Sparkle and Spin

The Legend, Paul Rand

Detail of Paul Rand’s IBM Latin America poster, 1990. Photo by Wright

The work of Paul Rand lives in the canon of design history. This famed-designer filled the pages of my college textbooks. He paved the way for modernism as it pertains to the discipline of graphic design in America. His European sensibilities were revolutionary during the heyday of his career, but most impactful for me, is the timelessness of the work. Paul Rand accomplished branding so simple it holds up generations later, colors and shapes so sophisticated that they still make my jaw drop. Rand had the remarkable ability to distill a message or mark down to its most basic elements without ever becoming bland. His work has an air of playfulness that feels sophisticated, never kitschy. The colors illuminate like the paintings of Matisse, the compositions recall the movements of Dada & De Stijl, and the lettering has the rigor of Swiss typography.

When Rand’s estate landed in Chicago, I cracked open the portfolios with my eyes wide. Here I was turning the pages of an IBM pitch-book, carefully sorting sketches for an unpublished children’s book, staring at a door from Rand’s own home in Connecticut.

Detail of a Westinghouse Design Center poster by Paul Rand, 1968. Photo by Wright

I find examples of his most famous work for corporate giants: Westinghouse, the logo is kinetic on the pages of posters & prints and I read every page of the IBM logo guidelines, amazed at how the mark is so confidently explained and incorporated into the world it inhabits. Rand’s personal stationary and the set of Japanese seals he used with red ink are among the stacks. I page through corporate comprehensives, stationary and annual reports. There are dreamy collections of Stafford advertisements, the illustrative work for Ohrbach (for which there are dozens of examples) never grow stale. Tucked in the bottom drawer of Rand’s flat files are several billboards for Coronet, the recognizable motif of halftone dots with swaths of bright colors stretch out twenty feet across the gallery floor. I imagine wallpapering my studio wall with the cheerful advertisements to bring Rand’s billboards back to life.

Coronet billboard designed by Paul Rand, 1945–48. Photo by Wright

There are collections of Rand’s own materials: a collage of ephemera from his office bulletin board, paintbrushes, drafting tools, and toys he cherished and collected simply for their charm, so precious they tug at my heart strings (why don’t they make toys like this anymore?!). There are folk objects and ethnographic pieces — you can see the sun ornament that Rand took inspiration from for a 1982 IBM conference poster. The SOS Kinderdorf silhouette dances upside the page like a figure in the Bamileke stool. A set of four clothes hooks by Olaf Von Bohr look like they could sit in harmony next to the IBM Golden Circle poster.

left SOS Kinderdorf poster by Paul Rand, 1996; right Bamileke stool from the collection of Paul Rand. Photos by Wright
Photo by Wright

The collection also includes furniture Rand lived with — his own Aalto coat rack, a beloved easel, and cabinets he designed himself — one drawer on the Moduli cabinet is charmingly labeled ‘shirts’ in his own scrawl. I enjoy the whimsical flatware created by his friend and fellow designer Shigeo Fukuda (check out the killer posters!). I draw connection between the colors and shapes of the Enzo Mari wastebaskets and the kinetic shapes from the Creative Media Center logo and the posters for Columbus Indiana. I recognize the brushstrokes from a Picasso ceramic in Rand’s book jacket designs for Mine Boy. Maybe it’s obvious to delight in these; Rand is not the first to draw inspiration from artists & craftsman. Surely we are all influenced by the objects we choose to live with, the art we hang on our walls, but I feel as though I can see his mind at work, so focused and fine was his aesthetic.

“Pictures, abstract symbols, materials, and colors are among the ingredients with which a designer or engineer works. To design is to discover relationships and to make arrangements and rearrangements among these ingredients.” — Paul Rand
Photos by Wright

Moving through the material that is to arrive on the auction block, I discover a small cache of paintings. The colored still-lives and abstract compositions offer a different insight into Rand’s expert eye for color & gestalt. They are sweet and lively, I can imagine him enjoying the freedom of the canvas after a busy week in the agency bull-pen.

Spread from the Ann and Paul Rand’s book, Sparkle and Spin. Photo by Wright

And speaking of busy weeks, Rand is a participant in the bustle of my home life — I read Sparkle and Spin to my toddler, noticing the way he takes in the collaged pages brought to life with chunky letters and construction paper people. He too is delighted with this graphic designer’s way with words and color. I’m proud to share Rand’s gifts with my family and honored to present this material by one of my design heroes at Wright’s auction this fall.


Paul Rand: The Art of Design will be auctioned at Wright on 13 September 2018, noon central. The sale includes over 300 works from the collection of Paul Rand, ranging from never before seen paintings & graphics to his personal collection of fine art & design.Wright is open for preview September 6–13 10 am–4 pm Monday through Friday. Order the catalog we designed here.