Florence Prize for Visual Communication

Florence, Italy
Florence Prize for Visual CommunicationZoom

The Original Event

Florence Prize for Visual Communication
Florence Prize for Visual Communication
Florence Prize for Visual Communication
Florence Prize for Visual Communication
Florence Prize for Visual Communication
Florence Prize for Visual Communication
Florence Prize for Visual Communication
Florence Prize for Visual Communication
Florence Prize for Visual Communication
Florence Prize for Visual Communication
Florence Prize for Visual Communication
Florence Prize for Visual Communication

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During Florence’s reign as the 1986 capital of European culture, the International University of Art, together with the city of Florence, established the first international Florence Prize for Communication and Pubblicity. The annual prize is intended to emphasize one of the most important features of our time, creatively as well as economically, in the variety of ways in which the art of communication is practised in every part of the world.

In the past decade, the city of Florence has staged exhibitions of some of the major creators of our time, from Wright to Le Corbusier to Aalto, from Moore to Marini, confirming its love of contemporary culture while being faithful to its glorious artistic past.

The first edition of the Florence Prize was held in Florence from November 13th to 15th, 1986, when some of the leading academics and designers, Italian and international, gathered to discuss the problems of visual communication and pubblicity. On the final day, the international jury of the Florence Prize for Communication and Pubblicity met at the International University of Art to award the first prize to the American graphic designer, Paul Rand.


Paul Rand, Designer. Mr. Rand studied at Pratt Institute, Parsons School of Design, and the Art Students League, under George Grosz. At 23 he became the art director of Esquire/Apparel Arts and subsequently spent 13 years as creative director of a New York advertising agency. Since 1956 he has been a consultant to IBM, Cummins Engine Company and, for many years, Westinghouse Electric Corporation.

Among his awards are: Doctor of Fine Arts (Hon) from Philadelphia College of Art, Parsons School of Design and the University of Hartford; Master of Arts from Yale University; Royal Designer for Industry, the Royal Society of Arts, London; the Hall of Fame of the New York Art Directors Club; the gold medal of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, and the medal of the Type Directors Club. He is also a President’s Fellow of Rhode Island School of Design and an honorary professor of Tama University, Tokyo. In 1987 he was awarded the first $25,000 Florence Prize for Visual Communication.

Mr. Rand’s work is in the permanent collections of many museums in the U.S., Europe and Japan. He has received awards for the design of advertisements, brochures, annual reports, books, trademarks, packaging, fabrics, interior architecture, and children’s book illustrations.

He is the author of Thoughts on Design, Design and the Play Instinct, The Trademarks of Paul Rand, and A Paul Rand Miscellaney, as well as numerous papers on design, art, typography. A book on his work from 1946-58 was published by Knopf, New York and Zokeisha, Tokyo. His most recent book, Paul Rand: A Designer’s Art, was published by Yale University Press in the Fall of 1985. Since 1956 he has taught at Yale University School of Art, where he is now Professor Emeritus of Graphic Design. Since 1977 he has taught in the Brissago, Switzerland Yale summer school program.

Report of the International Commission

Drawn up by Prof. Giovanni Anceschi

The members of the International Com­mission of the Florence Prize for Commu­nication and Publicity — Giovanni Ance­schi, Pierre Bernard, Roman Cieslewicz, Gillo Dorfles, Alan Fletcher, Shigeo Fukuda, Max Huber, Bob Noorda, Enric Satuè, Carlo L. Ragghianti and Massi­mo Vignelli — met at 10 a.m. on Saturday, November 15, 1986 at the International University of Art.

After expressing regret at Prof. Rag­ghianti’s absence due to illness, the Com­mission unanimously appointed Prof. Pier Carlo Santini as chairman of the meeting. Prof. Santini read a letter from Prof. Ragghianti containing a series of recom­mendations to the Jury. The Commission expressed agreement with these plans as follows:

“I am of the opinion that the International Florence Prize for Communication and Publicity should be awarded every year to an international figure in the field of pubblicity, specifically, in visual communi­cation. For the occasion, a detailed exhibi­tion should be organized to diffuse the art­ist’s work to the general public. To further this aim, study conferences, educational and technical exhibitions (including retro­spectives), meetings of individuals as well as public and private organizations in­volved, production shows, etc. should also be organized.”

