THREE – Paul Rand: the Brander

Who designed design?

One of many inspirational artists of the 20th century, graphic designer Paul Rand was a modernist; a design radical who shifted traditional views on design and drew us closer to the field we know and love today.

Paul Rand
Rand, late in his illustrious career (Alcheruk).

Formerly Peretz Rosenbaum, Paul Rand simply wished to excel in his craft. Yet, through his work, Rand revolutionised the world of graphic design. Most famous for the corporate logos he created in the 1950’s and 1960’s including ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), UPS (United Parcel Service) and IBM (International Business Machines), Rand’s ability to identify the need for exalted the regard in which businesses held design:

“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 (Heller, 1997)

Rand’s recipe was rooted in the modernist philosophy he so valued, built on theories proposed by leading philosophers of art, including Roger Fry, Alfred North Whitehead, and John Dewey. Early in Rand’s ‘Thoughts on Design’ (referred to as the bible of modern practice), he begins drawing lines between Dewey’s philosophy and the need for “functional-aesthetic perfection” in modern art (Rand, 1947). His thesis was founded upon the principles of memorability, meaning and modesty. The simplicity which his work engendered was a byproduct of these values, assuming figure as the embodiment of form and function: the integration of the beautiful and the useful (Rand, 1947).

Good design adds value of some kind, gives meaning, and, not incidentally, can be sheer pleasure to behold; it respects the viewer’s sensibilities and rewards the entrepreneur.

— Rand, Design Form and Chaos, 1993

Based on these sentiments, I was charged with the task of constructing a sandwich to represent our graphic design patriarch, Paul Rand.

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A portion of the process.

The process, although seemingly simple, involved much deep reflection: how does one sufficiently represent such a prevalent figure in history in a single sandwich? In order to answer this question I undertook a process of trying to understand Rand’s rationale. Reading short biographies, observing his known and less-known works and referring to words Rand had uttered himself allowed me to gain a more comprehensive understanding of how he approached design problems.

“Don’ try to be original. Just try to be good.”

– Rand

Using the above quote from Rand as inspiration, I set out to create a good sandwich that expressed meaning, memorability and modesty. These three attributes are seen in subtle forms.

The complete sandwich (see below) is, in fact, somewhat plain, comprised of two thick slices of white-loaf bread, a thin layer of tzatziki spread, sliced cheese and ham, topped with tomato. Each retains its original form, circular or rectangular – modesty in its essence. This simplicity conveys meaning. It provokes particular thoughts for each individual dependent on their experience with it: some may relate it to their lunch break at the office, others may reminisce about childhood or their first time parenting, whilst some may see it as a downgrade from lavish living. In any case, it delivers enticing emotions. A distinct feature of this sandwich is its form. The three-way split inspired by Rand’s iterations of the IBM logo creates the illusion that the sandwich is something more unique; more memorable.

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This composition empitomises Rand’s view on design and is characteristic of his works. Its memorable form and strong colour represents the idealogies which influenced his vision for “functional-aesthetic perfection”.

In brief, Rand – ‘the Brander’ revolutionised how artists in our time view and develop design. His contribution to the field is invaluable in the eyes of any designer, and his influence will continue to exert itself upon society through visual communication. I hope to take Rand’s values, motives and practices and attempt to adapt them to my own method in order to create more value for viewers.

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TWO – Speaking of Design…

Advocacy and design; what’s the connection?

Design has an often underestimated impact on everyday living. It may seem obvious at first; the red sign means stop, the door handle means pull and the button means push. But the impact which design has on our world at large is somewhat underappreciated.

In our week 2 guest lecture, we had the bounty of hearing from Julie Connoly who through her profession tends to the needs of refugees and asylum seekers by engaging in collective advocacy, analysing how to appropriately advocate for their needs and involving them in a process of integration into local life.

We explored the notion that advocacy and design have the potential to solve complex issues by employing creative communication methods to deliver information, visual aids to increase access and usability and investigating the incorporation of design strategies to capture experience and raise awareness.

When contemplating these opportunities, the following thoughts came to mind:

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I began by listing the attributes of advocacy and design that I deemed most prevalent: flow of information, engagement, systemic/collective, support; process, solutions, creativity, communication. It became quite clear that many of these factors were interrelated.

