BOOK REVIEW: Paul Rand: A Designer’s Art

Paul Rand

Upon hearing about the passing of the late and great art critic and author John Berger, I think my first thought was “well, shit”. The horror that followed it revolved around my lack of faith in any other current writers to continue along the lines of the man who had been summing up not only art but also life in general.

Paul Rand, though he unfortunately also took his last breath in 1996, follows the same path as Berger in the sense that he sees graphic design, he thinks about it, and he dishes out his understandings about it for us to hopefully share some of the insight he gained throughout his life and career in graphic design and art directing.

Paul Rand: A Designer’s Art is a collection of short essays about theories and ideas surrounding not only graphic design, but art and visual appreciation as a whole. Some of the essays, titled things like Art for Art’s Sake, Imagination and the Image, and Politics of Design, discuss wider scopes than simply how to make a cover page look good. As this is arguably a misconception of graphic design, Rand seems to have struck gold with bringing to light a relatively new angle to design and typography that (particularly when the book was first written in 1985) is or was widely unthought of.

As someone who is quite picky about layout and spacing, one of my favourite sections was Seeing Stripes, which elaborated on the rules regarding lines and stripes in relation to typography. Logos such as IBM’s striped one are explained; in this instance, the stripes draw the letters together and lead them into each other, whilst also building dynamism due to the increasingly-sized letters. The stripes themselves are also emblematic of, of course, the American flag, which subconsciously adds some level of patriotic loyalty for customers.

And it goes on, being clever. Another section, The Meaning of Repetition, points out that repetition, in most contexts, creates rhythm and a kind of reassuring movement. We see repetition constantly in everyday life; rows of seats in theatres, doors down a corridor, markings on the road. Our eyes and memories adjust to the satisfaction of repetition and geometric patterns, which influences the reasons why we find dancers pleasing to watch, and why patterns on wallpapers appear formalist. Repetition can make something more catchy or easy to remember; it’s a successful form of creation amongst most, if not all, art forms.

All in all, it’s a great book. Probably not bedtime reading; it requires a bit too much thinking to help you slowly drift into sleep. You wouldn’t take any of it in – it took me a couple of reads for the concept to stay in my head long enough for me to evaluate and reflect on it. The book itself is clever, articulate, and naturally well designed. I’d recommend it as Ways of Seeing’s slightly more contemporary cousin, for anyone who enjoys reading about philosophies and reasonings surrounding art and design.

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