Thoughts on Design - Paul Rand

I think Paul Rand's work for me is rather like Bladerunner: It looks derivative because everyone copied from it. While Bladerunner remains stylistically untouchable, I'm afraid I don't like much of Rand's work. Many of his famous logos are, well, justly famous, but this book does cover a number of his earlier adverts, and I don't really like them so much.

I can think of two explanations. One is that modernism without computer technology produces imperfect results that jar with the idea of modernism. The other is that the designs reflect an intermediate step in modernism in advertising, and it just doesn't look good compared to what came after. Maybe they're just different faces of the same thing.

Perhaps, though, it's just the nature of commercial work? Many of his covers for Direction magazine, where he's given complete creative freedom, are awesome. And they all look a lot better in colour. This book is greyscale. The other thing is, when you look at the dates on the good pieces, that the dates involved are so early - how long it took for others to copy.

So, "Don't like" is perhaps too harsh. Perhaps hit-and-miss, with a fairly high ratio of miss, but the hits are very good.

I should perhaps say a little about the book. It's fairly small and thin and greyscale, and a reprint of the revised edition from 1970. Much is rather dated. However, the very core thesis - of ideas, symbols, contrasts and the like - does shine through, in both text and examples. I must admit being mildly underwhelmed, but there again, I said "Meh" the first time I watched Bladerunner (even if it wasn't the director's cut).

Posted 2014-11-13.