Sunday, January 3, 2016

Design Matters

“Design is the method of putting form and content together. Design, just as art, has multiple definitions, there is no single definition.Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics. Design is so simple, that's why it is so complicated.” 
~Paul Rand

Paul Rand was one of the 20th century's most influential designers. A prof at Yale, his major contribution circled about the development of corporate identities. The list of clients whose logos he designed famously includes IBM, ABC, Westinghouse

A few years ago I picked up Michael Kroger's slim volume, Paul Rand, Conversations with Students. The conversations distill the essence of Rand's ideas, which I have come to believe are so very important. Design matters. Yes, we keep hearing the mantra "Content is king" as if it were holy writ, but the truth is that great content can be badly hampered through poor presentation.

Whether it's web pages, brochures, invitations, billboards and signs, or corporate logos, design matters. Over the course of my career in advertising I readily acknowledge that the designers who assembled my ideas made all the difference in the outcome.

Rand points out that painting for Picasso was a process of elimination, which means you begin with complexity and move toward simplicity. "That is difficult for anybody," he said.

Other quotes from these conversations include these two which I  highlighted in my copy of the book:

"Design is also a system of proportions, which means the relationship of sizes."


"Content is basically the idea, that is what content is... Form is how you treat the idea, what you do with it. This is exactly the meaning of design. It is the conflict between form and content, form being the problem. I mean how you do it, how you show something, how you think, how you speak, how you dance; choreography is the content, it is the dance itself."

Here are a few additional quotes from other sources which capture his approach to design.

"Simplicity is not the goal. It is the by-product of a good idea and modest expectations."


"Asymmetric balance creates greater reader interest. Pleasure derived from observing asymmetrical arrangements lies partly in overcoming resistances, which, consciously or not, the spectator adjusts in his own mind."

When it's not working we may not know why, but we know it intuitively. There's something innate in the nature of reality. Or as Rand states elsewhere, "You can't criticize geometry. It's never wrong."

* * * *
This week is the third installment  Design DLH
a wonderful series of presentations hosted by the Duluth Art Institute.

This week's meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Friday, January 8 at Bent Paddle Brewing Co. "How Do We Embrace the Cold?" will feature Greg Benson of Loll Designs, Bent Paddle Brewing Co., and Kym Young.

Each Design DLH gathering invites local designers to present ideas around a prompt that addresses some aspect of Duluth’s visual identity. Last month that symbol was our aerial lift bridge. The focus of Session Three, “How Do We Embrace the Cold?,” is the winter weather.

Sessions are free and open to the public, but due to limited seating, RSVPs are required at The public is also invited to participate in the conversation via Twitter, using the hashtag #DesignDLH. Additional question prompts and materials for doodling and notations are available at each session.

Westinghouse image used courtesy Creative Commons.

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