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Pro.Files: The Great Graphic Innovators

By Gertrude Snyder

The terrible thing about communications is that nobody communicates.

Essentially an introverted formal man, Paul Rand communicates to the world from nine acres of countryside that embrace a beautifully sited house-studio. Architecturally rooted in the Japanese (Rand is “steeped in Japanese culture… the Japanese love him”)(1) the structure communicates Rand’s golden rule of doing as well as thinking, the one-ness of living.

America’s contribution to genius in the field of advertising design and publishing, the “man who made graphic design happen, who fathered an entire school of thought”(2) Rand has been adjectived as:

standoffish— (“..his framework is formality…”)(3)

modest— (“I’m certainly not the only guy at IBM…there are lots of people…”)

a perfectionist— (“…because he knows…”)(4)

a stickler for details— (Question: “Aren’t you supposed to be taking it easy?” (He’s been plagued with a bad back). Rand: “I’m up to my ears in this annual report.” Question: “Must you do it?” Rand: “Who else?”)

Briefly the designer experiences, perceives, analyzes, organizes, synthesizes.

Everything Rand says is thought out, measured. One feels his caution is a conscious trusteeship of the position the world has acknowledged is his.

For Rand, whose “ideas gave a shot in the gut to the advertising dreck of the late 30’s,”(2) the way to get things done is to do them himself. Designers should feel responsibility to a job until it is off the press. “Either be involved, or don’t do it.”

Question: “At this stage of your life, why is it necessary for you to go to the engravers?”

Rand: “Gee…I don’t have to be wheeled there. The job has to be overseen…”

In the early, non-paid assignments, with no money for either designer or typesetter, the nature of the job dictated form, ergo the controlled Rand script and the use of the typewriter for body copy.

“My best work was usually work I did for nothing…no obligation to please a client…was sure the stuff would be used…‘whatever you think is good, do’.”

This is not to convey Rand had no monetary concept of his worth. The financial scale and high position in the pecking order enjoyed by AD’s in agencies today is due to the battlefield Paul Rand had been. In pioneering as a “seminal thinker, (2) he commanded respect for the hitherto non-authoritative job of art director, fought for proper remuneration. Single handedly, he has brought status to the profession.

People are usually influenced visually.

People will read whatever “looks good, a little like U&lc.” Rand’s early education was from magazines like Gebrauchsgrafik, forerunner to the contemporary Graphis. He was influenced by German typographers, by Jan-Tschichold (“and how!”). George Grosz, Le Corbusier, O.H.W. Hadank, MohoIy-Nagy and Gustav Jensen. In the early 30’s, in his first contact with the Bauhaus in Room #315 of the New York Public Library, Rand saw sans serif typefaces, traced whatever he felt was “marvelous”…

…Of saying the commonplace in an uncommon way…

…This, in the New York voice of “an exceptional typographic genius̶ … “the master of the title page.”(4) Typographically, Rand was book oriented, and experimented with book typography in ads. An early treatment used 14 point bold, centered it, and the message was as though it were banner size. “…I got resistance to everything…didn’t make any difference what I did…always some guy who had to throw his 2¢ in.”

Rand’s approach to advertising via the fine arts brought him into contact with Cassandre, the French designer. Cassandre liked the way Rand handled Cassandre’s creation, the Dubonnet man which had appeared in ads in Europe in 1932. “He liked the fact that I didn’t screw his work..I always had the little guy in the same position”… in the 1941 ads that Dubonnet had commissioned in America.

The designer does not, as a rule, begin with a preconceived idea.

David Smart, “a Napoleonic figure”, was owner and publisher of the empire bounded by Esquire, Apparel Arts, Coronet and Ken. Rand worked on all. “In addition to editorial layout, we did advertising, iIIustration, lettering, promotion.” In the 30’s, when Rand was AD of Apparel Arts (I never was AD of Esquire”), he was sent to Chicago “to work in the Esquire Corinthian barns “to do Christmas promotions, “a tremendous job—stuffers, envelopes, inserts, forms.”

