Thursday, July 10, 2008

Paul Rand: A Timeless Genius

I recently signed up for the "Daily Heller" by Steven Heller. Today he posted videos about Paul Rand, a genius of the graphic design field. I do not use the word genius lightly. He is the PERFECT leader of the design world. He is the perfect example for young aspiring designers.

I often get frustrated and irritated by the lack of education among the masses regarding graphic design. You say "graphic design" and people think they know what you mean. There has been an increasing rise of technology and votech schools that offer programs in what they like to call "graphic design" but is really "lessons in design software". Growing numbers of people are going to these schools to get an education in what they actually believe to be true "graphic design". I have had many conversations with people who attended these schools and they really think they know the world of graphic design...until you start talking to them about design. They never receive any formal training in design where one learns the language of form (design principles and how to use them), just the techy stuff and they may never understand what they are doing. And they go off to make bookoo bucks from clients who believe they are graphic designers just as much as the faux designer believes it. But all they really have is the software skills and the shallow ability to realize and mimic the latest trend. So they know what people want, trend and prettiness. What sets them a part from good design is they have no ability to think like a designer so they look to the latest trends and simply mimic whats hot. And people gobble this up.

I shant worry however because Paul Rand said something in one of the videos Steve Heller posted that made me realize I do not have to feel as if these poor excuses for designers are going to take over the design world and keep me out of work because what makes good design is a sense of timelessness. Great design is timeless, not trendy. Trends die yearly, good timeless design has been around for centuries. It is not that in order to be timeless one must be completely original and disregard all trends. Paul Rand said it best, "Don't try to be original, just try to be good."

So one may ask, "what is good design?" To me (and to Paul Rand), good design is when a designer takes the language of form and combines it with content until he/she creates a perfect harmony or fusion of content and form, a perfect marriage of content and form. Genius comes in when a designer is able to find this perfect balance of content and form. When someone can look at a finished piece and can clearly see an obvious deeper meaning in a seemingly simple form fused with an equal amount of content, the designer has succeeded. Brilliance!

Paul Rand said that "the abstract characteristic of a picture is its form, the concrete is the content...without content there is no form and without form there is no content...A work of art is realized when its form and content are indistinguishable, when they are in synthesis, when they are fused." SO if you just have form, all you have is style. And style is not bad as style is what attracts the viewer to a piece, it is the aesthetics that make the piece worth looking at ("The degree of interest in a picture is often determined by its abstract quality...") but what makes the entire piece function is the content fused with a dollop of glue that is the genius of the designer. The genius is the ability to find a way to harmoniously fuse the content and form so that they function.

What I find so interesting about design and why I feel SO proud to be a part of the design world is that when one has hoaned in on that genius of solving the problem of effective visual communication, one has the ability to communicate with the ultimate universal language. I know the universal language has been known as math but I say that it is not so universal because not everyone does understand it...I certainly don't know how to communicate mathematically, because it can be so complex. But from the beginning of man, visual language has been a very effective method for communication, especially if you can pull it off just right with a "less is more" simple but completely effective approach. I have always been really hard on myself for not knowing other languages. I studied Spanish and German for a couple of years and could attempt to communicate with those languages but they are only good for communicating with Spanish and German speakers. It just recently dawned on me that I already know a language that communicates to EVERYONE! If a designer is good enough, they can communicate with anyone in the world effectively. This is what I will strive for every day as an artist/designer; not to be good but to be GREAT.

To simply sum up: "To design is much more than simply to assemble, to order, or even to edit; it is to add value and meaning, to illuminate, to simplify, to clarify, to modify, to dignify, to dramatize, to persuade, and perhaps even to amuse." ~Paul Rand

Take a look at this poster by Paul Rand and tell me how long it takes you to understand the message. This is a good example of great graphic design:

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