How I Learned Modern(ism)

Colorforms, invented by art students Harry and Patricia Kislevitz, with a logo by Paul Rand, was possibly the first exposure to Modernist geometry and color that any of us with art inclinations had. (At least those of us who grew up after its invention as a playful yet educational tool.) I certainly learned about triangles, circles and squares by pealing up the vinyl forms that had been cut into shapes and enjoyed the game’s sensual tactility. Colorforms was incredibly modern and fun too.


The original Colorforms sets were assembled by Harry and Pat Kislevitz, themselves, in their New York city apartment. Boxed sets began appearing in the 1950s and featured basic geometric shapes and bright primary colors. The company used the slogan “It’s More Fun To Play The Colorforms Way!” in print ads and television commercials to promote their products. Paul Rand designed the playful logo in 1959.



I have often thought that Rand would have had to invent a game like this, if it hadn’t been already. It was made for (if not by) the Modernist mind.

The pages here are taken from a 1950s catalog that came with every box. It feels like a European Modernist artifact from the 1930s. And it still holds up nicely.

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For more Steven Heller, check out Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design Responsibility, one of the many Heller titles available at

5 thoughts on “How I Learned Modern(ism)

  1. Mark Simonson

    I remember Colorforms from the mid-1960s. By then, instead of simple shapes, they had sets containing preprinted characters from Hannah-Barbera cartoons. I guess that made them easier to sell. I still loved playing with them.

  2. zafarrano wolffe

    My first design teacher at Rocky Mountain School of Art (Denver), for three months, allowed us to only use circles, squares and triangles to complete his graphic-design assignments. By the end, we hated them, and him. Now, a million years later, we — well, I, at least — recognize his genius.
    Once again, thanks for your great columns.