Prof. Santini expressed the general opinion that Italian artists, however worthy, should not be considered for the first edition of the prize.

After a preliminary discussion in which the Commission expressed the desire to extend the limits of the prize, Massimo Vignelli presented the following criteria to be used in the selection of the winner. The visual designer to whom the prize is awarded must be a person who has, in a variety of ways, contributed to the advancement of the profession and graphic art in general. He must have had an influence on the teaching of visual design and graphic culture. He must also be an emblematic figure of established renown. In short, the winner must be a master of visual communica­tion.

The Commission did not exclude the fu­ture possibility of awarding the prize to a member of the Jury itself. However, it de­cided, for the first year, to favour only ex­ternal candidates. After a lively prelimi­nary discussion, Gillo Dorfles proposed the methods to be used in appointing the win­ner by asking each member of the jury to write down three names as a preliminary selection. The procedure was completed by Pierre Bernard’s proposal of a second round of votes for the final selection in which members mentioned only one name. This procedure lead to the clear choice, in this first edition of the International Florence for Communication and Publici­ty, of PAUL RAND (USA) for the follow­ing reasons: Paul Rand is a great and vital master of visual communication, a person­ality of great international prestige who has contributed new and essential ideas to this discipline. Above all, Paul Rand is a very influential personality in graphic art. His designs have influenced all fields of visual communication at the highest levels, from character design to coordinated images. After awarding the prize according to the guidelines of Prof. Ragghianti, the Com­mission discussed possible future activities to add prestige to the prize and increase its cultural impact. Following the proposal by Alan Fletcher and Massimo Vignelli, the Commission insisted first on the organiza­tion of an anthological exhibition of Paul Rand’s work to be held at the next edition of the International Florence Prize for Communication and Publicity. In order to give a more specific and well-defined char­acter to the prize, the Jury further decided that it should henceforth be called the Florence Prize for Visual Communication. To give both continuity and uniformity to the prize, it was also decided that there should be six permanent members and four new members of the Jury to insure a necessary change of ideas.

Following the suggestion of Alan Fletcher who stressed the high ethical value and profound cultural meaning of the prize, the jury also decided that the city of Florence should help the city of Naples to complete its project: 99 Graphic Artists for Naples. This exhibition was organized by the Naples 99 Group at the Palazzo Pignatelli Museum of Naples which has already shown the works of the first 34 Great De­signers. The problem is finding the funds for the printing of the remaining 65 post­ers to be donated freely by these artists from all parts of the world. It was suggest­ed that an exhibition of the 99 works of graphic art be also mounted in Florence on the occasion of the next prize giving.

Following a proposal by Giovanni An­ceschi, the Commission also stressed the importance of holding a high level scientif­ic conference on Graphic Culture to ac­company the prize celebrations.

As proposed by Massimo Vignelli, the Commission also stated the necessity of a high level yearly publication with contri­butions by scholars and experts and dedi­cated to the prize winner of the previous year.


by Giovanni Baule

This article will also appear in issue n. 6 of the magazine The Tuscan Scene.

Paul Rand more than any other, is a graphic designer by profession and a foun­der of a wide range of communicative strategies. What he has aimed at achieving for more than thirty years, is namely an international visual language which is de­cipherable and accessible everywhere, but one that preserves its identity without ever becoming monotonous. This is exactly why he continues to discover new forms of expression that are never obsolete or outmoded.

