Sunday, November 30, 2008

Research Paper - Paul Rand

In this entry, I want to introduce to you my research paper about Paul Rand, one of famous American graphic designers. Although Paul Rand has a great collection of logos and trademarks for many organizations, I just pick three pieces of his work to analyze them critically. They are logos for ABC (The American Broadcasting Company), IBM, and Westinghouse. Here is my work:

Paul Rand (August 15, 1914 – November 26, 1996) was a famous American graphic designer of the twentieth century. He was known for great logo and trademark designs such as the logos for Coronet Brandy, NeXT Computers, and English First. Rand studied at the Pratt Institute (1929-32), the Parsons School of Design (1932-33) and the Art Students League (1933-34). He taught at Yale University from 1956. Rand began his career by working for some magazine and newspaper agencies such as Esquire, Apparel Arts, and Direction magazines. Furthermore, he published his principles of graphic design in famous books Thoughts on Design (1947), A Designer’s Art and Design, Form, and Chaos (1985). Inspired by the works of European modernist masters, he combined the style of modern art with corporate identity. This idea was experienced by a series of successful trademarks for major organizations, including the logos of IBM, Westinghouse and ABC.


The 8-bar blue IBM logo designed by Paul Rand is one of the most recognizable trademarks in the world. In this logo, horizontal lines were used to replace the solid letters of its previous versions. Three letters were developed from a square-serif typeface known as City Medium (Communication Arts 1999). They have similar geometric shapes and same visual weight in the composition. Furthermore, blue color makes them stand out against the white background. As a result, the word “IBM” becomes a dominant element in the whole design. The effect of proximity concept of Gestalt theory is very obvious. Close space between each letter unifies them into a specific group. Because the letters are aligned from left to right, they create a sense of continuance. Horizontal lines also contribute to the unity of the design. The regular rhythm of them suggests dynamic movement for the viewer’s eyes. Moreover, the effect of closure created by the strips helps viewers recognize the letters in an interesting way. The stripping lines act as a great grouping tool that makes the logo a well – designed one.


Another famous corporate trademark created by Paul Rand is the redesigned logo for ABC, which is known as “ABC Circle” (Paul Rand – Corporate Identity Designs, Innovation and Excellence 2007). Sans serif typeface is used frequently in logo design and it is the same for this logo. The font of it is sans serif developed by the inspiration from Bauhaus (Communication Arts 1999). All three letters are in lower case and placed inside a circle. Therefore, the composition has a vertical axis to organize them and creates a sense of horizontal symmetry. This kind of balance combining with curved shapes of the letters suggests stability of the design. Moreover, proximity concept of Gestalt is used again as each of the character is placed closed to each other. White is the main color of the letters and it makes the word “abc” becomes a dominant element, which stands out against the dark background. Equal amounts in color, shape, and position of each letter maintain the unity of the word ‘abc’ in the whole composition. As a result, the logo receives a simple recognition as well as memorable content.


The last trademark is Rand’s design for Westinghouse, an American electrical company. The unique element in this logo is the letter “W” which represents electrical circuitry (History of Modern Design 2003). It is constructed by rounded tops of diagonal lines. The effect of continuance concept of Gestalt theory is described through the direction of diagonals lines, which suggests dynamism and motion. Furthermore, circle shapes denote a free movement and protection. Because the circular components overlap the diagonal ones, they seem to form a strong group in the composition. In addition, color of the letterform is black, which contrasts the white background. As a result, the group “W” becomes dominant in the overall composition and its unity is enhanced strongly. The logo is a successful one based on effective combination of overlap proximity and the similarity in symbolized geometric shapes.

In conclusion, the three logos for IBM, ABC, and Westinghouse are best results of Paul Rand’s talent. His typography is innovative because he has interesting ways of bringing letters together to create a visually appealing image, as seen in logos for IBM and ABC. The strength of simplicity is also used in these logos to create a memorable image in viewer’s minds. Furthermore, three Gestalt concepts including closure, proximity, and continuance are used effectively in three logos. Simple geometric shapes and lines, colors in contrast, and good balance between elements in the composition contribute greatly to the unity of each design. His remarkable heritage of trademarks and logos is a clear illustration of his thought: “A logo does not sell (directly), it identifies.” (Logos, Flags, and Escutcheons 1991).

Ok! That’s it. I especially like his thought of logo design in my final conclusion: “A logo does not sell (directly), it identifies”. I hope to receive your comments for my research paper.

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