Paul Rand’s Thoughts on Design: What was he thinking? (#3)
After reading the legendary graphic designer’s first book — published in 1947 when he was just 32 — I came away with more inquiries than inspiration.
Paul Rand and his work have been much discussed and extolled: Thoughts on Design has been called “a manifesto” and “a bible on modern graphic design.” When Steve Jobs hired him to design the logo for NeXT Computer in 1986, he called him “the greatest living graphic designer.” In a speech honoring Rand (at which he was present), George Lois of Esquire magazine said, “Every art director and graphic designer in the world should kiss his ass.”
In the introduction to Thoughts on Design, Paul Rand acknowledges that “many writers and philosophers… have helped to crystalize my thinking.” He calls out John Dewey and Roger Fry in particular. He also refers to some characters from ancient Greece and Rome, including Polykleitos, Vitruvius, and Plato. Who were these Rand influencers? And what insights might they offer today’s designer?
As I re-read this exposition of Rand’s principles, I wasn’t finding a lot of relevance to my work today — but then, I’m not an art director or graphic designer — so I decided to go a level deeper, reading source material from Dewey and Fry and revisiting ancient works, to see what I could take away from these influencers. In doing so, I explore questions like: How far back does the idea of “form follows function” go? What do we find so fascinating and instructive about the proportions of the human body? How does Plato’s views on the early education of philosophers relate to the role of humor in design?
I hope you’ll join me on this alternative approach to learning from this towering figure of design history.
The Beautiful and the Useful (1:54)
Fascination with human proportion (18:03)
Confusing things (28:38)
Role of humor (48:37)
Tell the story of your solution (52:17)
Be present at the point of execution (58:36)
Art as Experience by John Dewey (Amazon)
Transformations by Roger Fry (Google Books)
A Theory of User Delight: Why Usability Is the Foundation for Delightful Experiences (Nielsen Norman Group)