Exhibit Review: ‘Everything is Design’

By Tanya Silverman

For all the times I passed one of those brown, boxy delivery trucks marked by the former UPS logo, I never thought of who actually brought that discernable image of the tied-up bow parcel into my consciousness.

The same passive ignorance went for all the instances I saw iconic logos like the circular “ABC” or the linear “IBM”–not to mention the more playful depiction of the computer company’s abbreviation with the eye and the bee before the M.

It therefore never occurred to me that the same man designed all of these famous logos: Paul Rand.

Beyond learning the creative source of all these ad images, I discovered much about this designer’s life and legacy at Everything is Design: The Work of Paul Rand. The exhibit is currently installed at the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY).

Rand also designed a wide assortment of magazine and book covers, plus corporate logos used by Enron, English First, and Steve Jobs’ NeXT.

Though he was evidently influenced by European art and design movements–like Cubism and Bauhaus–Rand’s personal practice of commercial design began in America at an early age. At three years old, out in Brownsville, Brooklyn, the then-Peretz Rosenbaum (who later changed his name for his career) kept busy at his Orthodox Jewish parents’ grocery store by copying advertisements from their inventory.

Decades later, over in Manhattan and up in an office on Madison Avenue, Rand worked throughout the 1940s designing assorted commercial advertisements.

One commercial character he crafted during this period was the Coronet Brandy Man: a closed-eyed, smiling, flat-headed, blushing server who contently presented the alcoholic product. Several tear-outs from ‘40s magazines, reproductions of posters, and even a doll of the Brandy Man are shown around Everything is Design.

IBM product boxes and posters painted by Rand are also on display at MCNY, as are placards that allude to his time teaching design at Yale.

Unsurprisingly, the designer put forth a philosophical approach to his profession that resonated in the effects of the visual elements. An array of Rand’s quotes regarding design is therefore imprinted throughout the exhibit.

One written phrase is from his 1994 publication, Design, Form, and Chaos:

“Design, as we shall see, is also an instrument of disorder and confusion. Design for deception is often more persuasive than design for good–seduction is one of its many tasks.”

Given such a psychologically penetrating approach to his chosen craft, it’s no surprise that The Atlantic titled their review of this MCNY exhibit, “The Designer Who Humanized Corporate America.”

Will I think of the humanity in the corporate logos and advertising graphics going forth? Well, likely not. Nevertheless, with the recognition and appreciation I’ve garnered out of Design is Everything, I’ll definitely view Rand’s commercial-art creations with more a biographical and humanistic perspective.

All photos by Tanya Silverman.

‘Everything is Design’ will be on display at MCNY until Sep 7, 2015.