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Thoughts on Design

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Third edition. Illustrated throughout. An important title. 95+ 1 pages. cloth, dust jacket.. square 8vo..

95 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1947

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About the author

Paul Rand

42 books101 followers
Paul Rand (born Peretz Rosenbaum) was an American graphic designer, best known for his corporate logo designs. Rand was educated at the Pratt Institute (1929–1932), and the Art Students League (1933–1934). He was one of the originators of the Swiss Style of graphic design. From 1956 to 1969, and beginning again in 1974, Rand taught design at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Rand was inducted into the New York Art Directors Club Hall of Fame in 1972. He designed many posters and corporate identities, including the logos for IBM, Apple, UPS and ABC. Rand died of cancer in 1996. He is buried in Beth El Cemetery in Norwalk, Connecticut.

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5 stars
355 (34%)
4 stars
395 (38%)
3 stars
226 (21%)
2 stars
44 (4%)
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11 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 75 reviews
Profile Image for Callie .
36 reviews8 followers
November 23, 2014
It's probably sacrilege to say this, but I was disappointed in this book. It took me all of 20 minutes to read it. Given the time at which it was written, its focus is understandably on graphic design and advertising. I found a few tidbits that I thought were relevant to my work today, but wish there was more.

I have mixed feelings about Paul Rand. He brought a lot of exposure to design, but left Yale in protest after a feminist leader (Sheila Levrant de Bretteville) took over their historic graphic design program. In the end he was just another privileged old white guy, resistant to broader views that bring about needed change. Unfortunately, this suppression of female voices in design is still alive and well today.
Profile Image for Philip.
1,439 reviews75 followers
January 19, 2019
Most remembered today for his logos from the 60's - IBM, UPS, ABC, Westinghouse, etc. - I'm not sure how much Rand is still considered one of the design "greats." While this book is a true classic, Rand was a famous critic of "postmodernist" graphic design, denouncing it as faddish and frivolous, and "harbor[ing] its own built-in boredom;" and after resigning as an instructor at Yale in 1992, he was increasingly criticized as reactionary and hostile to new ideas about design.

Personally, I was never a huge fan of Rand's aesthetic, although I did interview him at his Norwalk, Connecticut home when I was a sophomore design student at RIT (shortly after he updated his original IBM with the 8- and 13-stripe versions still used today), and got to experience his crankiness firsthand. As we spoke, he showed me various original and updated versions of a number of logos, asking me which ones I preferred. I believe I got most of them wrong, and know I got yelled at more than once. But it was a fascinating experience, and I think I got a good grade on the paper! Oh, and he gave me this book as a parting gift :)
Profile Image for Sachin Benny.
3 reviews2 followers
March 2, 2017
A great intro in 100 pages

A lot of books stretch on for pages before winding down to a single good idea. Paul Rand does the opposite - A lot of wonderful ideas within 100 pages. Must read intro for a designer or anyone interested in design
Profile Image for Cameron.
26 reviews4 followers
May 31, 2015
A Mad Men era commentary on the basic principles of design by one of America's great graphic designers, supported with great visuals. A closing caption:

"Even if it is true that the average man seems most comfortable with the commonplace and familiar, it is equally true that catering to bad taste, which we so readily attribute to the average reader, merely perpetuates that mediocrity and denies the reader one of the most easily accessible means for esthetic development and eventual enjoyment." -Paul Rand (Peretz Rosenbaum)
Profile Image for Micah.
30 reviews
July 6, 2022
3.5-4 Stars

I received the second edition of this book at an estate sale of a connoisseur of mid-century design.

I appreciated Rand’s no-fluff, no-nonsense, straight-to-the-point exploration of his thoughts. To me this is more valuable than a spruced-up, dense design book, written purposely to be inaccessible to the masses, holding up the notion that design appreciation should be an exclusive club.

The thought of his which resonated with me the most was his heartfelt defense of “The Role of Humor” in design. He traces back the infancy of American humor in advertising to different cultures throughout millennia such as China, India, and Persia. He even ties it back to certain ideas Plato brought up in “The Republic”.

He scoffs at the idea that utilizing humor in graphic design is somehow belittling or doesn’t belong in “serious contemporary thought”, when there has been research indicating the opposite when analyzing the success of companies, publishers, and advertisers gaining an atmosphere of confidence and good will among the public in framing their product with this method in mind.

