Obituary: Paul Rand

Paul Rand was one of the most influential graphic designers of the 20th century. Although he is not widely known to the public, his work is universally and instantly recognisable - in particular the enduring logotypes he designed over the past 40 years for leading US corporations such as IBM and Apple.

Rand was born in 1914 in Brooklyn, New York. He studied at the Pratt Institute (1929-32), Parsons School of Design (1932-33) and was taught by the graphic artist George Grosz at the Arts Student League (1933-34). Establishing his own studio in 1935, he was amongst the first to initiate what would become design consultancy. He emphasised the importance of the visual element in projecting an idea or identity, where previously text had been the predominant means of conveying these messages; and with this visual element, the crucial role of the graphic designer.

By 1937, aged only 23, he had achieved the position of art director of both Esquire and Apparel arts magazines.

His studies into the European avant-garde art movements (among them Cubism, De Stijl, Constructivism, and the Bauhaus) significantly influenced these early years and his adaptation of their principles, combined with the inspiration he derived from American culture, developed into a highly individual graphic style. Montage, collage, painting, photography and typography all found a place in his designs, which emphasised visual, rather than textual, solutions to problem solving. His sharp creative ability and skilful reading of how design should communicate through its content led him to become widely influential whilst still in his twenties.

From 1941 to 1954 Rand worked for the William H. Weintraub advertising agency, where he applied his formidable design approach to advertisements. Collaborating with the copywriter Bill Bernbach he developed the integration of design and copy into a model of the "creative team" approach - bringing together a group of people to exchange ideas - and thus anticipated a move that would change the face of advertising in the post-war years.

During the 1950s, when graphic design truly evolved, with an explosion in the worlds of television, publishing and corporate identity, Rand was one of the designers who became a seminal figure. From 1955 he freelanced, becoming a graphic consultant to leading US companies, and his work had a huge influence on the development of company corporate identity and its application. IBM, Cummins Engine Company, Westinghouse, United Parcel Service, ABC Television: all benefited from his crisp, clear, concise logotypes.

His other important contribution to design was in education - he was appointed Professor of Graphic Design at Yale in 1956 and continued to lecture there for the following 36 years. His book Thoughts on Design (1946), illustrated with examples of his work, is regarded as a classic text on graphics, influential on successive generations of designers.

This legacy can be seen in the work of many of today's eminent designers. Alan Fletcher (one of the founding members of Pentagram, the design group) considers Paul Rand to be "the first guru of design"; Rand gave Fletcher, as a young designer, his first freelance work in the United States, for IBM.

I was introduced to Rand's work while a student, by a college tutor, Richard McConnell (whose brother, the outstanding designer John McConnell, of Pentagram, is undoubtedly a disciple of Rand's "ideas" approach to graphics). What excited me about it was that the designs were concerned with ideas and content, not just technique. This was design that encompassed both simplicity and clarity of message, by aesthetic and intellectual means, and which surpassed any notion of fashion.

It was through my own writings on design, which he encouraged, that I established a friendship and correspondence with Rand over several years. He was unceasingly inquisitive about design in the UK (or Merry England, as he called it) and anything related to design. His sharp wit, anecdotes and invaluable advice were a revelation to me. For a man in his seventies his acute perception of the world was that of a man of half his age.

In his later years Rand became increasingly disaffected with the vacuousness of much of contemporary graphic design, a subject for which he found expression in his brilliant book Design, Form and Chaos (1994). In it he wrote: "The absence of restraint, the equation of simplicity with shallowness, complexity with depth of understanding and obscurity with innovations, distinguishes the work of these times."

The last time we spoke, only a few days before he died, he was, as ever, looking to the future; the planning of a retrospective exhibition of his work to be held in New York and the publication of his latest book, From Lascaux to Brooklyn (1996).

Paul Rand, graphic designer: born Brooklyn, New York 1914; Professor of Graphic Design, Yale University 1956-92; married Marion Swannie (one daughter); died Norwalk, Connecticut 26 November 1996.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth Games
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
film
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
Extras
indybestSpice up your knife with our selection of delicious toppings
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Copywriter - Corporate clients - Wimbledon

£21000 - £23000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Copywriter - London As a Copywrite...

Horticulture Lecturer / Tutor / Assessor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: As a result of our successf...

Retail Lecturer / Assessor / Tutor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

Business Studies Tutor / Assessor / Lecturer - Tollerton

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried