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Paul Rand: Idealist and Realist

By Francesca Moutafis on December 15, 2016 in Art, Design
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A super-force within the establishment of American’s visual identity, Paul Rand in synonymous with the “power brand” proving bright, playful graphics have timeless appeal. Philanthropic in his work, here we look to Rund’s writings in which he analysed and critised corporate paradigms, whilst fervently championing his humanistic approach to designing corporate America.

Truly multifaceted, Rand wrote rather extensively on the sociological, economical and political system of design, during the 1980’s and 1990’s. His most prolific work; “The Politics of Design”, forms a stark analysis of the stifling rituals of business bureaucracy. Through unnecessarily complex corporate structures, and a lack of comprehension for the process, the designer-maker is confined to working within the fabric of the constitution. Deadlines must be met to meet client needs and ideas must be ceaselessly churned out with no qualitative value. Ignorance to the complex methodology and subtleties that generate “good” design.

“The smooth functioning of the design process may be thwarted in other ways, by the imperceptive executive, who in matters of design understands neither his proper role nor that of the designer; by the eager but cautious advertising man whose principal concern is pleasing his client; and by the insecure client who depends on informal office surveys and pseudo-scientific research to deal with questions that are unanswerable and answers that are questionable.” The Politics of Design (1985)

In 1993 Rand reiterated his discontent with the system in his New York Times article titled “Failure by Design”, here he further condemns the repressive system, with focus on the misconception that design is so commonly equated to decoration. Picking on corporate heavy-weights such as CBS and IBM he equates the absence of undervalued quality designers to the absence of quality design.

“Moreover, good design cannot be dictated or willed; alas, it is not the product of market research but of natural talent, relevant ideas, and mutual respect, without which design programs eventually will unravel and good design wither away. Design can help inform, delight, and even persuade — assuming that the designer is an artist and not just someone focused on the nonsense of “self-expression” or on the fads of the moment.” Failure by Design, The New York Times (1993)

A key modernist influencer, we owe a great to Rund. Not only did he shape the graphic identity of the mid-late 20th century, he was also asking questions about the designer’s role in this fast establishing world, highlighting the suppressive cooperate structures, rising consumerist culture, and growing capitalist mentality. 

For more information visit www.paul-rand.com

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Francesca MoutafisView all posts by Francesca Moutafis