (object poster). 

It was around this time that he also made the decision to “camouflage” his Jewish identity by changing his name to Paul Rand. His new persona was technically the first corporate identity he created. 

One of his first professional jobs was for Apparel Arts, a men’s fashion magazine owned by Esquire. He began with laying product spreads, but would eventually move on to magazine covers.

At just 27 years of age, Rand was named the chief art director at ad agency William H. Weintraub & Co. 

It didn’t take long for Rand to develop a reputation in the industry, which only continued to increase through the years. While he is best known for the corporate logos and identities that he created throughout the 1950s and 1960s, it was initial page design creations that helped him develop his reputation.

Rand spent the final years of life focusing on design work and writing his memoirs. He died in 1996 at the age of 82 in Connecticut. 

Paul Rand Graphic Design

 

Paul Rand defined visual culture in the U.S. in the decades that followed World War II. He was one of the first American graphic designers to take inspiration from Britain and Germany.

Before he came along, advertising in America had remained stagnant since the 19th century. The copywriter took the lead, and the graphics were an afterthought.

Rand brought a radically different approach to the job. He believed an ad’s effectiveness was dictated by the way the words and images were combined on the page. He laid the foundation for the industry’s Creative Revolution in the 1960s.

He published his first book in 1947 called Thoughts on Design. That book would remain influential for decades. Rand argued that a good piece of commercial art should be both beautiful and persuasive.

In the mid-1950s, Rand began working on IBM’s new corporate identity. His influence at the company was gradual. Rand was charged with creating a new design system for the company and convince its designers to adhere to the system.

He busily worked on packaging, interiors for the company’s offices and showrooms. He also introduced bright colors to make the company hip and personable.

But his largest and most enduring contribution to the company was its slated logo, which is still in use today. The iconic horizontal stripes of the final design unified the letters and made the name feel lighter.

Along with the brand’s enduring logo, Rand also created packaging and marketing materials for IBM in the 1970s and 1980s. He was the man behind the brand’s Eye-Bee-M poster.

Rand’s work at IBM would set the stage for later works. He created logos for UPS, ABC, Westinghouse, and other well-known brands. Many of his logos are still in use today.

Rand’s design for Westinghouse is still in use today. He simplified the company’s original, complicated logo. His simplified version suggests the interlinked points of a circuit board.

ABC has changed Rand’s design slightly, adding color in the 1960s and modernizing the circular logo with the arrival of HDTV.

UPS continued to use Rand’s original design for decades, leaving the logo unchanged until 2003. As part of its rebranding efforts, the company removed the bowtie package but kept the shield shape. The removal of that iconic piece of the logo signaled that the company now offers more than just shipping and delivery services.

In the 1960s, Ford wanted Rand to redesign their corporate logo, but they ultimately chose not to use his modern design.

 

 

Rand’s career endured until his final years. He continued to produce important corporate identities well into the 80s and 90s and was rumored to have been paid $100,000 for a single solution.

His most notable later work was his collaboration with Steve Jobs for NeXT Computer’s identity. Rand was reportedly paid $72,000 for his work and provided Jobs with a manual explaining his reasoning for his design. Jobs was reportedly thrilled with the work and, at the time, called Rand “the greatest living graphic designer.”

Paul Rand Artwork

Paul Rand is known for his graphical work, but he was also an artist in the traditional sense. A devotee of Paul Klee, much of his art shared characteristics of Klee’s work. Rand owned several Klee paintings. 

Like Klee, Rand would use childlike hieroglyphs in his work as well as geometric shapes, letters, and numbers. His paintings and watercolors were assembled into his Mohawk portfolio.

Paul Rand’s work continues to be an influence on today’s graphics designers. We’ve seen a resurgence of his simplified, modern take on corporate identities, particularly as the minimalist movement continues to pick up steam.

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