He touches on many more ideas, but I’ve never heard someone lay it out the way he did with this particular one and it was a pleasant surprise.

Great read for any designer in any design field.
Profile Image for Laurie MacQueen.
105 reviews8 followers
December 28, 2021
I read Thoughts on Design alongside the rest of my design team at work, and it was an interesting thing to discuss!

Now, I graduated from a design school that was QUITE inspired by design principles such as these. So while I could appreciate that this was one of the first books, perhaps, to lay them out in plain English, there wasn't much here that I didn't already know/hadn't already intuited from my practice.

In terms of personal preference, this was about the balance of image to text that I like in a design book. However, I wish there had been a bit more discussion of the examples within the text. (Yes, this is because some of the examples were added after the text was completed. However I think this problem could have been solved with insightful captions.) It was also a nice length!

Lastly, I'll hit the obvious point: this book comes from an era where gender neutral language was not used. I could accept that if it didn't bring out another anachronism: this book comes from a time where we were still looking for the "one true idea," the "one correct solution," etc. That makes some of its advice a little outdated.

So in summary: while I think this book is great in laying out some design thinking, and is certainly a piece of design history, it isn't the only design text I'll ever go to.
365 reviews22 followers
April 7, 2019
The forward to the 2014 edition of Thoughts on Design says, "Paul Rand admitted all his life that he was insecure as a writer. It was his passion for his subject that made him such an effective one."

I beg to differ. I found the writing not so effective (and not so passionate either). Some sections of the book are vague; others are indirect with the main point buried; and much of the writing has a joyless air.

The visual examples are another matter. They make the text clear, and they make the book come alive. So text and visuals work together, which is, after all, the point. However, the visuals do most of the work, and the writing fails to carry a fair share of the load. This imbalance makes sense given Rand was a widely respected designer and insecure as a writer by his own admission.

I guess it's churlish to complain about a book that takes less than an hour to read, but I didn't feel my time was well spent. I didn't care for Thoughts on Design even though it's recognized by some as a classic and important book.
Profile Image for Castles.
478 reviews17 followers
May 7, 2018
A very short manifest of Mr. Rand philosophy. I've found some of his point very interesting, and the others less appealing to my taste.

I wonder what he'd write if it was in the Photoshop era. of course, the ideas of good design are not dependent only on today's standard tools, but I couldn't avoid the thought that perhaps the technological leap actually did shadow just a tiny bit of his works.
Profile Image for Gisela.
113 reviews17 followers
July 29, 2017
Insightful and yet, simultaneously, quite vague in regards to most subject matters in the design world. I felt like I almost grasped some important knowledge while reading this small book. Almost.
Profile Image for Ged.
27 reviews1 follower
November 29, 2018
Paul Rand’s slim book Thoughts on Design was originally written after World War 2 when he was in his 30s. He hadn’t yet done some of his most iconic work such as the IBM or TV network ABC.

Straight out of the gate it focuses on design and its applicability to the job in hand. My friend Stephen used to talk about designers falling into two categories:

Idea led designers that focus on the communications problem
Style-led designers. Their work has a particular look and feel, that might be fashionable (for a while). The Designers Republic as falling into this category
Rand is blunter in his assessment under a section called The Beautiful and The Useful. His point isn’t that they are mutually exclusive. Obeying classical art rules creates useless design unless it addresses the communications. The sad thing is that 70 years later it still needs to be said with the same urgency.

Rand describes the designers challenge as an overlap with strategy and planning functions in agencies. Rand started in agencies a generation before planning emerged as a discipline. Planning started in London advertising agencies. The idea of leaving pre-conceptions out of the process is a keystone of planning and strategy.

Finally, Rand focuses less on typography than one would expect. Instead he focuses on the creative use of space and direction. He viewed debates around the use of typography as an unnecessary distraction. Typography decisions would be resolved by wider thinking on space and direction. Thoughts on Design is surprisingly accessible.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Carmen.
52 reviews12 followers
September 18, 2022
It was okay, had some good ideas. Most of it is pictures so it's a short read.

Favorite quotes:

"Graphic design, he says, no matter what else it achieves, “is not good design if it is irrelevant.”"