The concept of obliquity particularly caught my attention. Obliquity, as described by John Kay implies that it is the process of achieving complex objectives indirectly. This exercise demonstrated how many of the broader social, structural and cultural issues which systemic advocacy tries to address can be solved through application of design.

Through design, awareness of environmental issues can be expressed, giving voice to the voiceless:

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‘My White Body is a Dark Stain – Thanks to You’ – Savas Cekic, 2010

By capturing social reality through design, the struggle of the minority (or many) can be raised to the consciousness of the masses:

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‘Child Labour’ – Mehdi Saeedi, 2011

With visual communication, support can be delivered to individuals when factors such as language and culture may prove to be barriers to progress. Refugee resettlement is considered in this context:

Public Pictograms (Sunit, 2009)

Where traditional advocacy fails to deal with questions regarding placement of power, design can convey controversy:

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‘Hurricane Katrina Poster’ – Richard Boynton, 2005

 

At the center of these thoughts was the relationship which people have with society and how design could cause a shift in thought, behaviour and culture. Design is not merely a process that allows for the conceptualisation of functional solutions to create structure in everyday life. It is also the process that can indirectly solve broader problems regarding social justice, inclusion, and cohesion.

“Now, instead of a mass audience consuming media from a single source, we have multiple sources, multiple channels and multiple audiences. Every participant is potentially a sender as well as a receiver of information, and the barrier to entry is no longer the fortune required to set up a TV station or a newspaper, but the price of a PC and an Internet connection.”

– Colin Moore, 2011

As an individual who is heavily concerned with the state of the world and its gradual disintegration, this is something I will strive to be conscious of as I continue to learn about the nature of design. I hope to see how this field can become a source of integration and social good, erasing negative patterns of behaviour, questioning the merit of perhaps out-dated ideologies and challenging the standards of today.

References

  • Moore, C. (2011). Propaganda prints:. London: A&C Book Publishing.

ONE – Defining Design

How does one define design?

This was appropriately the focus of our first tutorial in Design and Creative Thinking. By exploring our own preconceived perception of the word, describing our own strengths, weaknesses and values that drive our desire to design, and by constructing tattoos that represent ourselves as creators, we began a process of defining design.

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Initially in pairs, we were charged with the task of articulating our understanding of the term. My partner and I began with a series of stray words:  “visual”, “product”, “solution”, “process” and so on. These opening remarks, I presume, stemmed from our expansive exposure to the wide array of visual communication that we as consumers in a society bound by materialism are ambushed by daily – the words we were adopting are solely concerned with the physical aspects of design, with an inclination toward a business-oriented frame of mind. Based on these words, we noted “Design is an innovative process that creatively produces visual communications and products.”

Upon consultation with another pair, we built on this definition by combining both of our one-sentence-wonders; “Design is an innovative process that creatively produces visual communication and products with the intent to create structure in everyday living.” This raised our consciousness, bringing to bear the matter of intent; strategic design is intended to influence or result in certain user behaviour

From the layout of shopping malls to digital rights management, our everyday lives are full of examples of products, systems and environments which have been designed to shape, guide or control our behaviour (Lockton). By influencing our thoughts and actions, design is not only influenced by culture, it also has the potential to fabricate it.

“[As designers] beaviour is our medium” (Fabricant, 2009)

In turn, as a group of eight, we established that “Design is the innovative process that allows for the conceptualisation of functional solutions to create structure in everyday life.” Yet, there was one seemingly discernible feature, almost inherent to the nature of design itself, which all groups had completely neglected; the necessity to be aesthetically pleasing – would design be design if it were not to appeal to the visual demands of the user?

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Through this process of collaboration that captured each individual’s voice we were able to effectively develop a definition founded upon core principles which were universally recognised as implicit in design. Fundamental aspects that were common to each group’s definition included ‘innovation’, ‘creativity’, ‘solution’ and ‘concepts’, all of which resonate with me as a designer who appreciates that design is not an end but the very process itself. The experience is not limited to the user but also develops the creator’s understanding and enhances their perception. Hence, the only word I would deem fitting to add would be ‘learning’: “Design is an innovative learning process that allows for the conceptualisation of functional solutions to create structure in everyday life.”

