Paul Rand (1914 – 1996) is one of our time’s most influential graphic designers. You might not know him by his name but most certainly you have seen a lot of his fantastic work which includes the logotypes for IBM, UPS and Westinghouse.
In Michael Kroeger’s 2008 book ‘Paul Rand, conversations with students’, Rand argues that designers should use the pen and leave out the computer in the idea generation phase of design projects.
Rand argues that using the computer speeds up the design process in a way that do not give designers enough time to reflect on their work, in addition to it also adding mechanical restraints to the design process. As an example, Rand claim that creating a comp by hand takes him two weeks and that the same work made on a computer will take him only thirty minutes.
The question whether designers should or should not use the computer when creating and developing ideas is as old as the computer itself and always leads to heated debates in the graphic design academics. Both sides in this discourse do have valid arguments but many of the arguments presented by both sides, including Rand’s, are contradictive.
Rand’s logic that using the pen instead of the computer gives the designer more time to reflect on his work resulting in stronger ideas is most certainly true. As with resolving any problem, more time to reflect will result in a stronger solution. However; working with graphic design commercially one need to add economics to the equation. Most clients and employers are not prepared, or have the budget, to pay for multiple weeks of initial idea generation why the computer presents a way for designers to meet clients demands on acceptable quality, in limited time.
It also could be argued that working out every detail in a single solution not always result in a more effective way of solving the problem. Sometimes the best solutions comes by quickly sketching on many different ideas and directions, and for this the computer is a very effective tool.
Rand’s second argument about the computer confronting designers with mechanical restraints is true, but only if the designer does not have all the necessary skills and experience in using it which also can be said about any design tool. A designer that is not skilled to make sketches using a pen or art brush also will be restrained in the creative process if forced to use them.
The question whether designers should or should not use the computer in the idea generation process is not one that can be answered with a simple yes or no. If a designer chooses to do all idea generating work on the computer and successfully solves the client’s problems, needs and goals; then who is to say this is better or worse than solving the same problem with a pen or art brush?
The question designers should ask themselves when evaluating the choice of tools and methodologies for a design project is not whether one is superior another, but how to most efficiently solve the challenges of the brief within the limits of their skill-set.