"Visual communications of any kind, whether persuasive or informative, from billboards to birth announcements, should be seen as the embodiment of form and function: the integration of the beautiful and the useful."

"In the past, rarely was beauty an end in itself. The magnificent stained-glass windows of Chartres were no less utilitarian than was the Parthenon or the Pyramid of Cheops. The function of the exterior decoration of the great Gothic cathedrals was to invite entry; the rose windows inside provided the spiritual mood."

"It is not what it looks like but what it does that defines a symbol."

"Trite ideas or unimaginative translation of those ideas is the result not of poor subject matter but of poor interpretation of a problem."

"Where the basic appeals of visual communication can be interpreted most graphically by abandoning the literal approach, it is the artist’s business to do so."

"Even if it is true that the average man seems most comfortable with the commonplace and familiar, it is equally true that catering to bad taste, which we so readily attribute to the average reader, merely perpetuates that mediocrity and denies the reader one of the most easily accessible means for esthetic development and eventual enjoyment."
Profile Image for Sasha Chewohin.
109 reviews2 followers
December 22, 2017
Визуальная коммуникация любого вида, аргументативная и��и информационная, — начиная транспарантами и заканчивая объявлениями о рождении детей, — должна рассматриваться как воплощение формы и функциональности (синтез красоты и пользы).

Религиозные и светские институты продемонстрировали силу символа как средства коммуникации. Примечательно, что распятие, помимо религиозных смыслов, имеет идеальную форму — союз агрессивной вертикали (мужское) и пассивной горизонтали (женское).

Опросы читателей свидетельствуют о магнетической силе юмора в сфере визуа��ьной коммуникации, в рекламе, в издательской деятельности и в решении множества задач дизайна. Речь не о карикатурах и не об откровенных гэгах, а о более утонченном жанре, о составляющей самого дизайна, которая предполагает сопоставление, ассоциации, размер, связи, пропорции, пространство и нестандартные операции с ними.

И пусть даже обычный человек охотнее принимает обыденное и привычное, однако же удовлетворение плохого вкуса, который мы с готовностью приписываем обывателю, по меньшей мере увековечивает посредственное и лишает аудиторию одного из наиболее легкодоступных средств эстетического развития и возможного удовольствия.
Profile Image for Andrew Patterson.
93 reviews1 follower
December 31, 2020
Invaluable book for graphic designers of all skill levels - read in one engrossed sitting. Frankly a bit surprised I made it all the way through Illustration school without exposure to it - while it develops a different mental toolset than what might be required for Illustration specifically, the overlap in approach is almost an eclipse.

Full of emphasis on foundational design principles and surprising revelations connecting visual examples to brief text explanations of concepts, a must-have for any graphic designer, from the student to the accomplished veteran. If ever you feel a bit lost in a project, this book is sure to point you back towards the path.
136 reviews15 followers
January 2, 2019
A book by the 20th century's guru of visual design.

Short, precise and effective.

Beauty and utility shall be integral part of design.

Simplicity in design is good.

Using symbols as design elements is smart.

Visual repetition creates emotional comfort.

Isolated symbols (such as letters, numbers, punctuation marks) can be a good idea.

This short book only scratches the surface of semiotics of visual communication though. And it is only based on (and illustrated by) a very narrow field of design - graphical advertisement and corporate logos.
Profile Image for Maya Gopalakrishnan.
308 reviews32 followers
April 7, 2020
A short and insightful book packed with principles of visual design. Paul Rand starts by talking about the mutually generative effects of beauty and utility. He then advises the designer to let go of templates and preconceptions! The book reads exactly like random thoughts where each chapter feels a bit disconnected while packing in some concepts in each. He goes on to talk about use of symbols, humor and repetition of words or images. A very interesting insight is how to leave things unsaid and let the audience figure out things for themselves! This part also makes sense in the light of neuroscience and evolution where the brain is hooked for pattern recognition and finds joy in puzzle solving rather as these had survival values!
Enjoyed it though it was a bit heavy.
Profile Image for Cody.
46 reviews
May 14, 2018
Great resource on design. Paul was 33 when he wrote this book and he displays a great understanding of design thinking. On of the things that proves your knowledge on a subject is to be able to effectively articulate principles and concepts in a way that people are able to understand. Paul does a great job of explaining basic design principles, concepts behind good design and provides his own thoughts and commentaries on what makes the design work. Very quick read and well worth it the time!
Profile Image for Bighomer.
180 reviews5 followers
January 6, 2020
Not saying I regret reading it. There is just not very much information or inspiration to be found in the text.
I largely didn't understand the example designs (the one for air wick was gorgeous). There was no feeling that the text changed my thoughts.

