For a primer in the origins of modern advertising design, head uptown to the Museum of the City of New York for “Everything is Design: The Work of Paul Rand.”
Paul Rand, born in 1914 as Peretz Rosenbaum to Orthodox Jewish parents in Brownsville, taught himself the rudiments of design by copying the advertisements in his parents’ grocery store at age three, and painting signs for the store as he grew older. He attended night classes at Pratt Institute and the Art Students League and by 1934 began creating illustrations for advertisements and articles. The following year, in order to advance his career in an industry and a time often unwelcoming to Jews, he changed his name to Paul Rand. Armed with a new name and a singular vision, Rand entered the world of corporate America, and never looked back.
Dubbed the “Picasso of Graphic Design,” Rand was one of the most influential designers of the 20th Century. As you wend your way through his many iconic ads, posters, book covers and collateral materials, you might be startled by images so familiar, they’re imprinted on our collective memories. His Colorforms logo still engenders a Pavlovian desire, in this adult at least, to hunker down and tack geometric shapes into a pattern. Other epochal images created by Rand abound: From the late ‘60s through the ‘80s, he was responsible for constructing a complete look for IBM – from typewriter ribbons to buildings. A photo of the IBM pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair conjures up long-distant memories, but the IBM logotype, with its archetypal, horizontal stripes across solid letters, remains constant and is one of the most recognized in the world today.
His work for IBM, Westinghouse and a host of other major companies of the time incorporated his notion that an overall design should be integrated into all facets of a company’s output—a notion that is standard corporate branding today but was groundbreaking and almost revolutionary in his time. As Donald Albrecht, the curator of this exhibit notes, “Rand’s legacy is best seen at Apple, where good design equals good business.” In 1986, Steve Jobs hired Rand, then in his 70s, to create the logogram for NeXT, a simple black box with the company name split into two lines. Jobs later labeled Rand “the greatest living graphic designer” and took his design mantra to heart – Apple’s attention to design from inside-out is legendary. Rand died in 1996.
For Jewish Week readers, the absence of anything Jewish in his large and varied opus might itself be noteworthy. Donald Albrecht had this to say: “Those designers who are Jewish tended to embrace Modernism to get away from historical connotations–to leave the past behind. The way to become successful was to adapt American ideas about commercialism and abundance and not look back.” The question is, does success today demand anything less?
“Everything is Design: The Work of Paul Rand” will be on display through July 19, 2015 at the Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Avenue, New York City.
Gloria Kestenbaum is a corporate communications consultant and freelance writer.