Paul Rand


USA, New York, 1914 - 1996

"Among these young Americans it seems to be that Paul Rand is one of the best and most capable [. . .] He is a painter, lecturer, industrial designer, [and] advertising artist who draws his knowledge and creativeness from the resources of this country. He is an idealist and a realist, using the language of the poet and business man. He thinks in terms of need and function. He is able to analyze his problems but his fantasy is boundless."
- Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

from Steven Heller, 'Thoughts on Rand.' Print, May–June 1997


Paul Rand, born Peretz Rosenbaum on august 15, 1914, was raised in a strict Orthodox Jewish home in Brooklyn, New York. Orthodox Jewish law forbids the creation of images that can be worshiped as idols, but already at a young age, Rand copied pictures of the models shown on advertising displays in his father’s grocery store, and violated the rules.

His father frequently warned him that art was no way to make a living, nevertheless he agreed to let his son attend night classes at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Later in his career he stated that he “had literally learned nothing at Pratt; or whatever little I learned, I learned by doing myself”.*
Rand is known for being a self-taught-designer. Spending time in bookshops, he discovered ‘Commercial Art’ and ‘Gebrauchsgrafik’, two leading european graphic arts magazines which introduced him to Bauhaus-ideas.
Graphic design was never mentioned at Pratt School, but confronted with this avant-garde european work Rand knew he wanted to focus on the commercial side of art.

* from an interview with Paul Rand by Steven Heller in 1988.


Rand’s career began with a part-time job as an illustrator producing ‘junk’, but nevertheless he learned more about graphic techniques than he had in school. He launched his first freelance project and landed a few minor accounts in the mid 1930’s.

Convinced by his friends that a jewish name might slow his career down, he changed his name. “He remembered that an uncle in the family was named Rand, so he figured that four letters here, four letters there, would create a nice symbol. So he became Paul Rand.”

* from an interview with Morris Wyszygorod, friend and associate of Rand by Steven Heller in 1997.

Apparel Arts
june 1939

Apparel Arts
Januari/Februari 1941

In 1936 Rand was hired as a freelance-designer to produce layouts for “Apparel Arts”, a men’s fashion magazine. Although his methods were unconventional, for they relied on the intelligence of the viewer, it was never too extreme. He gained the trust of his editors and they gave him a long leash. Rand earned a full-time job and an offer to become art-director for the Esquire magazine.

march 1939

April 1940

In addition to his long hours spent at the Esquire office he took on some more creative freelance work, designing ‘Directions’, a cultural magazine. His covers were a homage to the bauhaus-ideas. “When i was doing the covers of Direction i was trying to compete with the Bauhaus, Van Doesburg, Leger and Picasso. Compete is not the right word, i was trying to do it in the spirit.” *

* from an interview with Paul Rand by Steven Heller in 1990.


By the end of the 1930’s, after the great depression, the industry was spending large sums to advertise their products. William Weintraub, senior at Esquire, sold his shares in the company and opened his own advertising office. Three years at Esquire was just about enough for Rand, so when Weintraub asked him to join him as chief art-director at his new agency, he accepted the job.

Jacqueline Cochran


In his advertising work Rand frequently used futura instead of the more common calligraphic fonts. His advertising was simpler looking and in turn more eye-catching that the typical ads. Rand brought ideas and intelligence to advertising, but kept in mind that whatever he was doing, should communicate, so the guy in the street knew what they were trying to sell. For every product he defined the problem and costumized a solution. His advertising was conceptually sharp and visually smart. Every detail was meant to attract the eye. He often divided designs into two components; a large mass that drew the attention and a smaller mass that needed closer attention.

Rand was not an art-director in the traditional sense, he developed the ideas and most of the artwork himself. The staff at Weintraub’s was there to serve his creative needs according to his strict requirements, and they were afraid of him. When Rand was unsatisfied with someone’s work, he would say so. But at the same time he would explain what was wrong. “He was a good teacher, but not always a pleasant one”, wyszygorod remembers. “He did not have the patience to go into lengthy discussions with someone who questioned his authority. He would digest it and come back with a bunch of answers and designs to explain what he meant.” *
Rand’s position at Weintraub’s was quite unusual at that time. He always signed his work as a way to publicize himself, even though Rand’s work could easily be identified without his signature. Signing ads was common in Europe, but very rare in America where designers were subordinate to the overall identity of the agency. By the late 1940’s Rand as a name had become so popular that he demanded that Weintraub give him double the pay for half the time.

* from an interview with Morris Wyszogrod, friend and associate of Rand by Steven Heller in 1997.

El Producto cigars
sketch for advertisement


Rand’s ads often contained sketchy drawing with visual puns, which at that time was unique and alluring. The “El producto” , Coronet or Dubonnet ads were a typical example of his way of working. He developed a logo which could be seen as an icon, a touchstone for everything that followed. He wouldn’t just put the logo at the base of an advertisement, it became a potential illustrative feature, a character.

