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Paul RandSteve Jobs once called Paul Rand, “the greatest living graphic designer.” Though no longer alive, Rand’s legend still thrives in his work and in his writings. With a body of work that includes logos for IBM, Westinghouse, ABC, UPS, and NeXT, he’s still someone you should listen to.

In Design, Form, and Chaos, Rand shares “some thoughts and despair about the design of a logo.”

First what is a logo? Rand says poetically:

A logo is a flag, a signature, an escutcheon, a street sign.
A logo does not sell (directly), it identifies.
A logo is rarely a description of a business.
A logo derives meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolizes,
         not the other way around. A logo is less important than the product it signifies; what it represents is more
         important than what it looks like.
The subject matter of a logo can be almost anything.

Rand then explains how the quality of logo is tied to the quality of the company it represents. If your company sucks, a pretty logo won’t save you:

Should a logo be self-explanatory? It is only by association with a product, a service, a business, or a corporation that a logo takes on any real meaning. It derives its meaning and usefulness from the quality of that which it symbolizes. If a company is second rate, the logo will eventually be perceived as second rate. It is foolhardy to believe that a logo will do its job immediately, before an audience has been properly conditioned.

Often, the subject of the logo doesn’t even matter:

Surprising to many, the subject matter of a logo is of relatively little importance, and even appropriateness of content does not always play a significant role.

This does not imply that appropriateness is undesirable. It merely indicates that a one-to-one relationship between a symbol and what it symbolized is very often impossible to achieve and, under certain conditions, objectionable. Ultimately, the only mandate in the design of logos, it seems, is that they be distinctive, memorable, and clear.

Finally, Rand stresses the importance of presenting design work. You must tell a unique story that’s catered to your audience:

Canned presentations have the ring of emptiness. The meaningful presentation is custom designed–for a particular purpose, for a particular person. How to present a new idea is, perhaps, one of the designer’s most difficult tasks. This how is not only a design problem, it also pleads for something novel. Everything a designer does involves presentation of some kind–not only how to explain (present) a particular design to an interested listener (client, reader, spectator), but how the design may explain itself in the marketplace… A presentation is the musical accompaniment of design. A presentation that lacks an idea cannot hide behind glamourous photos, pizzazz, or ballyhoo. If it is full of gibberish, it may fall on deaf ears; if too laid back, it may land a prospect in the arms of Morpheus.

To back up his words, Rand includes replicas of his own logo presentations for NeXt, IBM, AdStar, IDEO, and Morningstar. It’s my favorite part of the book and the most illuminating.

Years ago, I got lucky and found an unassuming copy of the book in a used bookstore. It was $30, then. It’s now going for $160 on Amazon. I ain’t ever selling mine, but here are some photos:

Design, Form, and Chaos

Design, Form, and Chaos

Design, Form, and Chaos

Design, Form, and Chaos

Design, Form, and Chaos

Design, Form, and Chaos

Design, Form, and Chaos

Design, Form, and Chaos

Design, Form, and Chaos

Design, Form, and Chaos

Design, Form, and Chaos

13 Comments

  • Lee Wilson

    gravatarMay 26, 2007
    3:38 am

    How I wish I could get hold of that book, good find. I wonder how many second hand book stores I would have to visit before I found such as gem…

    Great article on a great man.

    Lee

  • Chanpory

    gravatarMay 27, 2007
    11:13 am

    Lee, I did some digging and it looks like you can get it for about $70 bucks. Here’s a list of available copies via AddAll.com.

    http://tinyurl.com/2jt5cv

  • Jacob Cass

    gravatarJan 13, 2008
    3:52 am

    I read this book (borrowed from library). Was an interesting read, but sometimes his language isn’t very to the point. And your fav part of the book is also mine :P

  • Amanda Vlahakis

    gravatarJan 14, 2008
    3:23 pm

    Thanks for sharing, that book looks fantastic.

  • Logoblink.com

    gravatarJan 20, 2008
    3:46 pm

    Yeah, I should get one of these :)

  • Design Malikov

    gravatarJun 25, 2008
    7:59 pm

    “A logo does not sell” phrase must sound like blasphemy for market research professionals :-)

  • Bengacreative

    gravatarJan 31, 2009
    11:39 am

    Very interesting read. Thanks for this article. In regards to the book, you might also find his book “Paul Rand: Modernist Design” by Franc Nunoo-Quarcoo.

  • JWG

    gravatarApr 30, 2009
    8:54 am

    Thanks for sharing! I’m gonna have to pick that up. :)

  • Pratish Mepani

    gravatarJun 9, 2009
    11:05 am

    Thanks for sharing, I need to get me one of these!!

  • Mack

    gravatarJun 16, 2009
    9:31 am

    I better start looking at second-hand bookstores. I think I found some design books featuring Paul Rand. I have to go back there.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Louai Alasfahani

    gravatarAug 7, 2009
    7:19 am

    A great article, thanks. Now i am off to search for this great book :) which is most probably not available in our library :(

  • Lee Wilson

    gravatarOct 30, 2009
    12:58 am

    Can’t believe it was two years since I posted, I have only just seen the reply Chanpory, not sure if there will still be any available, but will take a look.

    Thanks Lee

  • Shabbir Hussain

    gravatarNov 28, 2009
    6:30 am

    Purchasing it for around 40$ from an acquaintance. Got a chance to read a few pages.

    Clients hate me when I tell them, “A logo is ‘nothing’ without your product or service.” Or in Paul Rand’s words “A logo does not sell.”