Other sources’ commentary on the definition of design also align with our collective interpretation:

“Design” is a process of developing purposeful and innovative solutions that embody functional and aesthetic demands based on the needs of the intended user (Swedish Industrial Design Foundation)

Realization of a concept or idea into a configuration, drawing, model, mould, pattern, plan or specification and which helps achieve the item’s designated objective(s) (BusinessDictionary, 2017).

But what is ‘design’ actually? Is it a logo? A WordPress theme? An innovative UI? It’s so much more than that. It’s a state of mind. It’s an approach to a problem. It’s how you’re going to kick your competitor’s ass. Design is problem solving (Wells Riley, 2012).

The attributes of process, innovation, intention, solution and functionality are parallel to the terms we proposed as a class. One idea that stands in contrast is the phrase ‘It’s a state of mind’, which suggests that a large portion of the process in psychological and may not necessarily translate into tangible material. This concept resonates with my strongly, as I find my state of mind deeply affects my style of design and productivity.

In addition to the overarching definition of design, key skill categories and complementary qualities were identified which one endeavouring in the field would hope to obtain:

  1. Creativity and imagination
  2. Critical thinking and problem-solving
  3. Motivated and passionate
  4. Communication and collaborative

Although committed, passionate and swift at solving problems, I feel that as an individual content creator I need to improve my ability to brainstorm and be detached from perfection. Often, I tend to withhold my ideas in fear that they are not satisfactory enough to bring to the drawing board – a false misconception that limits the critical thought process from the beginning. I must also learn to communicate my thoughts openly and articulate my justification for decisions clearly and concisely. These qualities will develop as I consciously interact more frequently with fellow students on group tasks and refine the arts of ideation and consultation.


To further explore our identity as designers, we carried out the task of constructing a sandwich that represents us as a designer. I approached the task by listing physical elements of the sandwich such as taste, smell, texture, size, shape, weight and relating qualities, values and skills that I possess as a designer to these areas. I then brainstormed objects and components that may represent these areas, for instance, cheese symbolises that as a designer I value patience (cheese is tastier with time). I began experimenting with various arrangements; using a prayer book as the base to represent the influence of my Faith, placing the contents of the sandwich ‘out of the box’, creating a deconstructed assembly, using mirrors, and using physical figures to resemble metaphoric terms such as a ‘knuckle sandwich’.

These initial thoughts then translated into a series of sketches which with annotations justified my decisions in relation to form, material, size, order and composition. With these sketches in mind, I set out to purchase ingredients. With limited resources and time, I structured and restructured the composition multiple times. This process involved a lot of intuition; my gut-feeling told me when a certain design just wasn’t right.

Eventually I constructed the featured sandwich from the following:

  • Prayer book plate: to show that my Faith is the foundation for everything I do.
  • Open wrap: the circular shape demonstrates life in its wholeness, its cyclic movement and ultimately its perfection
  • Camembert cheese: sliced into segments, the cheese represents the multiple facets of life that influence my design; family, faith, study, social life, personal time etc. each of which is distinct yet interrelated to the others. And design requires patience, just as cheese requires time to age
  • Chili: just because my life is full of spice and all things nice
  • Eggplant: small cubes of eggplant hint toward the cultural influence of my Persian background
  • Earphones: when I design, I listen. The music I listen to tends to influence my method
  • Teabag: this addition represents the work ethic that my father led me to adopt; he loves his tea
  • Playing card: I’m known to be a bit of a joker
  • Skewer: labelled ‘service’, the skewer brings all elements of life together by viewing them through the lens of serving others
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Final front view
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Final birds-eye

Reflecting on the process, I definitely felt that the Squiggle of Design Process proposed by Newman was accurate. Defining, researching and ideating all happened concurrently. I was adamant to use a DSLR to capture the creation, which limited my time shooting as I don’t own one myself. Perhaps this was a mistake, however I am happy with how it signified the essence of the sandwich. I would, however, reconsider the setting in which the photos were taken – the current scene is rather bland. Overall, I am content with the final product.


Through the exercises in this tutorial, I realise I still have much to learn about the nature of design, how it can apply and manifest itself in numerous situations, and who I am as a designer. It offered an introduction to the processes and methods designers employ when designing in a contemporary cross-disciplinary environment and has enticed me with a new way of thinking and solving problems. I look forward to further exploration next week.

References