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 his 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.
In the book, Rand argues that using the computer speeds up the design process in a way that does not give designers enough time to reflect on their work, in addition to it also adding mechanical restraints to the design process.
The question of whether designers should or should not use the computer always leads to heated debates in graphic design communities. Both sides in this discourse do have valid arguments, but many of the arguments presented by both parties are contradictive.
Rand’s logic that using the pen instead of the computer gives the designer more time to reflect on his work and as such leads to a stronger end product might be true. As with resolving any problem having more time to reflect often result in a better solution.
However; working with commercial projects, economics needs to be added to the equation. Most clients do not have the budget to pay for weeks of initial idea generation, and the speed of the computer presents a way for designers to iterate ideas in a limited time quickly.
Rand’s second argument about the computer confronting designers with mechanical restraints also is true—but only if the designer lacks the skills and experience in using it— which is true for any
design tool; including the pen. 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 of 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 perform 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 design projects is not whether one tool is superior another, but how to most efficiently solve the challenges of the brief within the limits of their skill-set.