Interviews, Essays, Etc.

Author Q&A with Ivan Chermayeff, Tom Geismar, and Sagi Haviv: Identify
February 8, 2012

In the first in a series of Author Q&As, Designers & Books asks graphic designers Ivan Chermayeff, Tom Geismar, and Sagi Haviv to talk about their new book, Identify (Print Publishing, October 2011), named a Notable Book of 2011 by Designers & Books.

Designers & Books: What were the circumstances that led you to write Identify?

Sagi Haviv: There is not much written about identity design from the standpoint of the practitioners. We thought that it would be interesting but also useful to describe our experiences and methodology.

D&B: Did you have a specific audience in mind as you were writing the book?

Ivan Chermayeff: Young designers everywhere and any others particularly interested in graphic design.

SH: Also, any brand manager who is put in charge of initiating and overseeing a rebranding effort can use Identify as a reference tool and a window into the world of identity design.

Identify (Print Publishing, 2011)

D&B: From your introduction, we conclude that your approach to your work basically involves these five steps: 1) Defining the problem; 2) Working out the strategy; 3) Sketching by hand; 4) Translating to digital artwork; 5) Judging concepts by: appropriateness, simplicity, and memorability? Is that accurate?

IC: Yes—but “judging” sometimes includes originality or having a new idea.

SH: Reducing it down like that may make it seem formulaic, but in real life it’s a very fluid process, and the different steps often overlap and come in a different order.

D&B: While certainly smart, the above process seems straightforward and perhaps even a bit ordinary. How do you explain the extraordinary results you get from such a seemingly ordinary process?

Tom Geismar: The process is straightforward, and certainly not unique to us. But we take all parts of it seriously and don’t stop working on any given project until we’re satisfied that we’ve done the best we can do.

D&B: Given your international success how would you describe the experience of your process in non-U. S. cultures, particularly non-Western cultures?

TG: We are doing more and more work for non-U. S. based entities, thanks to the internet. But almost all who seek us out do so because they want something that works internationally, not just locally.

D&B: Your book profiles almost 100 trademark case studies. Can you single out a couple for us—perhaps one that ended up being surprisingly challenging to your process—and another that ended up being particularly rewarding or satisfying?

SH: Chase bank in 1960, because it was the first abstract symbol for a bank in the U. S., and as the book explains, it was a hard sell and a massive effort to get it adopted. Conservation International in 2009 because it was probably the simplest mark we’ve ever created, and it replaced a highly illustrative mark—that made it another hard sell.

Pages from Identify showing the evolution of the Chase Manhattan Bank logo.

D&B: What would you say is the most important message of your book?

SH: Since the company started in 1957, there have been substantial changes in the visual culture, the media landscape, and the tools available for designers. And yet the firm’s methodology and approach to logo design have not changed. What worked on newspaper ads and billboards around the time that Tom and Ivan founded the firm works even better today in digital applications such as mobile apps and online.

D&B: What was it like working on the design of the book? Did you know all along how you wanted to organize it and what you wanted it to look like? Did you use your five-step process?

IC: It evolved. The tough part is so much is left out and had to be. Decisions, decisions!

D&B: How did the idea for the cover art come about?

SH: The cover has the appearance of an explosion—like a paint gun that went off. We wanted to create tension between the content of the book and the cover. In contrast with the rational analysis inside, the splat plays up the intuitive aspect of the process and creates a visual metaphor for immediate impact.

D&B: Are you working on a new book?

IC: Yes. It's a book on playing with type and the meaning of words in formation.

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