Paul Rand: The iconic work of the father of the modern graphic design industry.

There are few names in graphic design which are as revered as Paul Rand. With a career spanning six decades he transformed graphic design into the industry we see today.

Everything is design. Everything!
Paul Rand in front of his 1950 movie poster for “No Way Out”
Paul Rand in front of his 1950 movie poster for “No Way Out”

Paul Rand has, quite rightly been described as the “father of the modern design industry”. He transformed graphic design from a largely arts based craft into the powerful corporate communications tool we see today.

Rand possessed a keen eye for simplicity, style and ideas wrapped within a visionary approach which has influenced countless designers. His vast portfolio of groundbreaking work demonstrated a unique ability to simplify complex problems and create powerful and evocative images.

The early years

Paul Rand was born Peretz Rosenbaum on 15 August, 1914, in Brooklyn, New York. He was the son of Itzhak Yehuda Rosenbaum (a grocer) and Leah Rosenbaum who were émigrés from Poland. From a young age Rand displayed an early passion for art, often drawing and painting in his spare time.

In 1930, Rand convinced his father to give him $25 so he could enrol in night classes at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn so he could develop his artistic skills. In 1932, after receiving his high school degree and a certificate from Pratt he enrolled in the Parsons School of Design in Manhattan where he studied under leading designers including George Grosz and the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Around this time he changed his name to Paul Rand to eliminate confusion and misspelling of his given name. He immersed himself in the principles of design and learned how to communicate his ideas effectively through visual means.

The commercial artist

His professional career began in 1932 as an assistant designer at the small firm of George Switzer where he created lettering and packaging design for clients such as the Squibb Pharmaceutical Company. On leaving Switzer in 1935 he launched his own design studio in Manhattan to explore his personal approach to design. At the age of 23 in 1937 he was hired by Apparel Arts Magazine to create covers and editorial spreads. This assignment brought him to the attention of the magazine’s parent company, Esquire-Coronet for whom he would design many striking magazine covers and editorial spreads.

A selection of Rand’s earlier advertising work
A selection of Rand’s earlier advertising work

The visionary

Rand was at the forefront of a ‘new wave’ marked by straightforward, provocative design. He offered a pioneering approach built on what he called ‘dynamic equilibrium’ using collage and montage to convey his ideas. Rand believed design should be aesthetically pleasing and functionally effective, communicating a clear message and idea to the audience.

Simplicity is not the goal. It is the by-product of a good idea and modest expectations.

His early influences included the European modernist art movements, such as Cubism, Constructivism, Bauhaus and Swiss Style (also known as the International Typographic Style) which emphasised simplicity and functionality. He developed a unique style which blended these modernist principles with wit and a profoundly human touch.

He found inspiration in European design magazines, such as the German language Gebrauchsgraphik and was a great admirer of the work of European artist Paul Klee whose use of colour, symbols and iconography Rand grafted into his own work. Rand dispensed with traditional, narrative driven design of his contemporaries which relied heavily on graphic gimmicks; such as bullet points, arrows, dingbats and superficial ornamentation. Instead, Rand preferred bold, concise typography and simplicity. His work was frequently cited as “what’s new in design” by the Type Director’s Club of New York amongst others.

Rand’s classic 1940s Christmas cover for Direction magazine
Rand’s classic 1940s Christmas cover for Direction magazine

By the early 1940s Rand had discovered his ‘graphic voice’ and was designing striking covers and editorial layouts for Direction an arts and culture magazine. In the early years of World War II a December cover stood out. Rand depicted a barbed wire cross (suggesting a gift ribbon), set against a plain background speckled with red spots resembling drops of blood. A simple gift-tag wished readers a “Merry Christmas” written in Rand’s casual, yet distinctive handwriting. Even today, more than 80 years later, this image feels both modern and relevant.

Direction art and culture magazine covers by Paul Rand
Direction magazine covers designed by Paul Rand

Advertising and art direction

In 1941 William H. Weintraub (a partner at Esquire-Coronet) founded William H. Weintraub Advertising. Rand became its Art Director (a title which he disliked) working with Bill Bernbach (who later co-founded famous advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB). Rand designed many distinctive advertisements for clients including Dubonnet, Lee Hats, Disney Hats, El-Producto cigars, Kaiser-Frazer Cars and Orbach’s department store.

Paul Rand’s playful designs for Orbach’s Department Store
Rand’s playful designs for Orbach’s

Rand’s work for Orbach’s displayed his playful, witty charm by converting familiar objects into unexpected and commanding symbols. To keep his restless growing superstar on his staff, Weintraub agreed to let Rand work three days a week so that he could freelance, illustrate and design book covers for Knopf and other publishing houses.

Corporate identity pioneer

Design is the silent ambassador of your brand. Good design is good business.

