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Paul Rand: A Designer`s Art Paperback – September 11, 2000
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About the Author
Paul Rand was one of the world's leading graphic designers. Honored by prestigious awards from many professional and academic groups, he was the first recipient of the Florence Prize for Visual Communication in 1987. He is the author of many books, the most recent of which are Design, Form, and Chaos and From Lascaux to Brooklyn, both published by Yale University Press.
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Legend had it that when presenting new designs to clients, Rand would compile a robust comprehensive case to defend his conceptual thinking, culminating with a singular design solution. That is a rarity almost unheard in modern day where clients like to pick and choose whatever catches their eye from multiple options (much to the chagrin of professional designers, leaving room for those dreaded frankendesign endings). Call it arrogant, bullheaded or even idealistic, but knowing that Paul Rand felt it was vital to give his clients THE BEST design solution, makes this reader wonder what other side detours there may have been but never shown in this inspiring, timeless collection. (Also, it’s important to remember the period at which he created some of his more important works was not as it is today with thousands of designers, Pinterest boards or wannabes with a laptop. There was no internet, social media, cloud, Apple pro retina screens or Adobe digital tools. Just brains, sharp hand/eye coordination and impassioned, strategic salesmanship.
Written densely with thoughtfulness always at its core, it’s the kind of book to “wash, soak & spin.” Read a section, pause to absorb the concepts shared and then make these ideas part of one’s creative toolbox. He discusses interesting topics about design including themes of repetition, humour, abstraction, structure, the power of black and learning to see. The beauty of this book never gets old, particularly the thinking that Rand shares. Theories, observations and confident yet eloquent expository essays bring forth enthusiastic approval as well as "lightbulb-aha" moments relating to design conventions and ideas still relevant today. This new edition concludes with a lovely epilogue of sorts from design historian and author Steven Heller, who shares some beautiful recollections of his final memorable days with the master himself.
This is a book that forces you to pay attention, re-read his words to take in the meaning more deeply, and come away feeling more passionate about design than before.
I didn't expect to get much out of it when I started it, frankly. Part of that feeling is attributable to the fact that I didn't know Rand's work as well as I should. I had heard the name, but did not know what he had done. As the book began, and I figured out that he is, in a large way, responsible for the corporate identity of some pretty big names (IBM, Westinghouse, and UPS among them), and is capable of working in multiple media, both two-dimensional and three-dimensional, I found myself respecting him. As it continued and he showed himself to be not only a very creative designer, but also a thoughtful analyst and an excellent communicator, I found myself agreeing with most of what he had to say. As the book concluded, I found myself inspired in my own work by what he pointed out.
"A Designer's Art" is everything its title implies... it is about good design and it is about compelling art. The two, while not necessarily the same, are definitely fused together in many ways. Artistic disciplines and methods and trends affect design work to a large extent, while principles of good design can also be applied to the basic creative process one goes through when making a more purely artistic endeavour.
Particularly compelling in this regard was the chapter near the end of the book, about the benefits of the "play instinct" and how it applies to design. By discussing several games and ways of playing with visual relationships, such as tangrams, tatami (the arranging of floor mats), Le Corbusier's "Modulor," and the creation of Chinese characters, Rand discusses several games and how they can be used in the design process, either in the solution for a specific problem, or as tasks in and of themselves. These "games" help to teach the designer to look at visual presentations in a different way, to see tired concepts in a new light, and to use originality to think their way around a problem. Like directed play does for children, visual games help to discipline the mind to see through what is presented and into an original way of looking at the same thing. "The student learns to conceptualize, to associate, to make analogies," he says. "To see a sphere, for example, transformed into an orange, or a button into a letter, or a group of letters into a broad picture."
Also very interesting was his discussion of the color black, reclaiming it for new audiences and new purposes, and his thoughts on including a sense of humor or wit in your designs. His conclusion is where I really came to admire this book, though, as he relies on the words of one of his employers: "Good design at heart is simply honesty. It is an ingredient of character. Good design helps to form in any one part of the business an influence that affects all part of the business. It sustains character and honesty in every part of the business. Good design, therefore, is very good business indeed." It's a good thought to take away from this book, that a skilled designer's work is valued by those he or she works for, and a reminder of the burden that designers bear in their work.
Reading Rand's "A Designer's Art" was something like the experience I had when reading Stephen King's "On Writing." Both men are (or were, in Rand's case) masters of their respective craft, and both have had their effect on our culture and our way of life, each in their own unique way. More importantly, though, just as I was inspired to write as I was reading "On Writing," so too was I inspired to make something new and original as I put down "A Designer's Art." Both books inspired me to create. I can't think of any better motivation for reading them than that.