Paul Rand remembered – “he convinced business that design was an effective tool”

A new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York looks at the work of Rand, who created corporate identities for IBM, ABC, Westinghouse and others.

Jazzways magazine, Volume 1, 1946, with cover design by Paul Rand. From private collection
Jazzways magazine, Volume 1, 1946, with cover design by Paul Rand. From private collection

Paul Rand was born Peretz Rosenbaum in 1914 in Brooklyn, New York, with a father who owned a small grocery stall.

After studying at the Pratt Institute and Parsons School of Design Rand would go on to be one of the most iconic branding and graphic designers of the 20th century, creating work for IBM, ABC, UPS and Westinghouse, among others.

Even his assumed name – Paul Rand – was taken as evidence of his understanding of identity. Morris Wyszograd, a friend and associate, is recorded as saying: “He figured that ‘Paul Rand’ – four letters here, four letters there – would create a nice symbol. So he became Paul Rand.”

Architect and designer Peter Behrens said: “Rand’s new persona, which served as the brand name for his many accomplishments, was the first corporate identity he created and it may eventually prove to be the most enduring.”

A new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York looks at Rand’s career and is illustrated with 150 pieces of his work, including his corporate communications for IBM and work for Steve Jobs’s NeXT project – which Rand completed shortly before his death in 1996.

Rand started his career working on magazine designs, bringing European Modernist graphic ideas to America. His work began to attract international acclaim – particularly his covers for Direction magazine and designs for Apparel Arts.

He then began work as an art director on Madison Avenue where, according to CMNY’s Ronay Menschel director Susan Henshaw Jones, he “refashioned the advertising industry in New York City and introduced the concept of branding and logo recognition.”

Brochure for IBM carbon paper, designed by Paul Rand. Courtesy of IBM Corporate Archives
Brochure for IBM carbon paper, designed by Paul Rand. Courtesy of IBM Corporate Archives

By the 1940s Rand was chief art director at the William H. Weintraub agency and in 1956 he created what is probably his defining piece of work – the IBM identity.

It was through his corporate identity work that, in the words of colleague Lou Danziger, “[Rand] almost single-handedly convinced business that design was an effective tool”.

Rand went on to develop the IBM logo in 1960 and 1972 and worked on marketing materials for the company until the early 1980s – including the Eye-Bee-M poster.

He developed logos for many other US blue chip companies – including ABC and UPS – and in 1966 created a new logo for Ford, which the company eventually decided not to use.

MCNY’s curator of architecture and design Donald Albrecht says: “Paul Rand once said ‘the problem of the artist is to defamiliarise the ordinary’ and it’s a motto he took risks with throughout his career.

“For example, he would pair images of radically different scale on media, unusual colour combinations and bold typefaces with delicate hand-lettering. The result would be a visually stimulating, memorable, problem-solving approach to design.”

The MCNY exhibition is split into a number of sections, looking at Rand’s work across magazines, art direction, advertising and corporate identity. It is curated by Albrecht and designed by Perrin Studio, while others involved in its development include Steven Heller, Willy Wong, Pentagram and Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv.

Advertisement for Jacqueline Cochran cosmetics designed by Paul Rand. Courtesy of Steven Heller
Advertisement for Jacqueline Cochran cosmetics designed by Paul Rand. Courtesy of Steven Heller
The Archetypal World of Henry Moore by Erich Neumann, book jacket design by Paul Rand. Courtesy of Steven Heller
The Archetypal World of Henry Moore by Erich Neumann, book jacket design by Paul Rand. Courtesy of Steven Heller
Illustration from children's book Sparkle and Spin by Ann and Paul Rand.  Courtesy of Steven Heller
Illustration from children’s book Sparkle and Spin by Ann and Paul Rand. Courtesy of Steven Heller
Sparkle and Spin: A Book About Words, book designed by Paul Rand and written by Ann Rand, 1957. From private collection
Sparkle and Spin: A Book About Words, book designed by Paul Rand and written by Ann Rand, 1957. From private collection
I Know A Lot of Things, book designed by Paul Rand and written by Ann Rand, 1956. From private collection
I Know A Lot of Things, book designed by Paul Rand and written by Ann Rand, 1956. From private collection
Coronet Brandy magazine advertisement, 1948. From private collection
Coronet Brandy magazine advertisement, 1948. From private collection
AD magazine, Volume 7, 1939, with cover design by Paul Rand. From private collection
AD magazine, Volume 7, 1939, with cover design by Paul Rand. From private collection
Idea: International Advertising Art magazine, Volume 2, 1955, with cover design by Paul Rand. From private collection
Idea: International Advertising Art magazine, Volume 2, 1955, with cover design by Paul Rand. From private collection

Everything is Design: The Work of Paul Rand, is at the Museum of the City of New York, 1220 5th Ave, New York, until 19 July.

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