December 5, 2009

The Creation and Growth of a Comprehensive Website by Daniel Lewandowski about the Legacy of Pioneering Designer Paul Rand

When Daniel Lewandowski discovered that there were no “single-source” references to Paul Rand or his works anywhere on the web, he created a site “meant to honor and pay utmost respect to the life and work of Mr. Rand (1914–1996).” The online tribute and archive is, to use a phrase from its dedication, “sheer pleasure to behold.” Here are Lewandowski’s thoughts about making a tremendous resource celebrating an important designer and writer whose work keeps influencing generations of designers.

Can you please tell a little bit about yourself? Where are you from? What do you do for a living?

Originally from Texas, currently I’m living in Alpharetta, GA, a suburb north of Atlanta. I’m a Sr. Art Director with Digitas. I graduated from the Portfolio Center here in Atlanta back in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design.

How did you arrive at the idea of doing a site about Paul Rand and why do it?

I began my design education during the peak of the grunge era—David Carson ruled the roost. Like most other designers, I was influenced heavily during that period and did some off-the-wall stuff. As time went on and I learned more about the value of graphic communications and its history, I gravitated back towards studying the masters—Brockmann, Lustig, Brodovitch and of course Rand. Unfortunately, I never had a chance to meet Mr. Rand, let alone study with him, but his writings have certainly impacted my view of design and art greatly. He was direct and wrote in a very comprehensible manner. I instantly became a fan and was always interested in learning more, seeing more.

I always felt that there has been bit of a lack of leadership in the design field the past several years. There’s such a social aspect to everything now that everyone has a view on design, which is great, but can also be overwhelming. I was concerned that the core values and ideas of graphic design (and art) were getting lost more and more on each generation of new designers and thought I could do my part to help maintain that in whatever small way. Yes, there are books on design history and annuals every year, but there has never been anyone quite like Rand... quite the leader... quite the teacher. His history and knowledge should be maintained and shared. Even if you don’t like his style or work, his ideas and the way he presents them are timeless.

Fast forward a few years... I made the move to focus on interactive design and was living in Connecticut at the time. Rand’s backyard, so to speak. I lived about 5 miles from Yale and worked about 10 miles from his house. By then, the mania had set in and I started to take things seriously to discover more. When I began to look, I was stunned to find that there was very limited information on him. The only readily available source was Steven Heller’s biographical book and Jessica Helfand’s essays.

So in my limited spare time I began to think about creating a central source to collect his works and writings. Something that would be a museum to his life and work for designers, teachers and anyone interested could access quickly and easily... not something that required a certain plug-in or special software. Simple and accessible.

I began the design process slowly, getting feedback from fellow creatives at work. They were enthusiastic and encouraged me to continue. So I reached out to Steven Heller directly and he welcomed the idea. He suggested that I get in touch with Mrs. Rand directly to discuss the idea with her. When I finally got up the nerve to call, I was delighted to talk with her. She was a bright, vivacious person who was interested and supportive of the project. In the end, she told me that I could use anything I “could get my mitts on of Paul’s.” So with that approval in hand, I dove in.

What was your process in making PaulRand.Design? How was it created and how much time did it take to complete?

Before the initial site launch, I was working on the design in my spare time on and off for about a year and a half. I followed a typical design process: start with some thumbnails (images below), get an idea, put something in the computer, build it, tweak it, and launch it. I was never truly satisfied until I settled on the current design, which came to fruition in late 2007. I worked with a developer friend who helped set up the framework for the site, then I took over and tweaked the design myself as I saw fit. The bulk of the project has been gathering, scanning, photographing, retyping and otherwise inputting all the work and texts.

What is the most rewarding part of the project?

Every part is rewarding, but particularly hearing first-hand stories from people who’ve worked with Mr. Rand and finding rarely seen or difficult to obtain pieces.

Was there a part of the project that was particularly trying and how did you deal with it?

The most trying part was convincing myself to actually do it. I mean, how does someone of my minuscule design stature take on the godfather of American graphic design? I had to convince myself this was a worthwhile thing to do and get over the fact that I might get in trouble for it. Thankfully everyone has been very supportive.

What is your advice to people who aspire to do a site dedicated to a particular designer or design group?

Reach out to people who have the knowledge. You can’t do it all by yourself, so it’s OK to ask for help. Be nice, courteous and respectful of people’s time and energy when they share things with you. Cover your ass and get permission from the proper authorities. Take your time to understand your subject and create your project with love.

Any future plans for that you want to share?

Keep hunting, keep gathering. I’d like to plan a trip to several universities to look through their archives, and also finally visit Mrs. Rand in person at her Connecticut home. For the site, I don’t have too many new plans at the moment—possibly set up a forum of some sort for informal design discussion. Otherwise, I’ll be on the look out for any Rand items floating out there. If anyone has anything they’d like to share for the site, please send it my way and I’d be thrilled to add it.

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Images courtesy of Daniel Lewandowski.

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Related: Design Shrines OnlineRelearning from Paul Rand

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