Tuesday, September 29, 2015

EXHIBITIONS: "Everything is Design": Paul Rand's Picasso-esque graphics at MCNY

Quotes from the artist on vitrines at MCNY's Paul Rand exhibition
                                                                         photo by Michael Schonbach

     "Everything is Design. Everything!"  ... 
"Design is so simple -- that's why it's complicated."  

How could you not love a designer who says things like this? Paul Rand, whose playful, jazzy and clever graphics are currently on display through October 13 at the Museum of the City of New York , is not exactly a household name, but his influence on our visual world is profound. Known within the advertising community as "the Picasso of graphic design" and a consummate logo-maker (he created iconic logos for Ford, IBM, Yale University Press, UPS, Westinghouse and ABC; Steve Jobs hired him in 1985 to create branding imagery for his fledgling computer company NeXT), Rand is recognized for his use of strong geometrical shapes, bold typefaces and straighforward, unsentimental message presentation. 

"A logo is more important in a certain sense than a painting because a 
zillion people see the logo and it affects what they do, it affects their taste, 
it affects the appearance of where they live, it affects everything.” ... Paul Rand

In the1930s, just twenty years old, Rand launched a successful six-decade career as a graphic illustrator, with his audacious magazine cover design. His parents owned a grocery store in Brooklyn, and his earliest drawing was inspired by -- and later actually became -- the signage at their market. By the age of 23, he was the art director of Esquire and Apparel Arts magazines.

Rand's original name was Peretz Rosenbaum; he changed it due to anti-semitism in the advertising agencies, well-documented in TV's Mad Men. He is also said to have liked the visual symmetry of a 4 letters + 4 letters name.

His love of color and whimsy is evident in these early designs:

1939 cover for Apparel Arts, 
a men's fashion magazine

     Jazzways magazine cover design, 1946

Idea: International Advertising Art magazine,1955

                                                                                              Direction magazine cover, 1942

"When I designed a cover of Direction, I was really trying to compete with the Bauhaus, not with Norman Rockwell,” wrote Rand. “I was working in the spirit of Van Doesburg, Leger, and Picasso. It was not old fashioned. To be old fashioned is, in a way, a sin."

The MCNY exhibition contains 150 examples of vintage magazines, book covers, posters, decorative packaging, children’s books and Rand's own writings about principles of design. A large section of the exhibition is devoted to demonstrating how Rand's attention-grabbing creations, which relied on the intelligence of the viewer rather than a hard-sell approach, shook up Madison Avenue during the 1940s and early 1950s. His singular skill at merging text and image elevated design to a level equal to, and eventually superseding, that of copywriting.

                                                                              Gift box for El Producto cigars, 1952 

I Know A Lot of Things, a 1956 book designed by Paul Rand 
and written by his wife, Ann Rand

Thoughts on Design by Paul Rand, 1947

"To all children who like ice cream ..."

IBM facility in Rochester Minnesota
IBM logo and graphic identity designed by Paul Rand.
Photo courtesy of IBM Corporate Archives

                                                                                                IBM ad for Latin America outreach  

"I haven't changed my mind about Modernism from the first day I ever did it ... It means
integrity; it means honesty; it means the absence of sentimentality and the absence of nostalgia; it means simplicity; it means clarity. That's what Modernism means to me."

Rand taught at the Pratt Institute and was a professor at Yale University for forty years.  Named one of the ten best art directors in history by the Museum of Modern Art, he is considered to be a member of the "trinity" of great American corporate designers, which also includes Saul Bass and Milton Glaser. 

Rand even designed his own gravestone, utilizing the
 4 + 4 letter pattern that he liked so much.

°     °     °     °     °     °     °     °     °     °

For more information about Everything is Design
at the Museum of the City of NY,
link here


  1. I love Paul Rand! So glad that his work is being celebrated at the museum in NYC. Thanks for your posting, which was a great read and beautifully designed. MM

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  3. As I read the blog I felt a pull on the heartstrings.
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