Reading Paul Rand's book "A Designer's Art" should be a source of inspiration for anyone who considers him- or herself a designer -- in any medium. At least, it was definitely an inspiration for me.
I didn't expect to get much out of it when I started it, frankly. Part of that feeling is attributable to the fact that I didn't know Rand's work as well as I should. I had heard the name, but did not know what he had done. As the book began, and I figured out that he is, in a large way, responsible for the corporate identity of some pretty big names (IBM, Westinghouse, and UPS among them), and is capable of working in multiple media, both two-dimensional and three-dimensional, I found myself respecting him. As it continued and he showed himself to be not only a very creative designer, but also a thoughtful analyst and an excellent communicator, I found myself agreeing with most of what he had to say. As the book concluded, I found myself inspired in my own work by what he pointed out.
"A Designer's Art" is everything its title implies... it is about good design and it is about compelling art. The two, while not necessarily the same, are definitely fused together in many ways. Artistic disciplines and methods and trends affect design work to a large extent, while principles of good design can also be applied to the basic creative process one goes through when making a more purely artistic endeavour.
Particularly compelling in this regard was the chapter near the end of the book, about the benefits of the "play instinct" and how it applies to design. By discussing several games and ways of playing with visual relationships, such as tangrams, tatami (the arranging of floor mats), Le Corbusier's "Modulor," and the creation of Chinese characters, Rand discusses several games and how they can be used in the design process, either in the solution for a specific problem, or as tasks in and of themselves. These "games" help to teach the designer to look at visual presentations in a different way, to see tired concepts in a new light, and to use originality to think their way around a problem. Like directed play does for children, visual games help to discipline the mind to see through what is presented and into an original way of looking at the same thing. "The student learns to conceptualize, to associate, to make analogies," he says. "To see a sphere, for example, transformed into an orange, or a button into a letter, or a group of letters into a broad picture."
Also very interesting was his discussion of the color black, reclaiming it for new audiences and new purposes, and his thoughts on including a sense of humor or wit in your designs. His conclusion is where I really came to admire this book, though, as he relies on the words of one of his employers: "Good design at heart is simply honesty. It is an ingredient of character. Good design helps to form in any one part of the business an influence that affects all part of the business. It sustains character and honesty in every part of the business. Good design, therefore, is very good business indeed." It's a good thought to take away from this book, that a skilled designer's work is valued by those he or she works for, and a reminder of the burden that designers bear in their work.
Reading Rand's "A Designer's Art" was something like the experience I had when reading Stephen King's "On Writing." Both men are (or were, in Rand's case) masters of their respective craft, and both have had their effect on our culture and our way of life, each in their own unique way. More importantly, though, just as I was inspired to write as I was reading "On Writing," so too was I inspired to make something new and original as I put down "A Designer's Art." Both books inspired me to create. I can't think of any better motivation for reading them than that.