New Television Workshop Collection

New Television Workshop Collection Oral HistoriesDesign Archives

Paul Rand Interview

Alternative Title:
Design Archives--Paul Rand

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5 videocassettes of 5 (VHS) (300 min.) : sd., col. ; 1/2 in.
5 videocassettes of 5 (Betacam SP) (300 min.) : sd., col. ; 1/2 in.
8 videocassettes of 8 (480 min.) : sd., col. ; 1 in. master.

One of four interviews conducted in 1981 as part of the New Television Workshop's (NTW) Design Archiving Project. The "Design Archives" was an NEA-sponsored project originally conceived in 1980 as an attempt to record lengthy interviews with four "national treasures" involved in various fields of design. The others were O'Neil Ford (architecture), Melanie Kahane (interior design), and Charles Blessing (city planning). Plans to broadcast portions of the interviews never came to pass. Nor did plans to transfer the interviews to videodisc in order to provide a resource for researchers and students in the field of graphic design. Other NTW projects undertaken to interview famous artists were the "Dance Archiving Project," in which tap dancer Honi Coles was interviewed in 1981, and the "Twentieth Century Artists" series, in which artists Judy Chicago and Lee Krasner were interviewed in 1979.

The interviewer is Carolyn Hightower, who was, at the time, Executive Director of the A.I.G.A. (American Institute of Graphic Arts). The interview focuses on Rand's professional life and his ideas on what makes a designer successful. Due perhaps to his humble nature, Rand often finds it difficult to answer questions about his influence and legacy.

Paul Rand was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1914. After studying in New York at the Pratt Institute, Parsons School of Design, and the Art Students League in the early 1930's, he soon became Art Director of Esquire and Apparel Arts magazines. He quickly became known for his unique magazine illustrations and covers, beginning with the journal ´Direction.' He worked at the Weintraub Advertising Agency in New York from 1941-54, and along with designer Bill Bernbach designed covers that closely integrated design and copy. He became a freelance designer in 1955 and created standard, ubiquitous logos for major companies like IBM, Westinghouse, ABC, and UPS. He has lectured at many universities, including Yale, and has published several influential books on design theory, including "Thoughts on Design" in 1947 and "Paul Rand: A Designer's Art" in 1985. He received the gold medal from AIGA. He is considered by many to be the greatest designer of this century. His explorations of the formal vocabulary of European avant-garde movements and his development of a unique,
Americanized graphic language has made him an influence on many young designers. His work is known for its wit, simplicity and its Bauhaus approach to design. He died in 1996 at the age of 82.

This is raw, unedited footage.

The original footage was filmed on eight 1" cassettes. Five of the eight cassettes contain the interview and shots of Rand's home. One of the eight cassettes is a backup copy of one of the five interview cassettes. One of the eight cassettes is labeled "Paul Rand Interview - Sample Segment #9," and another is labeled "Paul Rand Tape Segment 7." Because these latter three copies were not transferred to Beta preservation copies or VHS screening copies, the nature of those three cassettes is unknown. Preservation masters of the five interview cassettes were made in 1999 on five Beta cassettes, as were five screening copies on VHS cassettes.

225-minute interview on five videocassettes. One of the cassettes does not contain interview footage, but 34 raw, unedited minutes of exterior and interior shots of Rand's house, including shots of some of his most famous designs.

Tape 1 (44:15): Rand's influence and his reception of an honorary medal; inability to answer question about the graphic artist's ability to enrich the world; what a graphic designer does; all-pervading nature of graphic design; difference between illustrators and designers; technology's role in making many design skills obsolete; he calls design the most important element in all the visual arts; childhood origins in Brooklyn and natural early interests in drawing and design; education at Pratt Institute, Parsons School of Design, and the Art Students' League in New York; first jobs doing catalog illustrations; work at George Schweitzer's advertising studio; Europe's superior designers of the 1930's; work in the late 1930's for Direction magazine; his famous "Barbed-Wire X-mas" cover for Direction; client-designer relationship of the times.

Tape 2 (56:30): Further differentiates between graphic designers and illustrators; involvement with Apparel Arts magazine in 1936; freedom he had then as a designer compared to designers today who are curbed by management; his relationship with his students; his relationship with clients; work at Weintraub Advertising Agency in New York beginning in 1941; his clients at that time and conditions one had to consider when designing for large companies; dislike for market research in design; like for clients who trust his designs; dislike of "cloning" in today's advertising; pressures of working for magazines and advertising agencies; the value of having constraints in one's designs.

Tape 3 (59:15): Various meanings of the word "design"; defines graphic arts as a term covering all fields of art; overtly commercial nature of graphic art; distinction between fine and commercial arts; value of the education his students get; his typical students; the value of instinct over training; origins and process behind his famous ads for Orbach's Department Store while at Weintraub; promotion of social causes in his ads; story about the rejection of his proposal for a Picasso exhibition catalog; salesmanship in design; origins of his IBM designs; ABC, Westinghouse, and UPS designs; the need for a designer to keep a distance from his designs; the importance of repetition in design; the support of Westinghouse president for his logo design; work with J. Irwin Miller; his present desire to remain small and maintain a few corporate clients; first meeting and subsequent relationship with Laszlo Moholy-Nagy; Nagy's influence on him, especially regarding book reading and collecting.

Tape 4 (56:30): Influence of books on him; the writing process behind his book Thoughts on Design (1947); his house/studio in Connecticut; anecdotes of his childhood home; difficulties of working at home; his book and art collections; writing children's books in the 1950's; difficulty of working with large corporate clients afraid to take chances on designs; influences of LeCorbusier, Cassandra, Brodovich, and Jensen on his work; the dominance of Europeans on the design field; Japanese appreciation of Rand; sense of humor in his designs; ephemerality of graphic design; Japanese design and its influence; dislike of over-emphasis on imitating schools of design; influence of classical music on visual arts; European and Japanese influences on design; recent Japanese tendency to copy Western design; impossibility of creating a permanent design philosophy in large companies with constant turnover of leaders; the importance of salesmanship in design; ethics and morals in design and art; lack of famous contemporary designers; praises posters of Howard Chafton in the 1930's and the´40's; the influence of William Morris' Arts and Crafts Movement on design; the brilliance of German designer Anton Mahlau (sp?); influence of Tom Benremo and his incorporation of modern art notions into design; the influence of the Bauhaus on design.

Tape 5 (34:30): Raw, unedited footage of exterior and interior shots of Rand's house, including shots of some of his most famous designs; shots of Rand and his wife walking around their house, presumably for use in a broadcast version of the interview that never came to be.

Hightower, Carolyn

Sundermeyer (first name unknown)

MacLeod, Margaret

National Endowment for the Arts--Design Arts Program

Graphic arts

Unedited footage

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