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Icons of Progress

Good Design Is Good Business

Shortly after Thomas Watson Jr., became president of IBM in 1956, he recruited Eliot Noyes to help him craft and implement a corporate design program. Noyes recruited some of the best creative talent in the world, such as Paul Rand, and Charles and Ray Eames—to work with the program. For the next 20 years, under the guidance of Watson Jr., these four formed the core design team for IBM, working closely with each other and with Noyes’s office of architects and designers—as well as IBM internal designers worldwide—to shape how design could express the character of IBM.

  • Thomas Watson Jr.

    Thomas Watson Jr.
    “What is the definition of good design in the IBM Company? We feel that good design must primarily serve people, and not the other way around.”

    The son of IBM’s first president, Thomas J. Watson Jr., led IBM as president, chairman and chief executive officer from 1956 to 1971. Immersed in IBM as a child through business trips and plant visits with his father, Watson became a salesman at the company upon graduation from Brown University in 1937, and worked his way up through the company. As a leader, Watson redirected IBM’s efforts toward electronic computers, products his father had shunned, helping to usher in the computer age and explosive growth for IBM. When Watson decided to launch his corporate design program, he called on Noyes, whom he had met during the Second World War when both men piloted gliders. Watson was the force behind the creation of IBM’s Corporate Design Program, the first of its kind in America, bequeathing to posterity not just IBM-funded architecture, sculpture, photography, film and graphic design masterpieces, but the idea of harmony between business and design.

  • Eliot Noyes 

    Eliot Noyes
    Noyes continually pushed for IBM’s philosophy to strive to simply be the best in modern design, by which it would convey an image of a progressive and dynamic, high-technology organization.

    A Harvard-trained architect and industrial designer, Eliot Noyes was deeply influenced by European designers, and got his start in the field working for the German modernists Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, whom he met at Harvard. Noyes served as curator of industrial design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from 1940 to 1942, and again from 1945 to 1946, running the glider program during the Second World War in the intervening years. After a stint as design director at Norman Bel Geddes’s design office, he started his own architecture and design consultancy in 1947, pushing the modern design ideals of simplicity of form and focus on the nature of materials through his work for IBM and other corporate clients. The team of architects, designers and artists that Noyes helped assemble as part of IBM’s corporate design strategy included Paul Rand, Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, Marcel Breuer, Mies van der Rohe, Marco Zanuso and others. Noyes contributed a number of seminal designs to IBM in his own right, among them the wildly popular Selectric typewriter, introduced in 1961. Noyes continued to work with IBM until his death in 1977.

  • Paul Rand 

    Paul Rand
    “The principal role of a logo is identify, and simplicity is its means.”

    Graphic designer Paul Rand, born Peretz Rosenbaum, was trained at the Pratt Institute, the Parsons School for Design and the Art Students League, in New York. He began his design career in the 1930s as a part-time stock image creator for a syndicate supplying graphics to newspapers and magazines, but rose quickly to international renown for his creative work in page design. As art director for the Esquire-Coronet magazine franchise and later the Weintraub advertising agency, Rand began to develop the distinctive style that would become his trademark and secure his reputation as America’s premier graphic artist. When Watson and Noyes set out to build an integrated corporate identity for IBM, Rand was the first person they recruited. Rand created IBM’s seminal 8-bar logo still in use today, as well as its predecessor logo, and went on to develop eye-catching packaging and marketing materials for IBM until the early 1990s.

  • Charles and Ray Eames 

    Charles Ray Eames
    “Charlie can put what a computer does into a little cartoon-like film and in the course of twelve minutes have everybody in the room understanding—how they work.” – Thomas Watson Jr.

    Designers and artists, Charles and Ray Eames created during their long career a prodigious body of work that includes sculpture, installation, film, photography, furniture and toys. The Eames Office was frequently hired to create educational installations for museums and companies that benefited from the couple’s experimental approach and pioneering use of innovative technologies. Charles and Ray Eames worked as design consultants for IBM from 1953 until their deaths in 1978 and 1988, respectively. That body of work includes exhibits and films for the IBM pavilions at the 1958, 1964, and 1968 world’s fairs, including the films The Information Machine: Creative Man and the Data Processor and Think. Their iconic 1968 film Powers of Ten remains a classic to this day.