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“Everything Is Design: The Work of Paul Rand” opened Tuesday evening at the Museum of the City of New York. Several hundred designers sipped sweet “Rand” cocktails shaken from brandy, mint, and simple syrup, nibbled on cheese crisps (not in the main exhibit room) and marveled over Rand’s bold, colorful, clear, witty, strikingly simple, visually arresting work.
This may be the first and only solo exhibition honoring the life and work of a graphic designer in a major American museum. May it be the first of many.
“Our generation is doing digital all the time and we don’t respect or even know design history,” noted Gavin Wassung, a Brooklyn-based designer who was touring the exhibit with his mentor Scott Santoro. “Paul Rand famously told his students to use their hands because that’s what separates humans from a cow or a machine,” said Wassung, a 2007 Pratt graduate who’s currently teaching Design Procedures I and II to sophomore and junior communication design majors at Pratt. “This exhibit, with its torn and cut paper, drawings and handwriting, will influence young designers to use their hands and not just start on the computer,” he predicted.
For a more senior generation of designers like David Vanden-Eynden, principal of Calori & Vanden-Eynden environmental graphic designers, the exhibition is a walk down memory lane as well as validation that the best work of the 1940s through ’80s has enduring value and will never go out of style. “No one did it better,” Vanden-Eynden commented. “Paul Rand was the Frank Sinatra of graphic design.”
Sponsored by IBM Corporation and co-chaired by Dana Arnett, Michael Bierut, Steven Heller, Curt Schreiber, Willy Wong, and Keith Yamashita, “Everything Is Design” will be on display through July 19, treating visitors to 150 iconic posters, ads, books, and brochures, including Rand’s identity manuals for IBM and Westinghouse and his famed $100,000 presentation book of the NeXT logo.
Born Peretz Rosenbloom into an Orthodox Brooklyn family, Rand (1914-1996) launched his career in the 1930s with magazine cover design. In the early 1940s he worked as an art director at Madison Avenue ad agencies, and is credited for revolutionizing the advertising business with his witty compositions. He became design consultant to leading corporations, for which he pioneered the brand identity system based on a memorable logo that includes applications from letterhead and business card to exterior and interior building signage to packaging, shopping bags, vehicles and apparel. Much more biographical information and hundreds of images are available on a comprehensive website curated by Atlanta-based designer and web developer Daniel Lewandowski, who designed “Paul Rand: Defining Design,” an exhibit on view at The Museum of Design Atlanta last year.
Lewandowsi will be among the design luminaries speaking at a series of talks and panel discussions at the Museum of the City of New York over the next four months. Other panelists will include Michael Bierut, Ivan Chermayeff, Jessica Helfand, Steve Heller, George Lois, Chris Pullman, and Debbie Millman (many of whom will also be speaking at HOW Design Live in May).
Following is a selection of some of my other favorite pieces in the exhibition, in chronological order:
An interview with Rand’s long-time client at IBM Corporation Jonas Klein, which illuminates the relationship (and which illustrates six versions of the IBM logo “to be used when darker or lighter values are required”), leads off my 1989 book Clients and Designers, now out of print, but available through Amazon resellers.
If you go to the exhibition, don’t stop at the first floor. There’s lots to see in this museum including “Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao’s New York: Assembled Realities,” 40 extraordinary panoramic photographs constructed from hundreds of individual images. And when you‘re there, don’t take the elevator. If you’re able, use the stairs; Stairwell B, designed by Michael Bierut’s team at Pentagram, is a visually arresting, four-story assemblage of black-and-white images from the museum’s collection combined with typo-graphic quotations about New York City by famous Americans. Was this bold, witty design inspired, perhaps, by Paul Rand’s work? You’ll have to ask Michael.
Rare and difficult-to-find essays provide fascinating reading in this third anthology in the Looking Closer series, a matchless resource tracing the continuum of critical thought from graphic design¹s earliest days as a viable art and craft.
Looking Closer 3 brings back into discourse more than thirty seminal essays by such distinguished figures as William Morris, Aldous Huxley, Alvin Lustig, and Paul Rand, reviving ideas of form and content as well as arguments over manner and style that have been lost for decades. For professionals, teachers, and students alike, this pivotal collection is an invaluable compliment to any design library. Get it here.