Paul Rand’s advice to students

Some excerpts from Paul Rand – Conversations with Students:

“I do not know, all over the world, I am sure someone has done it. I do not worry about that. If you worry about that, you will never do anything. Because it is likely that someone has already done what you have done, more likely than not. So when I do something, I do not worry about that—unless I know its been done—then I would be stupid to do it again.”

“I think it is important to be informed. It is important to know what you are doing. It is important to define and be able to define your subject. It is important to know, in your case, the history of graphic design and the history of art, which is the same history. It just goes off a little bit to the side. It is important to know aesthetics—the study of form and content—which we also attribute to design. [Aesthetics and design are] the same things. Aesthetics is the study of design, the study of relationships, and it is very complicated. I always recommend that people read; very few people want to read.”

“Graham Wallas was smart enough to invent this notion of getting an idea, investigating all the aspects of the problem, making sketches—rough or finished—and then forgetting about the problem, just forgetting it. This is the first part of the process, called preparation.

The second part of the process is incubation. You forget about it, and let it incubate. Let it simmer in your mind. This is not anything I invented. This is some very bright guy discovering how these things work. I know that it works in my case, that if I do something and I am having problems with it I forget and come back to it the next week or the next day and something happens. So the incubation period is very important, to forget for a week, or a day, or whatever. You take the time so you can decide.

The third aspect of the problem is revelation, or illumination. You know,
you waited a week and all of a sudden there is a revelation. You get an idea. At that point you put it down and see if the idea corresponds with what you would like to do. After you get it all down, you look at it and you evaluate it. You see if it works, if people agree, or if you disagree.

So that is the design process or the creative process. Start with a problem, forget the problem, the problem reveals itself or the solution reveals itself, and then you reevaluate it. This is what you are doing all the time.

Sometimes [a solution just comes to you] if you are lucky. It is rather rare. Sometimes you think it does. I mean, you think you have got a great idea and it is not so great. But that is the process. If you are talented and honest, you look and you say, that is lousy, forget it, and you start all over again. That happens all the time, or you redo a job; I rarely have done a job that I did not redo maybe ten times. Disgusting, is it not? It is the way it is and I have a lot of experience…

You know Goethe said—to paraphrase—that we do not see the things nearest to our eyes. This is true. When you get an idea you wonder why you didn’t get it yesterday instead of today. You just did not. Well, with all this talk I can leave you with the notion that getting ideas is not easy. It is very difficult to get good ideas, and it is also very difficult to figure out how to execute them. So you’ve really got yourself a job.”

“If the theory that good design has to change constantly was true, we would all be miserable. Every time you go to a foreign country and see all these old buildings, you would want to tear them down. Right, because you would expect them to be new everyday. That concept is so stupid and so ridiculous—newness has nothing to do with anything, it is just quality that matters. You do not worry about newness, you just worry about whether something is good or bad, not whether it is new. Who cares if it is new?”

“It was not necessary for us to know how to run a Linotype machine or print our own stuff—that was all given to somebody else. You can still give it to somebody else, let somebody else do the computer work, but you will not get a job unless you do [the work], unfortunately.

I think that the computer is a marvelous instrument. I think the computer has nothing to do with creative work. You are not going to be a creative genius just because you have a computer. In fact the chances are you will be just the opposite. You just will be a computer operator. But the speed and the efficiency are simply incomparable. A comp in the old days consisted of type and artwork and color and Photostats and color prints. Can you imagine how long that took, and how much it cost to do? You do it in half an hour today; it used to take two weeks, literally two weeks. There is something wrong in that, too, because it does not give you time to be contemplative. You do not have time to sit and think about it, and it keeps kicking you in your rear end as you go along. You know it keeps kicking you. You cannot stop to think about it because it is just too damn fast.”

“We are not only designers, but we must deal with clients politically, socially, aesthetically—it is a very difficult problem. If you are convinced that you are right, well, that is a kind of an answer. There is only one answer for you, and that is either he takes it or he leaves it. That is the only answer, right? What else is there? I mean, if you’re convinced that you are right, then you can only be independent, that is all you can be, which means you will probably lose your job.

On a freelance job that is no problem because if the guy doesn’t like it, you say sorry. Assuming that he has already paid you. Make sure whatever you do, get paid because he may not like what you do, and you may be doing a perfectly terrific job, and it is not fair.”

“Many studios hire a bunch of designers, who get no credit for their work, but the principal gets the credit. I do not do that. In my studio you just do hack work. There is no designing.

If I ever had a studio where you did design, you would be getting credit for it. Because I think it is terrible not to.”

— (via)