One of the goals I have with this site is to showcase great designers, architects and creatives who have deeply influenced me or their respective fields. I really want this space to be both a visual lifestyle and a design journal. This particular series is the first step in that direction, and it's called Masters.
As I've mentioned before, I just transferred to an arts school and amidst all the introductory design classes and revamping my website, this transition has forced me to pare down and try understand what it means to be a designer. I figured that looking at the story of influential designers might help with that.
A question that surfaces daily in an art school setting is "who is your favorite designer"? When people asked me that, Paul Rand never came to mind. Of course, as a graphic design student, I knew about his work for IBM, UPS and Westinghouse but not much else. But it wasn't Paul Rand's famed work that made me want to look into him at all, it was a book recommendation from quite a while back.
Rand's Conversations with Students is a small book that consists of a series of conversations Mr. Rand had with students and faculty at Arizona State University. The talks revolve around the topics of design and design education and contains some great advice. The book took me less than an hour to read and I was immediately blown away by Rands' thoughts on design with every single page.
From the beginning of every talk session in the book, Rand is constantly pushed by other ASU professors to tell them what is the best way to teach design. Rand interjects saying that students don't even know what design is. Going into drawing and software classes myself, without any talk about the meaning of design, made me immediately associate with Rand's discourse. After all, what is design?
"What is design? People have to understand what the hell they are doing. In art school people assume everybody understands everything."
"Design is relationships. Design is a relationship between form and content."
This is where I think Rand differentiates himself from other designers I admire. He really pushes the professors in the department to go deeper and deeper to find a good definition for design. It isn't about the "process" or "good and bad design"", it is about finding a definition that "can take them somewhere" They land in relationships: "all design is relationships."
Rand strongly believed that his idea of design was the basis for all the other arts. That this manipulation and relationship between form and content could be seen in painting and architecture as well. He recommends several books, but says that ultimately that is as good as a definition of design "your will ever get".
Rand's also believed that design is also a system of relationships, a relationship between all aspects of both the idea and the problem. He says that once you add something to your design you create a relationship, and that might be either good or bad. That carefulness about the interplay of objects is very clear in his logos (above) and his poster series for UCLA and American Express (below).
In my mind, the simplicity of Rands' designs stems from exactly that deep understanding of what design is and what role it plays in our society. He didn't force minimalism or simplicity, all his work, from his logo to posters is a simple reflection of the way he understood what design is. Nothing more than interplay between ideas and how to better expose them.
I can't think of a single designer who has offered me more guidance on the meaning of design than Mr. Paul Rand. He truly is a master, one of the greatest designers of all time. His ideas have forced me to question and try to understand design on a whole different level. If you are a student this is more than an essential read, it is a book to have handy throughout your entire design career.