As a freelance designer through the 1950s and 1960s he worked with many showcase clients including UPS, IBM, Westinghouse, ABC television network and Cummins Engine amongst others. In this fruitful period he created some of his most enduring and memorable work. Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about his logos is just how fresh they appear today, in some cases many decades after they were launched. For example, his 1945 logo for American publisher Alfred A. Knopf could have been designed yesterday.

A selection of logos designed by Paul Rand
A selection of logos designed by Paul Rand

Rand’s logos have given inspiration to thousands of designers and (whether intentional or not) his influence can be seen throughout the landscape of modern design — just look at the similarity of the Google logo to Rand’s 1993 Gentry Living Colour logo.

A coincidence perhaps, but often a designer’s mind unconsciously ‘stores’ away things we’ve seen and can be regurgitated into our work without our consciously knowing.

Did Paul Rand’s work influence the Google branding? Paul Rand’s logo for Gentry Living Colour in 1993 has a striking resemblance to that of Google in 2015.
Did Paul Rand’s work influence the Google branding?


Rand’s unique approach to graphic design is perfectly illustrated with his 1956 logo design and application for IBM. This work has been considered a seminal influence on the evolution of corporate communications and under Rand’s direction he moved company away from the slab serif block style to the familiar striped IBM letters with Rand extending and coordinating the idea through global implementation of the design.

Paul Rand had a long association with IBM designing across the entire organisation
Rand had a long association with IBM shaping the brand across the entire organisation


Rand’s 1961 design UPS is probably the best example of his ability to distill the essence of an amorphous, sprawling corporation into a strong, memorable, unique, disarmingly simple graphic.

The parcel may seem an obvious symbol today, but when you consider equivalent logos in the industry (e.g. the US Postal Service heraldic eagle) it offers a deeply human touch emphasised with the little bow tied on the string. Rand also employed unorthodox methods for testing his designs such as asked for the opinion of his eight-year old daughter. According to Rand: “when I did UPS… I said, ‘Catherine, what’s this?’ and she said, ‘That’s a present, Daddy’ – which was perfect – You couldn’t have rehearsed it any better.”

The UPS logo, with application and rough concepts
The UPS logo applied to a delivery van and aircraft tail fin. Bottom right: Rand’s rough logo concept sketches

Whilst elements of Rand’s logo remain in use today (a shield, colour palette, sans serif font), the parcel and string device was replaced (with some controversy) by a ‘swoosh-shield’ created by Future Brand in 2003. This move was intended to reflect the evolving business of UPS which had embraced financial services and supply chain management — UPS also noted that for several decades they had rejected parcels tied up with string as they jammed the sorting machines. I imagine that consumer research probably indicated that parcels tied up with string was “old fashioned” and that UPS had to be more “dynamic”.

Considering the reverence for the work of Rand the change provoked much controversy. The debate highlighted the strong emotional bond that people can develop with trademarks and Rand’s work in particular. When launching the 2003 rebrand, the speech given by UPS chairman Mike Eskew was more akin to a eulogy: “The time has come to move on. After more than 40 years of honourable service, it’s time for this old friend to retire with the grace and dignity it deserves. So, today, we’re saying goodbye. But unlike most goodbyes, this is not an ending. Rather, this is a new beginning.”

In my opinion UPS lost something special by replacing the parcel with a generic swoosh (a bland device commonly seen on everything from washing powder to toothpaste) with the faked 3D styling. For me the parcel was a charming human touch which suggested the nostalgic excitement of receiving a parcel though the post. Perhaps, in this increasingly impersonal digital age the next iteration of the UPS logo may return to this visual equity.

Paul Rand’s 1961 UPS logo alongside Future Brand’s updated version in 2003
Paul Rand’s 1961 UPS logo alongside Future Brand’s ‘updated’ version in 2003


Rand frequently went far beyond the confines of a mere logo. He was amongst the first designers to propose that an abstract and universal language created around a logo could support a company’s growth and even transform its reputation. But some of the business leaders he addressed did not always understand, or thought that a new logo by itself would be enough to make people change their minds about a company. Rand pointed out, “the trademark is created by the graphic designer, but it is the company that makes it”.

A logo does not live in a vacuum, it requires a world to live within. It was Rand’s approach to Brand Expression which is one of the founding principles on which almost all modern corporate identities are now created.

The trademark is created by the graphic designer, but it is the company that makes it.

Rand was not afraid to challenge conventions which is seen in his work for Westinghouse. The identity, designed in 1959 embodies a harmonious integration of technology and power suggesting innovation. The icon is clean, symmetrical and balanced, featuring an underlined ‘W’ made from intersecting lines and ‘nodes’ which convey a ‘flow of connective energy’.

