Paul Rand: A Brief Biography
Paul Rand (born Peretz Rosenbaum) was a well-known American graphic designer, best known for his corporate logo designs. Rand was educated at the Pratt Institute (1929-1932), the Parsons School of Design (1932-1933), and the Art Students League (1933-1934). He was one of the originators of the Swiss Style of graphic design. From 1956 to 1969, and beginning again in 1974, Rand taught design at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Rand was inducted into the New York Art Directors Club Hall of Fame in 1972. He designed many posters and corporate identities, including the logos for IBM, UPS and ABC. Rand died of cancer in 1996.
Paul Rand's Exhibition, School of Visual Arts Museum
Early Life & Education
Peretz Rosenbaum was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1914. As Orthodox Jewish law forbids the creation of graven images that can be worshiped as idols, Rand’s career creating icons venerated in the temple of global capitalism seemed as unlikely as any. It was one that he embraced at a very young age, painting signs for his father’s grocery store as well as for school events at P.S. 109. Rand’s father did not believe art could provide his son with a sufficient livelihood, and so he required Paul to attend Manhattan’s Harren High School while taking night classes at the Pratt Institute, though “neither of these schools offered Rand much stimulation.” Despite studying at Pratt and other institutions in the New York area (including Parsons School of Design and the Art Students League), Rand was by-and-large “self-taught as a designer, learning about the works of Cassandre and Moholy-Nagy from European magazines such as [Gebrauchsgraphik].”Early Carreer
His career began with humble assignments, starting with a part-time position creating stock images for a syndicate that supplied graphics to various newspapers and magazines. Between his class assignments and his work, Rand was able to amass a fairly large portfolio, largely influenced by the German advertising style Sachplakat (ornamental poster) as well as the works of Gustav Jensen. It was at around this time that he decided to camouflage (and abbreviate) the overtly Jewish identity telegraphed by ‘Peretz Rosenbaum,’ shortening his forename to ‘Paul’ and taking ‘Rand’ from an uncle to form his new surname. Morris Wyszogrod, a friend and associate of Rand, noted that “he figured that ‘Paul Rand,’ four letters here, four letters there, would create a nice symbol. So he became Paul Rand.”
Peter Behrens notes the importance of this new title:
“Rand’s new persona, which served as the brand name for his many accomplishments, was the first corporate identity he created, and it may also eventually prove to be the most enduring.”
Indeed, Rand was rapidly moving into the forefront of his profession. In his early twenties he was producing work that began to garner international acclaim, notably his designs on the covers of Direction magazine, which Rand produced for no fee in exchange for full artistic freedom.
Among the accolades Rand received were those of Moholy-Nagy:
" Among these young Americans it seems to be that Paul Rand is one of the best and most capable [. . .] He is a painter, lecturer, industrial designer, [and] advertising artist who draws his knowledge and creativeness from the resources of this country. He is an idealist and a realist, using the language of the poet and business man. He thinks in terms of need and function. He is able to analyze his problems but his fantasy is boundless".
The reputation Rand so rapidly amassed in his prodigious twenties never dissipated; rather, it only managed to increase through the years as the designer’s influential works and writings firmly established him as the eminence grise of his profession.
Although Rand was most famous for the corporate logos he created in the 1950s and 1960s, his early work in page design was the initial source of his reputation. In 1936, Rand was given the job of setting the page layout for an Apparel Arts magazine anniversary issue. “His remarkable talent for transforming mundane photographs into dynamic compositions, which [. . .] gave editorial weight to the page” earned Rand a full-time job, as well as an offer to take over as art director for the Esquire-Coronet magazines. Initially, Rand refused this offer, claiming that he was not yet at the level the job required, but a year later he decided to go ahead with it, taking over responsibility for Esquire’s fashion pages at the young age of twenty-three.
The cover art for Direction magazine proved to be an important step in the development of the “Paul Rand look” that was not as yet fully developed. The December 1940 cover, which uses barbed wire to present the magazine as both a war-torn gift and a crucifix, is indicative of the artistic freedom Rand enjoyed at Direction; in Thoughts on Design Rand notes that it “is significant that the crucifix, aside from its religious implications, is a demonstration of pure plastic form as well . . . a perfect union of the aggressive vertical (male) and the passive horizontal (female).” In ways such as this, Rand was experimenting with the introduction of themes normally found in the “high arts” into his new graphic design, further advancing his life-long goal of bridging the gap between his profession and that of Europe’s modernist masters.
Indisputably, Rand’s most widely known contribution to graphic design are his corporate identities, many of which are still in use. IBM, ABC, Cummins Engine, Westinghouse, and UPS, among many others, owe their graphical heritage to him, though UPS recently carried out a controversial update to the classic Rand design. One of his primary strengths, as Maholy-Nagy pointed out, was his ability as a salesman to explain the needs his identities would address for the corporation.
According to graphic designer Louis Danziger:
" He almost singlehandedly convinced business that design was an effective tool. [. . .] Anyone designing in the 1950s and 1960s owed much to Rand, who largely made it possible for us to work. He more than anyone else made the profession reputable. We went from being commercial artists to being graphic designers largely on his merits".
Editor's Note: "Paul Rand, is one of the few leading designers, who has given the international graphic design community, the professional status and high value, that accelerated the business need for creative and innovative art direction. Leading industries and publications have discovered, through his work, the power of visual communication and invested in corporate identity building, editorial design and social image enchancement. Paul Rand has built, without doubt, a strong and priceless heritage for designers that followed". George Dimopoulos, Hellenic Design Institute, President of the Board