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The Rand Deductions | what a great designer taught us about naming

Drew Letendre

Paul Rand was perhaps the greatest corporate identity designer of his time. He is responsible for creating some of the most ubiquitous visual symbols in the world of business including IBM, ABC, UPS, and Westinghouse to name a few. Rand was not only a rock star of corporate identity design, but he was instrumental in shaping and creating the academic discipline of corporate identity (in addition to Rand’s corporate work and his tenure at Westinghouse, Rand was also a professor of graphic design at the Yale School of Art and Architecture).

Rand famously said, “A logo is rarely a description of a business. A logo derives its meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolizes, not the other way around.” and “A logo is used by companies to promote instant public recognition. The purpose of a logo is to identify your company. It does not sell, it identifies.”

So, what does Paul Rand have to teach us about naming? Rand takes the two assumptions associated with names – (1) that names sell and (2) that names determine the meaning of the things they label or tag – and proves these wrong through his ‘Rand Deductions’.

The Rand Deductions

  1. Names—even those that ‘arrive with’ prior dictionary meanings, like apple, caterpillar or even google—derive their meaning as names from the quality of the business, product or service they stand for; and
  2. Names do not describe or sell: they identify and promote recognition.

Clients are often concerned with the undesirable connotations associated with names, but once word-based names are employed to their new purpose – as identifiers of a business, product or service – the link to their true definitions should be broken, empowering the client to redefine the name as they see fit.

Take Caterpillar. One would think a slow-moving larvae would be a lame candidate for a business name, but look at what the company – the brand – has done to sever the connection to the original word’s meaning and make the name its own. In brand naming, one doesn’t simply accept the card one is dealt. Naming is the art of meaning transformation.

Likewise, successful and successful sales can’t be pinned on a name. It’s not a name’s job to sell. No one desists from purchasing a product or service on account of a ‘bad’ name, so long as the quality, price, and performance meet the requirements of the consumer. No one divests stock in a high-performing company because it changes its name – unless the name change betokens an underlying state of affairs with possibly ominous business implications.

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