Paul Rand: Conversations with Students
“Design is the manipulation of form and content….Content is the idea, or subject matter. Form is what you do with this idea. How do I deal with it? Do I use color? Do I use black and white? Do I make it big? Do I make it small? Do I make it three-dimensional or two-dimensional? Do I use trendy stuff, or do I use more serious stuff? Do I use Bodoni or do I use Baskerville? These are all the questions you ask. This is part of the manipulative aspect of design.” –Paul Rand
In 1968 I started teaching typography at the Basel School of Design in Switzerland. Paul Rand came once with Armin Hofmann. Down in the basement of the darkroom of the lithography department. I felt honored to meet with an internationally known design personality from a country that. I thought, had skyscrapers in every village.
The handshake ritual was combined with a question: “Is this the crazy Weingart, Armin?” I was twenty-seven, and only a few insiders knew me as the “crazy man,” but Rand knew everything, all the insiders’ secrets.
Over the next twenty-three years, I met students during the Yale Summer Program in Graphic Design, in Brissago. Switzerland. Everyone had a story about their teacher Paul Rand. Since the stories were often quite contradictory, I became more and more intrigued with this unique, mysterious person.
Philip Burton, one of my first students at the Basel School of Design, was teaching typography and graphic design at Yale, and so, in April 1986, I had the opportunity to teach for a week there—the first-year class. Paul Rand could not attend my opening lecture—driving his car was becoming increasingly problematic because of his eyes.
But then Burton received a surprising invitation: we were both asked to Rand’s house in Weston, Connecticut-which he designed and worked on from 1952 until his death-to give him and his wife Marion a private lecture. The evening was combined with a wonderful dinner, and over the course of the evening, all of the stories that I had in my mind about the Rand family became irrelevant. We began a friendship that lasted until November 1996, when he died in Norwalk, near his quiet home surrounded by tall trees.
We met regularly in the United States or in Switzerland. During his few visits to Basol, we were twice able to invite him to our school, to bring him and Marion together with my students in the typography classes. These events were highlighted by his intelligent and humorous lectures.
Through the years we discovered a common love of children’s books. Between 1956 and 1970, he illustrated and designed four books for the legendary children’s book editor Margaret McEldery at Harcourt Brace and World: I Know A Lot of Things (1956), Sparkle and Spin (1957), Little 1 (1962), and Listen! Listen! (1970). The text was always written by his second wife. Ann. I was also creating children’s books, for children in Jordan and Pakistan.
Tom Bluhm, a student and friend of Rand’s for many years, would sometimes visit with me. He would bring me some of the materials that Rand wrote and designed as presentation booklets for different companies. One of the booklets described the development of the logo for Steven Jobs’s company NeXT Computer in Palo Alto, California. In these he helped the companies understand his research into different typefaces and their transformation into the definitive mark. I was always impressed with how clear, concise, and complete his explanations were. Even with my bad English, I could understand every sentence.
Rand was for me one of the strongest, most important warning voices about the future of design and the world we inhabit. His attitude was honest and direct. I believed in what he had to say. and we shared many opinions. He delivered his last lecture (organized by John Maeda) in early November at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His lucid and relevant delivery in the packed auditorium was about form and content in art and design, the focus of his last book, From Lascaux to Brooklyn (1996).
I first met and studied with Paul Rand in Brissago. Switzerland, in the summer of 1981, during a five-week workshop that also included individual one-week sessions each with Philip Burton, Armin Hofmann. Herbert Matter, and Wolfgang Weingart. The assignment for Rand’s class was a visual semantics project with painter Joan Mir6 as the subject matter. The object of this problem was the manipulation of words and letters to illustrate an idea or evoke some image- specifically, to suggest by means of the letters M I R 6 the work of the painter.
One of my solutions was a playful design with letterforms depicting an image of a cat with the name Miro. Rand was quite helpful with this final design. <ns»ra »
I was pleased to talk with him briefly during his visit to Arizona State University (ASU) in February of 1995 and have lunch with him and his wife Marion. The ASU Eminent Scholar Program sponsored his visit to the School of Design, to lead a classroom discussion with and offer a lecture to the students in the graphic design program. We also presented some of our student’s work from Professor Thomas Detrie’s letterform class and my visual communication class. Rand critiqued this work: “It is not better or worse than other design schools’* he had visited, which I took as a compliment.
The topics covered were varied, but the focus of conversation was design and an article I was working on at the time on my website called “Graphic Design Education Fundamentals.” Subjects also included during these talks were graphic design, design philosophy, and design education. The following excerpts are from these meetings.
- Title: Paul Rand: Conversations with Students
- Author: Michael Kroeger
- Grade Level: 8 and up
- Paperback: 96 pages
- Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press; 1 edition (January 3, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1568987250
- ISBN-13: 978-1568987255
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 8 inches