Friday, November 9, 2012
Paul Rand. By Steven Heller
My eldest daughter has just bought "Thoughts on Design" by Paul Rand. I know it's a great book and now I'll have the opportunity to borrow it from her.
"Paul Rand (born Peretz Rosenbaum, August 15, 1914 – November 26, 1996) was an American graphic designer, best known for his corporate logo designs, including the logos for IBM, UPS, Enron, Westinghouse, ABC, and Steve Jobs's NeXT. He was one of the originators of the Swiss Style of graphic design. Rand was educated at the Pratt Institute (1929–1932), Parsons The New School for Design (1932–33), and the Art Students League (1933–1934). 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. Rand died of cancer in 1996 in Norwalk, Connecticut."
IBM poster. By Paul Rand. Wikipedia.org
Let's read about another book, " Paul Rand" by Steven Heller:
It is not normally a compliment to claim that a 250-page book can be grasped quite intelligibly in a 10-minute browse. A medieval monk might take a month to meditate an intricately illuminated manuscript. A 17th-century savant could digest for days the densely printed columns of a scholarly tome. But the increasingly rapid 20th century has trained us all to assimilate, in a merely passing glance, the urgent headline, the peremptory traffic warning, the sales sign, the instant ad.
That transmutation in the rhythms of reading, in tempos of comprehension and information flow, has been nurtured in the cells of graphic design. Its trajectory can be traced from the rousing street posters of insurgent Paris, the eye-catching theater bills of semi-illiterate Victorian London, through Soviet revolutionary agitprop and Dadaist typographical delight to the sleek inventiveness of Bauhaus modernism and the manipulative spectacle of Nazi rallies, all converging in the global self-proclamations of contemporary capitalism.
The story is far from finished, but Paul Rand's work is affirmed as an important chapter in it, and aptly celebrated, in this book by Steven Heller, art director of The New York Times Book Review. It achieves this without shouting, simply by giving generous white space to some 300 illustrations of his work over six decades and arranging them to reflect Rand's range: from magazine covers and advertisements to book jackets and corporate logos, from children's books to annual reports, from product centers designed for I.B.M. to pedagogic exercises devised for Yale students. Rand's graphic work speaks quickly, easily, accessibly, often memorably. That, after all, was not only the esthetic credo of a generation but the functionalist demand of its commercial clients: an unrecognizable logo, unreadable business card or ambiguous letterhead was useless, and unidentifiable advertisements were dollars down the drain. (...)
In an older epoch, when much art was unsung craft, Rand might have been recorded simply as the anonymous Master of the I.B.M. Logo. Heller's book puts his name firmly on these graphics, on his period. It will remain there, honorably. But not quite beyond dispute. For the story continues. In 1912, two years before Rand was born (as Peretz Rosenbaum, another story), the Italian Futurist F. T. Marinetti coined the slogan ''parole in liberta'' (words set free). By the time Rand died, in November 1996, the cyberpunk update was ''Information wants to be free.''
Like other modernists, Rand helped create the taste by which he was enjoyed. But now, after the hard sell, soft sell, smart sell, stunt sell, the enigmatic elliptical ad. After unity, simplicity and clarity (with a dash of wit or whimsy), the dazzling dissolving layers of multi-message MTV, with text as digital texture. ''Do it in a way no one has ever done it before,'' Kurt Schwitters advised in 1923, and then designed beautifully lucid school timetables. Earlier in this decade the new-wave magazine Raygun followed that logic to an eye-jerking collision of fractured headlines, expressive fonts and densely overlaid graphics. Rand dismissed such typography as ''zany'' and ''indecipherable.''
Shifts in design impinge too far to be left solely to debates among designers -- precisely because they are not only ''art'' or ''commercial'' issues, where tastes and products can coexist in private, compete on gallery walls or supermarket shelves. A dominant design esthetic is public, inescapable, involving our involuntary exposure. The jacket of Heller's book shows Rand dwarfed by a billboard of his own devising. I can no more avoid a global advertising campaign than I can a cathedral in a village.
Some practitioners now believe that design, like T. S. Eliot's poetry, can communicate before it is understood. On a record sleeve, to be played with, perhaps. On a Web site, given sufficient download time, maybe. But I still need to read an airport departure board in a hurry, and I don't normally want the television listings to dance before my eyes. Above all, I prefer to understand how I am being persuaded. So it would be a mistaken compliment merely to browse this book, or to regard its subject as pure design history.
EXCERPT FROM THE REVIEW BY BERNARD SHARRAT: