Master of design. Mastermind of the corporate logo. Logos come and go. If lucky, some hang around for a number of years, while others are continually updated and evolve with the times. Some are scrapped and revamped in the hope they’ll perform better next time…
Master of design. Mastermind of the corporate logo.
Logos come and go. If lucky, some hang around for a number of years, while others are continually updated and evolve with the times. Some are scrapped and revamped in the hope they’ll perform better next time round. Few logos remain untouched, whether it be a font, shape or subtle colour change, years after their creation. This is the story of Paul Rand – an iconic graphic designer, art director, painter, philosopher and creator of some of the world’s most famous logos (many of which have changed only slightly, if at all).
Paul Rand designed the corporate identities for IBM, ABC and UPS, among so many others. IBM is particularly pertinent and a good place to start. The logo was updated time and time again, until it was given to Rand to initially modify in 1960. But then in 1972, he created a version that remains unchanged to this day.
The conception of the ‘8-bar’ IBM logo (the bars were added to suggest a sense of movement) also underlined his ethos, that a distinctive brand mark is essential to a company’s success. Or in his own words: “The only mandate in logo design is that they be distinctive, memorable and clear”. He famously influenced how major companies could use graphics to establish their identities.
Rand was one of the first American graphic designers to apply European modernism to American consumerism:
“He celebrated the works of artists from Paul Cézanne to Jan Tschichold, and constantly attempted to draw the connections between their creative output and significant applications in graphic design.” Wikipedia.org
He made a name for himself in the early 1930s, designing magazine covers and product spreads; and by the 50s he had reinvented the corporate logo while setting the benchmark for corporate branding. A self-taught design mastermind, Rand was one of the first great logo philosophers. Unlike many of his predecessors, he understood the potential power of a logo and the corporate identity surrounding it. He even devised a seven step test to ensure a brand mark’s success – a process that would significantly pave the way for future designers. Here are those seven steps:
- Is it distinctive?
- Is it visible?
- Is it adaptable?
- Is it memorable?
- Is it universal?
- Is it timeless?
- And finally, most importantly, is it simple?
According to Rand, a good logo must first satisfy steps one to six. But the key to its success is its simplicity, step seven. Rand claimed that
“a logo should epitomise minimalism… it cannot survive unless it is designed with the utmost simplicity and restraint.” And to accomplish this he suggested the following (I found this in the Entrepreneur’s Handbook):
1. Shrink the logo down and then blow it up. The appearance and design of a strong logo will be legible and pleasing regardless of its size.
- Draw it by hand in ten seconds with a pencil. If you can do this easily, then you have a simple logo.
Now apply this process to steps to Rand’s IBM, ABC or UPS logos. Each are a consequence of his seven steps, resulting in a brand mark that is distinctive, practical, relevant, graphic and simple – a result that helps to communicate the company’s intended message.
But that message isn’t just to sell, as Rand states
“A logo does not sell (directly), it identifies. A logo is rarely a description of a business. A logo derives meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolises, not the other way around. A logo is less important than the product it signifies; what it represents is more important than what it looks like. The subject matter of a logo can be almost anything.”
I hope all this talk around theories and principles isn’t getting too confusing – my intention was to make the piece as straightforward as possible. Anyway, as the judiciously minded Paul Rand once quoted “Design is so simple, that’s why it is so complicated”.
The late Paul Rand (he passed away in 1996, aged 82) was one of three designers hailed as the holy trinity of 20th century logo design – the other two being the equally influential Saul Bass and Milton Glaser. Between them, they branded many of the world’s largest companies. But of the three it was possibly the older, more opinionated and experienced Rand who led the way. He was even referred to as the ‘Picasso of graphic design’.
Rand was a revolutionary. Many say that in the late 1950s, it was advertising’s godfather, Bill Bernbach, who came up with the idea of pairing copywriters and art directors into creative teams. Yet Rand, a pioneering artist in the 40s actually began collaborating with copywriters, starting with Bill Bernbach. This was at the William H. Weintraub & Co. ad agency, which he was headhunted for, and worked from 1941 to 1954. ‘54 was also the year he won a gold medal from the Art Directors Club for his Morse Code advertisement. Rand may have left WHW&Co. after a decade, but radical thinking was never to leave Rand.
Author, book jacket designer and illustrator, artist, art critic, professor in graphic design for Yale University, and of course, corporate logo pioneer – Rand had a finger in all sorts of creative pies. And after penning three memoirs he was inducted into the New York Art Directors Hall of Fame in 1972.
Of all his ventures, the one that continues to amaze was his partnership with Steve Jobs. Upon resigning from Apple (but he later returned) in 1985, Jobs went on to start a new company – NeXT Computer. And Jobs wanted the best in the business to design his logo. What happened ‘NeXT’ (sorry) merely reiterates Rand’s authority, aplomb and some may even say arrogance:
Numerous sources have this documented; I came across it at envato.com:
In a 1993 interview with Jobs, when he was asked what it was like to work with Rand, he said, “I asked him if he would come up with a few options, and he said, ‘No, I will solve your problem for you and you will pay me. You don’t have to use the solution. If you want options go talk to other people.’”
Of course, Jobs agreed. This was Paul Rand after all, albeit a sprightly 72 year old Paul Rand. He billed Jobs $100,000, who was thrilled and even reproduced the concept book as a gift for friends.
To conclude, I’d like to use a quote of Rand’s that I believe highlights his effortless brilliance: “Don’t try to be original, just try to be good.”
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