At 10 P.M., Dave Smart would show up. “Ready to eat something?”

At Smart’s elegant hotel apartment, “I ate artichokes for the first time…and soon after eating, I went back to work.”

“I worked all the time. In those days you were lucky to get a job for $5 a week.” At Apparel Arts, “my boss was so conditioned that at 5 P.M., he’d come out of his office… would say to men twice my age, ‘Boys, time for setting up exercises’. He’d open the windows, and we’d have to go through this idiotic routine. The idea was so we could be able to work late at night. I worked almost every night…without pay…they gave us a buck for dinner.”

It doesn’t make a hell of a lot of difference what the tools are, the design problems are still there.

Rand comes to New York for consultations, but he works out of the studio in Connecticut.

Does he find it difficult to produce without the technology available in New York? “l’d be lost without the stat machine” (at the studio). Someone mentions the typographic industry lost metal type in the 60s.” Most people I know who work with type acknowledge the virtues of the computer.” I prefer the quality of metal. But the reality is that one of these days, there ain’t going to be no metal”…

Rand’s reaction to living in this “technological electric age…this age of speed conditions what people can do, their behavior patterns. The machIne can out-distance us, can leave you a million miles behind.”

I could do nothing very happily…have no plans for the future.

The Rand menage provides moorage. The house, voted one of 1951’s Ten Best, sits atop an asphalt circular driveway that has an inner circle of cobblestones, themselves arranged in a circle of Belgian blocks. The building, oyster-white with black trim panel, with fieldstone and glass entry windows, reflect a birch cluster.

Mrs. Marion Swannie Rand has a blonde, country-handsome look, was an art administrator at IBM where the two met. Paul Rand is younger-looking than many men his age, with a cleft chin, dimples, wears dark-rimmed glasses, trims his grey hair to a crewcut. His clothes are expensive, not innovative.

His art collection includes work by Arp, John Constable, LeCorbusier, Leger, Lissitzky, Klee, Miro, and Coptic textiles. African carvings and exquisitely crafted Japanese tools. Rand’s warm humor, not easily manifest, shows in a display of old toys and in the “common place” artifacts placed through the house.

In music, “‘he’s a Mozart freak.”(6) He is well read, with strong interest in philosophy. The range of his knowledge is extraordinary; his memory retentive; his taste, elegant.

A friend recalls a room of elegance in a previous house. A pool table was the prime occupant. “The room was painted umber, the ceiling, white; the floor was stone. There were low-hanging lighting fixtures over the green table. I remember Saul Steinberg in a checkered vest, in front of a good-sized Miro, leaning across the table to line up a shot.”

Another anecdote links Steinberg and Rand. When Bernard Rudofsky was AD of Interior Design, for an editorial feature, he gave $5 to each of 5 designers to spend on whatever objects, they liked. Steinberg’s whimsy bought a baseball cap and an assortment of drawing bibs threaded with elastic to a cardboard. Rand, the utilitarian, came back with a ball of twine and a handful of small tools of good design.

Rand respects his own roots. He does not depart from the dietary restrIctions he learned at his parents’ table.

“A super-genius with a strong defense mechanism,”(6) for tomorrow, he’d “like to do whatever I feel like doing…take a trip around the world…not so easy to do in one shot if you’re working. The jobs I have are not easy to drop. It’s been murder, the last few years…I’ve never been so busy.”

This, from a man who “identifies with Weltschmerz,”(6) a serious man with a childlike quality, the man whose “modesty is his force,”(7) the man whose “ideas have shaped contemporary design”(5) …a strong rebuttal to his own comment that communication doesn’t communicate.

— Gertrude Snyder

  1. Helen Federico
  2. Louis Dorfsman
  3. Diane Friedman
  4. Aaron Bums
  5. Jerome Snyder
  6. doesn’t want to be quoted
  7. Gene Federico

Published in “U&lc” magazine., International Typeface Corporation, March 1977.

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