Take a pair of scissors…

Great ideas don’t always need to have great budgets, as this sublime 1950s Paul Rand book cover so ably demonstrates

mencken_0.jpg - Take a pair of scissors... - 6627

Want to hear something obscene?

Thought so. OK, here goes. This year the advertising industry spent $26.2 million on entries to the Cannes Lions advertising festival alone.

Yep, my jaw hit the floor too.

And that crazy sum is before all the first class flights/helicopters/private jets, hotel suites/private villas, lavish parties and multiple rounds of €30 G&Ts on La Croisette into the small hours.

I’ll beat the drum for creativity in advertising as much as anyone. But how can the above be considered anything other than an excessively wasteful, delusional exercise in vanity, vulgarity and corporate bullshit?

You might like to mention the incriminating $26.2 million number, the next time some mealy-mouthed puppet tells you that there’s no budget on your project.

Or you can’t have a pay rise for the second year running. Or worse, you’re being “let go”, “because money’s really tight these days…”.

I guess it’s just as well that great work doesn’t always need a great big budget.

Paul Rand certainly didn’t need a ton of cash to design this beautifully simple, yet astoundingly clever little paperback cover.

Nor did he need a photographer, illustrator or typographer. In fact all he really needed was a pen and a pair of scissors. A lesson to us all.

Here’s another interesting point. It may look like a book jacket to you. But it’s also an ad. Packaging is advertising. Radical stuff, I know.

I said this to a sceptical bunch of students the other day. They looked at me like I was an idiot.

But think about it. Why miss the opportunity to insert a clever, relevant idea that resonates – especially at the precise moment someone’s actually deciding whether or not to physically buy the thing?

In this instance, the product is a book containing the thoughts of 20th century journalist, satirist, social critic and cynic HL Mencken.

By all accounts and according to Rand’s own description, Mencken was a “curmudgeon”. Something that makes Rand’s witty treatment of the crappy stock shot he was forced to use even better.

He crudely cut into the photograph to create the cartoon shape of someone making a speech. Thereby dramatising the subject in a rather brilliant way – that’s what good ads do isn’t it?

And of course once he had that, it made sense to create similarly roughly-cut shapes to contain the various bits of text. The red and light blue panels contrast nicely and balance with the black and white photograph.

By hand-lettering all the text himself he not only saved money, he created something beautiful out of the unlikely combination of title, author, publisher and introduction details, publisher’s logo (hand drawn of course), catalogue number and price (in bold).

He even signed it. A practice I’d seriously love to see re-introduced. Never mind Cannes, this is a much better way of judging your work – would you sign it?

If the answer’s no, you’ve failed. Also, I think you’ll find that history judges great work. Not Cannes.

This really is a wonderful piece of design (and advertising). A timely reminder that it’s the work that should shock. Not the expense account.

Paul Belford is the founder of London-based agency Paul Belford Ltd. His work can be found at paulbelford.com and he tweets from @belford_paul. For more examples of Paul Rand’s work, see Daniel Lewandowski’s extensive site at paul-rand.com

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