“Simplicity is not the goal. It is the by-product of a good idea and modest ”

Paul Rand was born Peretz Rosenbaum, on August 15th, 1914 in Brooklyn and is renowned for his corporate logo designs. As Orthodox Jewish law forbids the creation of graven images that can be worshiped as idols, Rand’s career creating icons venerated in the temple of global capitalism seemed as unlikely as any. Rand’s father did not believe art could provide his son with a sufficient livelihood, and so he required Paul to attend Manhattan’s Harren High School while taking night classes at the Pratt Institute, though “neither of these schools offered Rand much stimulation.”  As stated in the previous sentence, Rand was educated at the Pratt Institute (1929–1932), and the Art Students League (1933–1934). From 1956 to 1969, and beginning again in 1974, Rand taught design at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.



His career began with humble assignments, starting with a part-time position creating stock images for a syndicate that supplied graphics to various newspapers and magazines. Between his class assignments and his work, Rand was able to amass a fairly large portfolio, largely influenced by the German advertising style Sachplakat (ornamental poster) as well as the works of Gustav Jensen. It was at around this time that he decided to abbreviate his forename to ‘Paul’ and taking ‘Rand’ from an uncle to form his new surname. Rand created a new persona, which served as the brand name for his many accomplishments and was the first corporate identity he created. Rand was rapidly moving into the forefront of his profession. In his early twenties he was producing work that began to garner international acclaim, notably his designs on the covers of Direction magazine, which Rand produced for no fee in exchange for full artistic freedom. He is a painter, lecturer, industrial designer and advertising artist who draws his knowledge and creativeness from the resources of this country. He is an idealist and a realist, using the language of the poet and business man. He thinks in terms of need and function. He is able to analyze his problems but his fantasy is boundless. The reputation Rand so rapidly amassed in his twenties never dissipated; rather, it only managed to increase through the years as the designer’s influential works and writings firmly established him as the eminence grise of his profession.

Rand’s most widely known contribution to graphic design are his corporate identities, many of which are still in use. IBM, ABC, Cummins Engine, Westinghouse, and UPS, among many others, owe their graphical heritage to him, though UPS recently carried out a controversial update to the classic Rand design.  Rand’s defining corporate identity was his IBM logo in 1956, which as Mark Favermann notes “was not just an identity but a basic design philosophy that permeated corporate consciousness and public awareness.” The logo was modified by Rand in 1960, and the striped logo in 1972. Rand also designed packaging and marketing materials for IBM from the early 1970s until the early 1980s, including the well known Eye-Bee-M poster. Ford appointed Rand in the 1960s to redesign their corporate logo, but afterwards chose not to use his modernized design. Although his logos may be interpreted as simplistic, Rand was quick to point out in A Designer’s Art that “ideas do not need to be esoteric to be original or exciting.”

His American Broadcasting Company trademark, created in 1962, epitomizes that ideal of minimalism while proving Rand’s point that a logo “cannot survive unless it is designed with the utmost simplicity and restraint.” Rand remained vital as he aged, continuing to produce important corporate identities into the eighties and nineties with a rumored $100,000 price per single solution. The most notable of his later works was his collaboration with Steve Jobs for the NeXT Computer corporate identity; Rand’s simplistic black box breaks the company name into two lines, producing a visual harmony that endeared the logogram to Jobs. If ever there was a pleased client, it was indeed Steve Jobs: just prior to Rand’s death in 1996, his former client labeled him, simply, “the greatest living graphic designer.”

Although Rand was most famous for the corporate logos he created in the 1950s and 1960s, his early work in page design was the initial source of his reputation. In 1936, Rand was given the job of setting the page layout for an Apparel Arts magazine anniversary issue. His remarkable talent for transforming mundane photographs into dynamic compositions, which gave editorial weight to the page earned Rand a full-time job, as well as an offer to take over as art director for the Esquire-Coronet magazines. Initially, Rand refused this offer, claiming that he was not yet at the level the job required, but a year later he decided to go ahead with it, taking over responsibility for Esquire’s fashion pages at the young age of twenty-three.

In his Thought On Design book, Rand stated the chief concern of the typographic designer is readability. This function is too often canonized at the unnecessary expense of style, individuality, sensibility, and sparkle. By carefully arranging his type areas, spacing, size, and color, the typographer is able to impart to the printed page as aesthetic message which turn complements the message which in turn complements the message conveyed by the words. By concentrating the type area and empathizing the margin (white space), he reinforces, by contrast, the textual quality of the type. The resulting effect on the reader may be properly compared to the sensation produced by actual physical contact. (example: mag advertisement, cerise and black, may 1943) In ordering the space and in distributing his typographic material or symbols he is able to predetermine, to a certain point, the eye movement of the spectator despite normal ocular habits.

Rand stated what we commonly understand as originality often depends on the successful integration of the symbol as a visual entity with all other elements pointed to a particular problem, performing a specific function consistent with its form. The designer’s capacity to contribute to the effectiveness of the symbol’s basic meaning by interpretation, addition, subtraction, juxtaposing, alteration, adjustment, association, intensification and clarification, is parallel to those qualities which we call original. An example of this is the Coronet Brandy advertisements which is are based on a common symbol – the brandy sniffer – in animated form. The dot pattern forming the soda bottle is intended to symbolize the effervescence of soda; the dotted background is an extension of the symbol for the soda; the waiter is an extension of the snifter symbol; the oval tray individualizes for Coronet the common silver tray seen in liquor advertisements.

The cover art for Direction magazine proved to be an important step in the development of the “Paul Rand look” that was not as yet fully developed. The December 1940 cover, which uses barbed wire to present the magazine as both a war-torn gift and a crucifix, is indicative of the artistic freedom Rand enjoyed at Direction; in Thoughts on Design Rand notes that it “is significant that the crucifix, aside from its religious implications, is a demonstration of pure plastic form as well a perfect union of the aggressive vertical (male) and the passive horizontal (female).” In ways such as this, Rand was experimenting with the introduction of themes normally found in the “high arts” into his new graphic design, further advancing his life-long goal of bridging the gap between his profession and that of Europe’s modernist masters.


Rand was inducted into the New York Art Directors Club Hall of Fame in 1972. Rand died of cancer on November 26th, 1996, and is buried in Beth El Cemetery in Norwalk, CT. Even after his death in 1996, Paul Rand remains –one of the most famous graphic designers in the world.