An era has ended but ideas could still thrive

Alan Fletcher said two very telling things to me the other day. First, he remarked that 1996 marked the end of an era for design. Paul Rand’s death last week, in the same year as his friends Swiss-born Josef Mller-Brockmann and UK great Abram Games was a bit eery, given that all three were born in 1914 and founders of the 1914ers, a club set up to honour that fact.

These were the heroes of so many of today’s doyens of graphic design – Rand, after all, gave Fletcher one of his first breaks as a young designer working in the US. Each had his own style, Rand’s being the widest ranging. But they all based their work on a strong idea, beautifully crafted – as Fletcher says, you don’t see much of that these days.

These were the guys who set the standards and their work has endured, in Rand’s case most obviously through identities for the likes of IBM and Apple Computer. It’s sad that they and a number of their contemporaries should die as design starts to reinvent itself with an eye to the future.

It’s sad too that Rand’s passing should come just three days after we said goodbye to another legend, octogenarian architect Ralph Tubbs. Only a couple of weeks ago Tubbs’ Dome of Discovery at the 1951 Festival of Britain in London hit the media as the inevitable comparisons were drawn between it and the Buro Happold/Richard Rogers/Imagination millennium tent.

Though not as prolific as Rand, Tubbs is celebrated by architects and students, especially in the UK. But Fletcher contends that Rand does not enjoy such fame, his second point being that while Rand taught “a few of us” – designers likely to be in their 50s and 60s – few younger designers have probably heard of him.

I’d like to think that Fletcher’s wrong. But seeing so much mediocrity in graphics these days, it’s clear that the influence of these grand old men is on the wane. Otherwise there’d be more thought and art behind each project. There’s no good reason why it can’t be so. It just takes passion, dedication and spirit.

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