The logo was designed to have ‘built in flexibility’ which could be deconstructed in playful and dynamic ways. In many ways can be viewed as a precursor to the identities we see brought to life today with motion graphics. The icon can also be used independently of the word mark, which even today is seen as revolutionary. This highlights Rand’s confidence and belief in the power of his symbols.

Paul Rand’s Westinghouse logo broke the rule book, shown with rough sketches and a deconstructed poster design
Paul Rand’s Westinghouse logo broke the rule book
Westinghouse Annual Reports and printed material by Paul Rand
Westinghouse Annual Reports and printed material by Paul Rand

His legacy and influence

Paul Rand’s legacy can be seen throughout the modern world of graphic design. His work laid the foundational principles on which design operates today. Rand was a champion of big ideas (which would solve big problems) which were aesthetically pleasing. The approach he developed, known as “functional minimalism” continues to guide and influence designer and business leaders to this day.

Rand, Jobs and NeXT

Steve Jobs (the famous co-founder of Apple) was heavily influenced by Rand’s design philosophy after encountering his work in a copy of Rand’s book, “Thoughts on Design” in the early 1980s. Jobs was captivated by Rand’s design principles which outlined how the power of simple and elegant design could communicate a brand’s essence. According to Jobs...

He [Rand] was one of the most thoughtful people I have ever met.
Paul Rand and Steve Jobs pictured alongside the NeXT identity
Paul Rand and Steve Jobs pictured alongside the NeXT identity

When Jobs was forced out of Apple, he sought Rand’s expertise to create an identity for his new venture NeXT which would produce ‘next generation’ workstations for higher education and business. After decades of work as a creative, Rand was very clear about how the relationship between client and designer should work. On meeting Rand, Jobs recalls:

I asked him if he would come up with a few options, and he said, “No, I will solve your problem and you will pay me. You don’t have to use the solution! If you want options, go talk to other people!”

Whilst Jobs was taken aback by this statement, he respected Rand and came to rely on his creative decisions. Rand’s minimalistic branding captured Jobs’ imagination and he spoke of his approach to design as having a “clarity that was refreshing”. In 1997 NeXT was acquired by Apple which paved the way for Jobs to return to the company he co-founded.

The experience of working with Rand had a profound impact on Jobs, who stated, “He was one of the most thoughtful people I have ever met”. It is hard not to wonder if this experience shaped the trajectory of Apple and one of the most influential companies in history.

What we do know is that Jobs recognised great talent when he saw it and he had a deep appreciation for graphic design and typography. Shortly before Rand’s death in 1996 Jobs called him “the greatest living graphic designer”.

The impact on Jobs only serves to solidify Rand as a design luminary, deserving of the title “the father of the modern design industry”. His legacy serves as a testament to the power of his work and its ability to shape the world we live in today. In 1941 the famous Bauhaus designer Laszlo Moholy Nagy wrote in PM magazine, “Among… young Americans it seems to me that Paul Rand is one of the best and most capable… He is an idealist and a realist, using the language of the poet and the business man. He thinks in terms of need and function. He is able to analyse his problems but his fantasy is boundless.”

Don’t try to be original, just try to be good.
Book cover designs by Rand display characteristic use of type and colour
Book cover designs by Rand display characteristic use of type and colour

Signature work

Paul Rand’s work played an enormous role in changing the landscape of business in America. He became a key player in the post-war economic transformation throughout the 1940s and 50s, and his work (alongside others) created an air of opportunity and creativity which put America centre stage. Perhaps, this is why (as early as 1936) he included his signature to almost everything he created. He remains one of the few graphic designers who has ever done so. His reasons for doing this are unclear, however we suspect he wished to elevate his designs beyond the confines of corporate communications and be considered as works of art. Whatever his reason, it certainly suggests artistic authority and his confidence.

Paul Rand’s distinctive signature features across much of his work
Paul Rand’s distinctive signature features across much of his work

Further reading

Paul Rand has been a tremendous influence on my work as a design and I encourage you to explore his work further. You will find many books and articles about Rand and his work, but some of the best are written in his own words. These are my top three:

"Thoughts on Design" by Paul Rand. Foreword by Michael Bierut

At the height of his career, Rand articulated his pioneering vision that design should seamlessly integrate form and function. A principle as relevant today as it was when first published. This classic essay is an indispensable addition to the library of every designer.

“Paul Rand” by Steven Heller

This great book by Steven Heller chronicles the career of Paul Rand and is illustrated beautifully with his work throughout.

"Paul Rand: A Designer’s Art” by Paul Rand

An enlightening read, perfect for design students, teachers, professional designers, or anyone interested in the communication of ideas.

Online resources

A quick search for Paul Rand on Google will reveal many websites and images about his life and work.

Paul Rand 1914-1996

Paul Rand on Wikipedia

Paul Rand on Graphéine

Photographic portrait of Paul Rand in his design studio
Paul Rand 1914-1996

Thank you!

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