Paul Rand and the Logo

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What logos define your story?

The concept of branding these days is something understood at one level even by my seven-year-old daughter. She loves the brands she identifies with. They are a part of her story and the way she engages with her world. Stores and brands like Target, Apple, Nike, etc., have brought that brand awareness to the forefront of our collective consumer mind and what we often experience in our day to day.

If we boil a brand down a bit, the item that adds the most status to the brand is the logo. Again, think Target, Apple, or Nike, and you can see in your mind the key brand monikers we wear on our clothes, relate to, and even tattoo on our bodies. The logo, brand design recognition, or rise in design stature is often largely credited to one of the first well-known corporate brand designers, Paul Rand. Steve Jobs once called Paul Rand “the greatest living graphic designer.” Even though Rand is no longer alive, his philosophy and work are still very much with us. He was a pioneer in promoting the importance of the corporate logo as being one of the key ways consumers remember, relate to, or initially think about a company.

Rand, in his poetic way, said this about logos:

A logo is a flag, a signature, an escutcheon, a street sign. A logo does not sell (directly), it identifies. A logo is rarely a description of a business. A logo derives meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolizes, not the other way around. A logo is less important than the product it signifies; what it represents is more important than what it looks like. The subject matter of a logo can be almost anything.

And here’s Rand’s take on how a logo is tied to the quality of the company it represents:

Should a logo be self-explanatory? It is only by association with a product, a service, a business, or a corporation that a logo takes on any real meaning. It derives its meaning and usefulness from the quality of that which it symbolizes. If a company is second rate, the logo will eventually be perceived as second rate. It is foolhardy to believe that a logo will do its job immediately, before an audience has been properly conditioned.

He is known for such historic logo creations as: ABC, IBM, UPS, NEXT (Steve Jobs computer company after being ousted by Apple)


As human beings, we desire to be a part of a story—one that will make our life better in some way. Maybe easier, faster, stronger, more aesthetically pleasing—you get the picture. Often our first impression is that almighty logo that kicks off our relationship with the brand as consumers. It took a visionary like Rand to capture that over time our consumer impressions would be more and more fought over, and the designer plays an integral role in that battle. A logo needs attention, thought, care, and a plan on how it will relate to the consumer. The designer creates guidelines on how the logo will appear in various places like ads, environments, products, etc.

There are stories all around us, and brands fighting for our attention. Are you aware of their story—and more interestingly, are you part of their story?

PS: Speaking of brands and thinking differently, Rand was one of the geniuses featured in the original Think Different campaign created by Steve Jobs and Apple (pictures above).