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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power