Monday, 9 April 2012

Inspiring Designers | Paul Rand's Theory on Contrast

I realise this sounds like a dull subject but give me a chance. Paul Rand is responsible for some of the most important pieces of design in the 20th century (the IBM branding, the original UPS logo, etc) and he is one of the beloved people who gave graphic design it's rightful place in the industry. Us designers may get accused of having an 'easy life' or, my personal favourite, 'playing with crayons' but it's thanks to the likes of Paul Rand, Wim Crouwel, Alan Fletcher, and so on, that we now live in a society that appreciates graphic design. Most people accept design as a worthy skill and realise that it's vital to human communication. That's because it is.

Ma Bicyclette: Inspiring Designers | Paul Rand's Theory on Contrast

I'm going off topic here, but now you know a little bit about Paul Rand which definitely isn't a bad thing. Paul Rand's design work stretches from children's picture book illustration, to logo design, to publication design, to poster design, to book cover design, the list is endless. I would struggle to name my favourite piece of Rand's work because the man has so much, that I can't guarantee I've seen it all. That said, I am going to tell you what it is I love about his work and what, I think, makes his work stand alone in the overcrowded industry that is design, even after all these years. I think, it all comes down to contrast.

Ma Bicyclette: Inspiring Designers | Paul Rand's Theory on Contrast

Patricia Allen Dreyfus summed up Rand's process as -
'the contrast between the expected and the unexpected, between rough and smooth, simple and complex, line and mass, negative and positive space, up and down, photography and artwork, tight and loose, thick and think, representation and symbol, movement and repose, colour and black-and-white'.

In my opinion, the reason contrast works so well is because it can often level a piece of design out. Imagine there's both a photograph and a small water-coloured paint blob on a piece of work, a happy medium has been created. There isn't too much of either media, there's just one photograph and one paint blob. The eye isn't being pulled to one media in particular and therefore both medias compliment each other. Take the proportion of text for another example. Say the word Happy is in point 60 and the word Birthday is in point 6. The word Happy would obviously dominate on the page because it would be so big, but the word Birthday would leave you curious because it's so small. The design is therefore of good contrast because the two extremes of point size level each other out. I'm sure if you look at some of Paul Rand's work the contrast will become obvious to you, more obvious than my descriptions are making it, I hope.

Ma Bicyclette: Inspiring Designers | Paul Rand's Theory on Contrast

I'm a huge fan of Paul Rand's work and I think his use of contrast is the reason his work is consistently good. He makes it easy for himself to work in any area of design because he has his own rules. It's brave for any designer to have his or her own rules, even more so in the 21st century.

Ma Bicyclette: Inspiring Designers | Paul Rand's Theory on Contrast


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