American Son
book cover
Alfred A. Knopf

The Acquisitive Society
book cover
Harvest Books

The Anatomy of Revolution
book cover
Vintage Books/ Random House

Prejudices: A Selection
book cover
Vintage Books/ Random House

In his ads, as well as in his book cover design he combined shapes, colours and objects. Rand loved the use of found objects, cut papers and minimal typography. He used only the most functional serif and sans-serif typefaces, combined with his own handwriting. Using his own handwriting was not only economical, but also contributed to the ‘friendliness’.

His designs were often seen as modernist, because of his use of typography. In Thoughts on Design Rand would explain that “the real difference between modernism and traditional design lies in the way an image is placed on a sheet of paper.”


Rand, more than others in advertising business, believed a brand identity was more important than a billboard.

“He almost singlehandedly convinced business that design was an effective tool. [. . .] Anyone designing in the 1950s and 1960s owed much to Rand, who largely made it possible for us to work. He more than anyone else made the profession reputable. We went from being commercial artists to being graphic designers largely on his merits.”
- Louis Danziger, 1996

Steven Heller, 'Thoughts on Rand.' Print, May–June 1997

In the decade following the end of the Second World War multinational corporations started to spring up. The corporate identity business became the fastest growing and most lucrative graphic design speciality in the world.

Evolution of the IBM logo trough time. The logo was modified by Rand in 1956, and turned into the striped logo in 1972.

At IBM, while entering the electronic era, there was some questioning about the image this company presented to the public. They were in need of a makeover.
IBM posessed a corporate mark, a globe atop a simple line of type, designed in 1924. Rand decided to clean up the logo but as IBM was a very conservative organization he took small steps to get his ideas accepted. “They had a slab-serif so i used a slightly different slab-serif.”* He had to wait a few more years to get the striped version (inspired by thin parallel lines to protect the signature againt counterfeiting) accepted. Rand designed packaging and marketing materials for IBM from the early 1970s until the early 1980s, including the well known Eye-Bee-M poster.

* from Steven Heller, 'Paul Rand', Phaidon Press (2000)

Rand designed the rebus as an anouncement for an in-house event, but its distribution was prohibited for managers feared it would encourage staff designers to take liberties with the logo.

Although Rand’s logos may be interpreted as simplistic, he was quick to point out that “ideas do not need to be esoteric to be original or exciting.”*
Rand designed many identities which are still in use. Not only IBM, but also ABC, Cummins Engine, Westinghouse, NeXT and UPS.

* excerpt from
'A Designer’s Art'

First line: ABC (1962), Cummins (1962), UPS (1961), Tipton Lakes (1980). Second line: Yale University Press (1986), Westinghouse (1960), NeXT (1986), Hilbros Watch company (1944)

For UPS his challenge was to transform the out-of-date shield into a modern image. He streamlined the contours, used a lower case letter and placed a simple drawing of a package on the top of the shield. “I didn’t try anything else,” Rand admitted.
“If you show them more than two ideas” Rand would say, “you weaken your position. (...) You make one statement, and this is it”.* This doesn’t mean Rand’s ideas always came floating, He often made fifty sketches before showing one. “If you think it comes easily, it’s not easy. I can solve any problem in the world, but it does not always come instantly.”* But very often the first idea that came into his mind was the solution.

* from an interview with Morris Wyszygorod, friend and associate of Rand by Steven Heller in 1997.

Corporate design became the key aspect of his career. Rand said that ‘a logo is more important in a certain sense than a painting because a zillion people see the logo and it affects what they do, it affects their taste, it affects the appearance of where they live, it affects everything.” *

* from an interview with paul rand by Steven Heller in 1988.

Paul Rand created trademarks up to the day he died, november 26, 1996 at the age of 82.

Troughout his career Rand created not only a link between european modern art and american commercial art, he was also one of the pioneers in using a new formal language, that of technical equipment. Rand was gutsy enough to break with the traditions that preceded him and independent enough to be himself.


Steven Heller, Paul Rand, Phaidon Press (2000). find this book on

Michael Kroeger, Paul Rand: Conversations with Students, Princeton Architectural Press (2008).
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Paul Rand, Paul Rand: Design, Form, and Chaos, Yale University Press (1993).
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Paul Rand, From Lascaux to Brooklyn, Yale University Press.
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Paul Rand, Paul Rand: A Designer's Art, Yale University Press (2000).
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The Paul Rand website
Paul Rand on flickr
Paul Rand tribute animation by Imaginary Forces
Posters by Paul Rand for sale at
Canvas by Paul Rand for sale at


Steven Heller interviews Paul Rand, part 1 of 7 (youtube)
Interview with Steve Jobs about the Next logo (youtube)