Probably this has historical importance and should be read as part of the graphic design canon. But it's not an important read at the journey's start; nevertheless, it's a short read and gives some familiarity with *Paul Rand*.
Profile Image for Brian Kovesci.
691 reviews11 followers
September 28, 2021
I mean.

This reads kind of like George Nelson's book in that they're fragmented and incomplete. There are some nuggets in here, but for the most part it's no longer relevant. It's not comprehensive enough for a beginner to understand and it's not as relevant anymore in its content. If anything it's interesting to see what the voice of American Graphic Design of the time thought.. 75 years ago..
Profile Image for Daniel Rosso.
5 reviews1 follower
May 31, 2022
Esse livro pode ser considerado praticamente um tuíte na época em que foi lançado. É bem curto, as vezes vago, mas isso não me incomodou. Como diz mesmo o próprio título, são apenas pensamentos, fagulhas de algumas ideias que podem atiçar sua curiosidade de ir atrás desses temas. Iniciantes certamente vão aproveitar mais o conteúdo do livro, mas quem já está mais avançado ainda pode absorver bastante coisa mesmo assim.
11 reviews
June 2, 2022
As a budding graphic designer teaching himself, going into this book was intimidating. I knew he was a renowned designer and revered in the field so I was bracing myself. It was a short read but I tried to take my time to really digest everything that was said. It wasn't a necessarily dense read, but there was so much insight to be gathered that I was afraid to leave even one morsel behind. Overall I feel better for having read it, it's short but interesting even for non-designers.
Profile Image for Mario Gogh.
38 reviews
January 13, 2019
Apesar ser referência para designers, acredito que esse livro atenda mais as as espectadores diretores de arte.

Obviamente, não desmerecendo o autor e seus pensamentos mas, muito do que é divagado aqui pretende uma reflexão talvez ao nosso processo de criação, no nosso papel de designers, como observadores do mundo, como tradutores e criadores de símbolos e novos significados.
Profile Image for Rohit Gupta.
41 reviews
February 26, 2019
Very insightful and precise. I have never read a more to the point book. The book discusses various nuances of visual communication. I like the part where it talks about montages and collages. Paul Rand's work speaks for itself. I would read this book first and then read Vignelli's cannon. That is "the" perfect orientation to good design habits :)
Profile Image for Tim Lapetino.
Author 6 books15 followers
August 7, 2017
In his sparse prose, design legend Paul Rand still speaks volumes about what makes great design, and models in his own work, economy, whimsy, and modernism. A fast yet thinking person's read, this re-issue of the classic both should be on every designer's shelf. Recommended.
Profile Image for Andres Moreira.
80 reviews9 followers
January 21, 2018
Nice and short book

It’s a nice book, with a compendium of advices on what design means and what a designer needs to think when doing it.
However, I would have preferred a bit more of examples descriptions and a bit more of content.
Profile Image for Gustavo Martins.
12 reviews
September 24, 2021
Gostei bastante do livro! São alguns curtos artigos com exemplificações visuais, mas que agregam bastante em uma reflexão sobre a construção de formas e a relação dos elementos do design e publicidade com os aspectos humanos subjetivos.
Profile Image for Jordan Petersen.
16 reviews
January 8, 2023
Great little reference book to the philosophy of design in advertising. With little words he is able to target the deep ideas of the design principles and how to correctly use them using his own work as examples.
Profile Image for taylor.
8 reviews
August 16, 2023
a quick and timeless read with ideas that are still very much relevant almost 100 years after writing. i’m not a graphic designer but these thoughts are inspiring and applicable for any type of visual storytelling
Profile Image for Utsob Roy.
Author 2 books66 followers
December 29, 2017
It's my first read of Paul Rand. I only know him by reputation. The book was overall good, concise, to the point, but sometimes a little vague. Enjoyed it.
Profile Image for Ying-Qiu.
22 reviews7 followers
May 5, 2018
particularly like his comments on amusement
Displaying 1 - 30 of 75 reviews

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