The Paul Rand Connection

In 1974, designer Paul Rand created Columbus Indiana: A Look at Architecture, a chronicle of the city’s architectural history. The book’s cover had a pattern of C’s scattered across the front, which Columbus quickly embraced. More than 40 years later, Columbus residents still consider the design to be a part of their city’s fabric. When Thirst surveyed residents, it found that the descriptors most often used to describe the dancing C’s were “fresh,” “exciting,” and “reliable.”

“I think they see [the dancing C’s] as timeless—as a marker of our community,” she said. “They recognize that it communicates who we are: a steady force, but fresh and reliable. It was a little surprising, but very heartening that the people recognized the value of that great graphic design.”


View Columbus Community Branding, created by Thirst team Rick Valicenti and Bud Rodecker.

The Cummins Connection

Cummins Inc. was the most enduring of Rand’s business associations. In 1961, Rand was introduced to Cummins president Irwin Miller, who realized the company needed a modern graphic and product design overhaul. Cummins was one of the first corporations in the United States to determine that corporate branding was an investment in the equity of a company. Paul Rand eventually worked with Cummins for over thirty years, creating a multitude of impressive designs.

“We always gave Paul a very clear definition of the problem, then turned him loose,” said Randy Tucker, who coordinated graphics at Cummins and worked closely with Rand for almost thirty years. “The key to his problem was in understanding that Cummins was a one-product company – diesel truck and tractor engines – and because the product is under the hood, the logo is not visible to the general public.” Therefore Irwin Miller wanted the Cummins name to be overtly part of the logo. “Once (Rand) understood the problem,” related Tucker, “he solved the problem in his mind within a half-an-hour at most.”  From the Cummins Power Club website

Failure by Design

Because design is so often equated with mere decoration, it is safe to assume that few people understand what design means or the role it plays in the corporate world. Graphic design pertains to the look of things — of everything that rolls off a printing press, from a daily newspaper to a box for corn flakes. It also pertains to the nature of things: not only how something should look but why, and often, what it should look like.

Why then do design programs in large corporations seem to be going out of style? Why is the average graphic design effort today merely average at best? Is the paucity of good designers and good CEOs possibly the reason for the paucity of good design? The Arco Oil Company began to lose interest in its design program when it chairman Robert Anderson departed. The highly acclaimed CBS design program began to erode when William Paley and Frank Stanton were no longer active.

Moreover, good design cannot be dictated or willed; alas, it is not the product of market research but of natural talent, relevant ideas, and mutual respect, without which design programs eventually will unravel and good design wither away.

Design can help inform, delight, and even persuade — assuming that the designer is an artist and not just someone focused on the nonsense of “self-expression” or on the fads of the moment.

  • Excerpts from article originally published in the New York Times, 1993.