Paul Rand: Defining design

I was recently asked for my definition of design. I then recalled something the late, great Paul Rand said and decided to look up the full quote.

Paul Rand, design

Paul Rand

Here it is:

“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.

I thought I’d share this with you for 2 reasons:

  1. It’s a great definition from a legend of design.
  2. It may introduce some of you to Rand’s work.

I hope you find it useful.

NB: As well as designing the ABC, IBM and UPS logos, Paul Rand was also the man Steve Jobs turned to, for the branding at NeXT — the computer company he started when he left Apple.

Photo Copyright: Apple Computer/Chiat Day agency

Creativity and the tools we use

Dylan_Thomas_photoI’ve visited the room where Dylan Thomas did much of his writing and also the tiny shed where Roald Dahl wrote. Something that struck me about these amazing writers, was how extremely typical their surroundings were.

Nothing fancy. Just a space to create, where they could think and work.

The mechanics are secondary

Often, we get caught up in the mechanics of creativity. What software to work with… which type of computer to use.

I think to a lesser or greater degree, these are stalling tactics. Find the mix that feels right for you, then create.

The rest is largely unimportant.

It’s 1969: Jim Morrison talks about rap and electro music!

Never let the fear of criticism hold you back from creating your art. Today, I want to share an example with you, which makes this point beautifully.

1969: Jim Morrison predicts electro & rap

In 1969, the year The Beatles split, Jim Morrison was asked about the future of music. Here’s an amazing, direct quote from his answer:

“[...] it might rely heavily on electronics, tapes, I can kind of envision maybe one person with a lot of machines, tapes, and electronics set up, singing or speaking and using machines.”

You can watch the short video that quote is taken from, here.

From fool to visionary

At the time, Morrison’s prediction of what we now call electro music and rap, whilst his counterparts were playing Woodstock with flowers in their hair, was laughed at.

The idea of using machines, rather than musical instruments, was too much for the masses to handle. It seemed like the foolish ramblings of a man with a well known drug problem.

Of course, it wasn’t.

Years after his death, Morrison’s prediction happened. He was duly elevated to the status of musical visionary.

The price for thinking differently

The price for thinking differently, is that you set yourself apart from the masses. By proactively embracing your creativity, you will see the world differently. Your art may be hard for others to understand or ahead of its time. When that happens, the masses are likely to laugh at you or criticise you.

As Einstein said: “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds”.

A great way to deal with this, is to use fear as your compass. Every great artist has encountered ridicule. If your work is not being attacked in some way, you’re probably playing it safe… not making a difference. It’s a sign you need to embrace the edges.

To quote another visionary: “Stay young. Stay foolish” — Steve Jobs.

Your obligation to those whose work you value

When was the last time you showed your appreciation, to an artist whose work you enjoy?

The reason I ask you this, is that artists rely heavily on the feedback they receive. Whether that feedback is in sales of their work, tickets to their performance or messages of encouragement, feedback is what shows them who values their work.

Why your feedback matters

I remember talking to a guy once, who almost quit writing his blog because he got so little feedback from it. I took a look at his work and was extremely impressed. I asked him if he had any analytics software plugged into his blog, to count how many visitors or readers he attracted. He said that he didn’t. So, I installed an analytics package and told him I would go through the results with him in a week.

When we analysed the activity on his blog, it was clear that hundreds of visitors were connecting with his work every day. Quite an achievement for a pretty niche blog.

Without that feedback, the writer was about to quit. As much as he enjoyed writing, there seemed little point blogging if no one was interested. He now has several thousand daily readers and a professional publishing contract.

Your obligation

All art is based on human connections — between the artist and those who connect with their work. If you want your favourite artists to carry on creating, you have an obligation. Your obligation is to feedback to them, either through financially supporting their work, telling your friends about them or by letting the artist know you value their work.

In short: If you value an artist, give them a hug!

How to prove you’re clueless about design

I visited a website earlier. It told me nothing about what the website owners stood for or who they were.

It was pointless.

No connection.

A waste of my time and their money.

Stock photos. Stock design. Uncreative and lifeless

The site greeted me, with a stock photo of a group of beautiful, trendy people. None of whom have any connection with the company, who bought their image.

If you are going to use images of people on your website or blog, show us who you are or who your customers are. Use some creativity. Don’t just paste a group of models on your site, as if they were part of your team.

Otherwise, we may wonder what else you are lying to us about.