C&G&H: A Gold Standard.

Tom Geismar and Sagi Haviv on Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv's enduring marks.

Our friends in Brooklyn at Standards Manual have just published a monograph of the design firm Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv designed by Order. Founded in 1957 by Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar, the firm is responsible for some of the most compactly expressive logos and identity programs of the twentieth century, including marks for Chase Manhattan Bank, PBS, Mobil, and NBC. Sagi Haviv, who became a partner in 2011, is also the author of Identify: Basic Principles of Identity Design in the Iconic Trademarks of Chermayeff & Geismar and created the defining motion study of the firm's work, Logomotion.

The cover of the new edition enacts a similar exercise as a still: as Order puts it, "it’s the artistic expression of design—removing the symbols from context and deconstructing their forms into recognizable abstraction." Inside, the spare, minimalist rigor of C&G's earlier monographs is welded to the ongoing narrative of the firm. "The format of this book was designed with a very strict presentation in mind—there’s a clear hierarchy, minimal information—at the same time, the grid is broken and the sequencing is (hopefully) a little unpredictable."

We asked Tom Geismar, Sagi Haviv, as well as Order's Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth about the project.

Can you describe the process of creation at C&G&H?

Sagi Haviv: Every identity starts with an idea and a sketch. Then we all look at the sketches together and talk about them. “Did you look at it upside down?” “Did you try it in red?” “Why not make it bolder?”  That critique makes the designs better very quickly. So at the end, it’s the collaborative process that ensures a consistent level of quality that we’re all happy with.

What sort of considerations go into deciding when continuity is appropriate and when a new beginning is required? With PBS, for example, there was a Herb Lubalin logo that was sculpted: the silhouettes was refined and the main logo was simplified, removing the initials.

Tom Geismar: The redesign was undertaken because it was felt that emphasizing the initials PBS implied that this was a network, like CBS, whereas it was really a “service” to support the individual stations, all of whom had to raise their own funds. To get away from the network idea, we wanted to emphasize the idea of “public television.” Adapting the initial P from the existing logo provided some continuity with the prior identification. Using the Lubalin Graph DemiBold font was most to satisfy a desire for a bold lettering style with distinctive character that would work well for titles, etc., in broadcast and advertising.

Your firm has been central in setting the tone – and the bar – for not only identity marks, but entire programs and the approach to display for organizations. How has this practice evolved over time from the 1950s?

Tom Geismar: From the beginning we felt that thinking about design as a problem-solving process, of communicating ideas, could be applied in three-dimensional form as well as in print and other more traditional two-dimensional media.

Sagi Haviv: The world is changing, it seems sometimes, with increasing speed. However, our practice of identity design has changed very little. The approach of doing something simple and distinctive—which Ivan and Tom pioneered in the 50s and 60s—has held up very well in today’s digital media landscape. In some ways, in order to achieve a mark that can endure and stand the test of time, we need to ignore the fast pace and the constraints that come from changing trends and the latest technology.

About a year ago, Standards Manual contacted us about reprinting the design guidelines for the EPA logo. We watched how Hamish and Jesse demonstrated exquisite design sensibilities and a commitment to a high standard of excellence. For the next book about our firm’s work, they were a natural fit.

There are a few older collections of C&G's work, as well as a book-length study by Sagi Haviv of their impact. What considerations did you have in approaching this project?

Order: Identity aims to accomplish a few things. First, it’s a presentation of design as art – big pages with neatly considered marks on a flood of color. Although there will be context, Ivan and Tom were always able to ride the fine line between design and art—the cover is a primary example of this divisional blur. Secondly, the book will expand on selected projects as case studies, instead of simply the mark. A lot of work will be familiar, but there’s also a considerable amount of design that the firm's produced over 60 years unseen by most — designers and otherwise. Lastly, and not in importance, this will also be a critical monograph for a company that has shape-shifted over the last few decades, now with a new partner and designer, Sagi Haviv. Having his voice included in the body of work most well known from Tom and Ivan will be, we hope, a significant transition into the future for Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv.

Cover design by Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv. Photos by Brian Kelley. Published by Standards ManualDesign by Order.