Paul Rand was born in New York on the 15th of August 1914. He was artistic direc­tor of Esquire and Apparel Arts from 1937 to 1951 and of the publicity agents, William H. Weintraub from 1941 to 1954. He taught at Cooper Union and Pratt Insti­tute and from 1956, at Yale University. He was a member of the Royal Society of Arts of London and honorary lecturer of Tama University of Fine Arts in Tokyo. He has received numerous awards in the field of publicity, publishing, illustration, fabric and product design, to which we can now add the International Florence Prize for Communication and Publicity. For forty years Paul Rand has explored all the fields of visual communication, developing his own approach which cannot be referred to as a style but rather as a layout: “To believe that a good layout is produced merely by making a pleasing arrangement of some visual miscellany (photo illutrations)” — he writes — “is an erroneous con­ception of the graphic designer’s function. What is implied is that a problem can be solved simply by pushing things around until something happens… However, since the artist works partly by instinct, a certain amount of pushing around may be neces­sary. But this does not imply that any sys­tematic, unifying, repetitive idea should be considered out of hand.” Rand knows that a work of investigation, analysis, interpre­tation is required to get inside the subject matter, to transform existing materials “often inadequate, vague, uninteresting”, unsuitable for visual communication.

Hence a graphic designer’s task begins, in the true sense, well before his graphic work. Getting inside the subject matter helps the visual realization to mature. Sec­ondly, it implies drawing from one’s per­sonal repertory. “The artist is a collector of things imaginary or real. He accumulates things with the same enthusiasm that a little boy stuffs his pockets… Why one thing and not another is part of the mystery, but he is omnivorous.”

Rand declares that his work is a miscellany of very heterogeneous objects. But the work of transformation, the transcription which follows is a work of arrangement, of organization of the system. One technique which he frequently adopts is repetition:

“The possibilities of repetition are limit­less”; with this method, he creates his rhythms, movement, textures, color com­binations. Repetition means enhancing the possibilities of remembrance, a measure of the efficacy of communication. This daily experience of communication creates its own magical effect, a hypnotic fascination obtained by repetition.

When Rand finally unites moments of cre­ativity to those of organization, he resorts to the irony which rejects convention, and to a sense of aloofness. Rand acknowledges that humor is a subtle element of many artistic languages, and with reference to this point he mentions Picasso, Miro, Ernst, Duchamp. At times, communication is obtained through what is “not said”, through what has been omitted; and here we have the true visual riddles: the AIGA trademark, where the I is missing, replaced by an eye. Or his distorting syntheses, as in the poster where the W in the Westinghouse trademark is compressed to form an exclamation mark with two lobes, a heart… Originality does not necessarily mean eliciting far-fetched or unusual references; it all depends on how they are put together: “The problem of the artist is to defamiliarize the ordinary”.

This joy of playing is expressed in a wealth of signs and a versatility of language, typi­cal of Paul Rand. It is enough to mention some of his most famous corporate images. Rand designed a trademark for IBM which optically emanates from the ribbons of a tabulator and alludes to the ribbon, the speed of processing, to dynamism in general. For Westinghouse, he designed a trade­mark composed of simple elements where the W takes on the shape of an electronic printed circuit. But at the same time, it can be seen as a noble crown stylized mask, a human face. In both cases, the enigmatic image preserves its own precise function. This symbolic open-endedness enriches in­formation, enhances it, does not cause it to diverge. This coordination of information gives rise to original solutions to each sym­bol, not merely to rigid applications of the trademark: it is a very tenacious, extremely fine thread, an interior bond.

Working for visual communication implies doing two jobs. It means speaking about something — an institution, a prod­uct — but also preserving one’s own opin­ion. In this way, the very nature of graphic design can be understood: as the coexis­tence of the function of information and of the esthetic function that do not eclipse or distort one another.

A skillful juggler, an allusive manipulator, Rand does not conjure up a pompous dis­play or images with a happy ending. With an eye on the artistic avantgarde, grasping their sense of logic and rebellion, he works on composite scenery where the materials are continuously shuffled around, in keeping with the present context of visual com­munication. He has been defined a manager and poet, also because of the foremost role he has had in the field of industrial design. Paul Rand is the systemic intelligence in the game of visual communication.


Was born in Milano in 1952. A graduate from the Department of Architecture of the Polytechnic, he is active in the field of art criticism and visual communication. With Wanda Pagliardini, he founded the magazine ‘Lineagrafica’ of which he is the director. For Lineagrafica he was awarded the XW “Golden Compass”.

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