by Art Chantry (firstname.lastname@example.org)
…the truth as i see it is that that paul rand had the good fortune to be a great arrogant hustler/salesman. he arrived late on the scene, stole from the best of the best (the pioneers of modern design thought) and managed to outlive everybody else into a ripe old age. then he spent a great deal of time telling everybody he was ‘the man who did it all.’ in other words, he was a classic american design conman hustler. not a god.
this image i post here is a book-format magazine cover rand designed back in 1947. the magazine is devoted to modern jazz and paul rand did this dust jacket for it (the tape stains are from age, not part of the design). it’s considered a classic rand design and all graphic designers bow in front of it and chant their praises. but, the reality of this design is that it doesn’t really work at all. i mean, is there anything about this style or concept that says ‘jazz’ to you? granted, the way jazz visually ‘looked’ at this point was in flux and eventually became the style promoted by (first) david stone martin and burt goldblatt, then blue note stylings of reid miles. so, i guess this design could be viewed as paul rand’s attempt to visually define jazz’s corporate look. but it really flops on it’s face. it’s cute. it’s cartoony. it’s arty. but it ain’t jazzy. i mean, it looks like it z-level illustration on a recording of classical pan-flute music. for children. the only thing that lifts this up to the front pages of design history is the signature “paul rand” at bottom left. other than that it would be forgotten and ignored. thus is the power of designing a ‘cult of personality’ for your career. it worked for me, didn’t it?
to be fair, steve heller’s tome on rand’s career is a wonderful document that lavishly showers rand with the praise that he is assumed to be due. i mean, it’s so awed by rand’s iconographic status that it reads like a bible. but, rand’s actual work (as illustrated) can be hilarious and even laughably bad. just look. even viewed in it’s own stylistic time frame, it’s flimsy. if you don’t believe me, go research what the graphic deign of that era actually looked like. look at old books and publications about design from the period. you might be surprised. the way history treats rand is that he was a lone voice, a ‘young turk’ powerfully promoting the brilliance of modernism from the darkness. however, the old design annuals are full of amazing voices from dozens, maybe hundreds of equally powerful design thinkers – all forgotten. they died young.
all that said, a lot of rand’s work and ideas are masterful. i really love his early paperback book covers. they’re brilliant. but, paperback books were a standard avenue of freelance employment for all budding young designers back then. they paid ok and you could do them fast with very little artistic oversight or art direction and great freedom. basically you were well paid to do whatever you wanted (sorta like gigposters™). all the nyc designers in the heart of the center of the publishing industry of that era have really grand portfolios of paperback book covers. so, the fact that rand’s are really good is no big whup. but, still, i really think they’re wonderful.
as for his corporate sell-out work, i always think about that ‘westinghouse’ logo that is so worshiped by designers the world over. paul rand spent a lot of time writing and talking about this particular logo project, about how westinghouse built household comfort (refrigerators) and he wanted to create an image and identity of warmth and dignity and household comfort. so, he created this cold hard abstract “W”? that, in itself, confuses me. he contradicts what he SAYS with what he actually DESIGNED.
but the bottom line about the self-proclaimed moralism and social responsibility of graphic designers in our culture (as endlessly credited to rand’s ‘primal’ thinking) is the ‘moral purity’ of the brand in question. westinghouse also is a huge defense contractor and builds (among many other things) atomic warheads. yup, they actually manufacture nuclear weapons. in fact, if you look at stock newsreel footage of nike missiles leaving those silos, there is a moment when the warhead nose cone passes by the camera lens. there, you’ll see that paul rand westinghouse logo front and center! paul rand design the corporate identity of nuclear warfare. watch for it next time, westinghwas very proud of their work and supplied all those old films for promotional purposes.
so much for moral brand integrity, eh, saint paul?