(b. 15 August 1914 in Brooklyn, New York; d. 26 November 1996 in Norwalk, Connecticut), illustrator and seminal figure in American graphic design who was an inaugural inductee into the Art Director’s Club of New York Hall of Fame.
Rand was born Peretz Rosenbaum, the son of Itzhak Yehuda Rosenbaum, a grocer, and Leah Rosenbaum, who had emigrated from Poland. Rand had an older sister and a twin brother. His brother died in an automobile accident when he was in his twenties. At the young age of three Rand showed a talent in art through his restless drawings, but his interest was discouraged in his Orthodox Jewish household. He attended New York City public elementary schools in the mornings and yeshivas in the afternoons. Later he attended Harren High School in Manhattan. In 1930 he convinced his father to give him $25 to enroll in night school classes at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. In 1932 he received both his high school degree and an art certificate from Pratt. He enrolled in Parsons School of Design in Manhattan in 1932 and in 1939 in the Art Students League, where he studied under George Grosz, the celebrated figure in German expressionism.
Rand began his commercial design career as an assistant designer with the small firm of George Switzer in 1932. Around this time he changed his name to Paul Rand to eliminate confusion and misspellings of his given name. Rand designed lettering and packaging for Switzer’s clients, including the Squibb Pharmaceutical Company. In 1935 he left Switzer to start his own design studio in Manhattan. In about 1937 he was hired by Apparel Arts Magazine to design covers and editorial spreads, an assignment that quickly led to designing for the magazine’s parent company, Esquire-Coronet. Rand designed spreads for fashion and gift editorials for Esquire. He was only twenty-three years old when these prestigious magazines made him their editorial designer.
Rand brought a personal vision and style to these publications. Working against the contemporary milieu in graphic design that stressed traditional, symmetrical narrative design, he pioneered designs built on dynamic equilibrium. He drew heavily on the visual language of contemporary European art movements, such as cubism, constructivism, and Bauhaus, and frequently incorporated collages and montages in his work. He found inspiration in contemporary European design magazines, such as the German-language Gebrauchsgraphik. An admirer of the work of the European artist Paul Klee, Rand grafted Klee’s techniques with color, symbols, and icons into his own graphic designs.
In the use of type in graphic design, Rand was at the forefront of a new style marked by straightforward, honest, provocative type design and selection. Mainstream type design at the time relied heavily on typography gimmicks, such as bullet points, arrows, dingbats, ornate initials, and superficial ornamentation, to dress up ads and graphic design. Rand preferred tight, concise type. His design work was frequently on display and was cited as “what’s new” by the Type Director’s Club of New York and the Composing Room.
In the early 1940s Rand designed a series of covers for Direction, an arts and culture magazine. One cover in particular became a classic. Rand depicted a stark photograph of a barbed wire cross ranged against a bullet-hole-pocked wall with a mundane hang tag listing the issue’s date and volume number and a casual, handwritten “Merry Christmas” wish.
In 1941 William H. Weintraub, a partner at Esquire-Coronet, started an advertising agency, William H. Weintraub Advertising, and Rand became its art director. Working with Bill Bernbach, who later formed the groundbreaking advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach, Rand represented Weintraub clients such as Dubonnet, Lee Hats, Disney Hats, El-Producto cigars, Kaiser-Frazer cars, and Orbach’s department store. Rand’s designs for Orbach’s, which became ad alley classics, display a playful, witty charm that arises through the conversion of a familiar object into a charming yet commanding symbol. To keep his superstar on his staff, Weintraub agreed to let Rand work three days a week, and Rand spent two days a week freelancing, illustrating books, and designing book covers for Knopf and other publishing houses.
Little is known about Rand’s first marriage, an Orthodox union that may have been an arranged marriage. His second marriage, in 1949, was to Ann Binkley, who wrote children’s books, many of which Rand illustrated. They had one daughter before divorcing in 1960. Rand set out on his own as a freelance designer in 1956. Through the late 1950s and the 1960s he attracted showcase clients such as UPS, IBM, Westinghouse, the ABC television network, and Cummins Engine. In this fruitful period he created his most enduring and memorable graphic designs. Rand’s 1956 trademark design for IBM has been considered a seminal influence on the evolution of corporate graphic communications. Under Rand’s direction the company’s logo moved away from the slab serif block letters to the familiar striped IBM letters. Rand’s responsibility extended to coordinating the worldwide implementation of the design.
Rand’s design for UPS put those three letters inside a shield motif topped by a rectangular package tied with a string. It is probably the best example of Rand’s ability to distill the essence of an amorphous, sprawling corporation into a strong, memorable, unique, disarmingly simple graphic. The logo remained in use into the twenty-first century.
During his freelance years Rand designed posters, book covers, magazine covers and layouts, and numerous corporate communications. He also illustrated many books, chiefly children’s literature. In 1975 he married Marion Swannie, a manager of graphic design at IBM with whom Rand had worked.
In addition to designing, Rand held several teaching posts at art schools. From 1938 to 1942 he taught at Cooper Union in New York City, and he was an instructor at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn from 1946 to 1947. He taught at Yale University for various periods between 1956 and 1991 and was a professor of Yale’s Summer Design Program in Brissago, Switzerland, between 1977 and 1996. He became professor emeritus at Yale in 1991. Rand died of cancer. He is buried in an Orthodox Jewish cemetery in Norwalk, Connecticut.
Rand’s work was included in almost forty design exhibits and shows. The most significant were at the American Institute of Graphic Arts in 1958 and 1966; the Art Director’s Club of New York in 1945 and 1954; the National Museum in Stockholm in 1947; the Contemporary Arts Museum in Boston in 1954; the Pratt Institute in 1960; the IBM Gallery in 1971; the Brooklyn Museum in 1972; the Royal Designer for Industry, Royal Society, London, in 1973; the Design Gallery 358 in Tokyo in 1986; the Universita Internazionale Dell’Arte in Florence in 1987; and the Ginza Graphic Gallery in Tokyo in 1992.
Rand was inducted into the Art Director’s Club of New York Hall of Fame in 1972, the inaugural year of the club’s hall of fame. He received honorary degrees from Tama University in Tokyo in 1958, the Philadelphia College of Art in 1979, and in 1985 from the Parsons School of Design and Yale University. He was named a president’s fellow at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1985. Rand’s corporate graphic design work is included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Rand’s design work borrowed heavily from avant-garde European art schools and introduced modernism to American commercial design. He possessed an uncanny ability to distill the essence of his subject matter into strong, sleek visual forms representing his subject’s conceptual expression rather than its narrative expression. For example, contrast Rand’s UPS logo against the RCA logo, which typifies an older style. The dog listening to a gramophone, with the line “He hears his master’s voice,” has several graphic elements (a dog, a gramophone, a line of type), while the UPS logo is simple, highly suggestive (the tied rectangle atop the shield), and requires no explanatory line.
Rand’s papers are at Yale University. He wrote Thoughts on Design (1947, rev. ed. 1951), Black in the Visual Arts (1949), The Trademarks of Paul Rand (I960), Paul Rand: A Designer’s Art (1985), Design Form and Chaos (1993), and From Lascaux to Brooklyn (1996). Steven Heller’s biography Paul Rand (1999) covers Rand’s career and includes an introduction by the witty advertising executive George Lois. See also Yusaku Kamekura, ed., Paul Rand: His Work from 1946 to 1958 (1959), and Michael Corey, Special Issue on Paul Rand, Printing Salesman’s Herald series no. 35 (1975). An obituary is in the New York Times (28 Nov. 1996).
William J. Maloney