A communicator of historic proportions

By

Paul Rand: A Designer's Art, by Paul Rand. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press. 239 pp. $39.95. You already know the work of Paul Rand. It whizzes past on brown United Parcel Service trucks. It adorns the corrugated paper protecting our Westinghouse light bulbs with a wire-and-circuit ``W.'' It glows during station breaks on our television screen as the ABC network logo. And it identifies the ubiquitous office products of IBM.

While Mr. Rand hasn't designed a logo for himself, his own corporate identity is very clear. He is a communicator of historic proportions -- an innovative, prolific communicator who has become a living legend.

His newest book, ``A Designer's Art,'' is both a verbal and visual statement of his own design philosophies. Rendered with elements of Swiss-style typography (ragged-right, sans-serif text with no paragraph indents) and capacious margins, the book has been designed with communication in mind. Its pages are surprisingly simple, the columns of type short and accessible. The pages of text alternate with many examples of Rand's work, some of which are reproduced in color. The book contains many thought-prov oking ideas on design.

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While the text is brief, Rand's paragraphs pack an eloquent punch in behalf of aesthetic values. ``Any system that sees aesthetics as irrelevant, that separates the artist from his product, that fragments the work of the individual, or creates by committee, or makes mincemeat of the creative process will in the long run diminish not only the product but the maker as well.''

He observes that visual communication is ``the embodiment of form and function; the integration of the beautiful and the useful. Copy, art, and typography should be seen as a living entity; each element integrally related, in harmony with the whole, and essential to the execution of an idea.''

If these ideas don't seem entirely ground-breaking now, it is well to consider that Rand was expressing many of them in his first book, ``Thoughts on Design,'' written in 1946.

As an editorial designer in the 1940s, Rand imparted his own approach to magazine covers for Esquire, among other publications. He enjoyed breaking with tradition and trying the unexpected -- and the results brought him favorable attention. He is credited with establishing the art/copy team concept (along with Bill Bernbach, later of Doyle, Dane, & Bernbach). As an advertising designer, he helped create the memorable ads for Ohrbach's clothing stores (located mostly in New York City).

Design -- whether it be editorial, advertising, or corporate -- is unsigned art, which must pass through many hands before it sees daylight. This relative anonymity (as compared with those who produce signed work) emphasizes the stature of Paul Rand, who seemed to gain recognition from the start with his earliest projects.

Rand grew up in New York in the '20s, a time when the city was overtaking Paris as the world's cultural center. Talented designers -- Alexey Brodovich, Joseph Binder, A. M. Cassandre -- emigrated to America, bringing European modernism with them. Much of their talent found outlet in dramatic propaganda posters supporting American interests in World War II, and they influenced the graphic arts for years to come. Swiss typographic style, which rejected expressionist solutions in favor of a disciplin ed approach, also captured the interest of young American designers. Rand absorbed these European influences. He developed a style that was firmly planted on clarity and communication, but which was not limited by the more rigid structure of Bauhaus design. He used collage, montage, handwriting, and symbols. His own flourish of calculated surprise set him apart from his predecessors and made his innovation the new standard for the late '40s and '50s.

In Rand's latest book, the reader learns by looking, then reading, then looking again. It may be disconcerting for some to look at advertisements from the 1950s and '60s and try to perceive their progressive elements. Familiarity with the history of design will help a reader appreciate the contribution Rand has made. But even a casual observer of graphic landmarks will be rewarded by this thoroughly engaging and beautifully designed book.

Robin Jareaux is the Monitor's design director.

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