Bak 17 Is Online!
'Face', 17th issue of Bak Magazine, is now online! Sit back, relax and enjoy!


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Interviews in Bak | 17
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Ivan Chermayeff
Graphic Designer { }
Ivan Chermayeff

- Business partnership is just like marriage. It requires a perfect harmony and balance as well as each partner's great understanding. You have such a great synergy with Mr. Tom Geismar. After more than 50 years you spent together, Chermayeff & Geismar is not only a brand, but a living legend in graphic design and typography history. How could such a great partnership stay alive in such a long time? What is the secret?

The reason that Tom Geismar and I have remained partners for 56 years is that we have different personalities, we both totally respect each other’s talents, opinions, and tastes, and we are very open to helping each other through the process of designing a brand identity. There’s no secret. 

- Almost half a century passed, in 2003, the talented designer Sagi Haviv joined Chermayeff & Geismar as the third partner. How did that change things for the firm? How do you define Mr. Haviv's work and contribution to your synergy? 

The arrival and addition of Sagi Haviv, now a partner of our firm has not changed things. It has merely confirmed that design based on ideas and simplicity is the basis of what we do. Sagi Haviv is younger, fresh, and very talented, so he joins us as a major contributor in the design process of every project.

- Designing a brand identity is much more than designing a logo. You have to think, you have to research, you have to have an idea about every single nuance that differentiates the brand from the competitors. Beyond that, you work with companies worldwide, from Asia to Europe and Middle East to Latin America, which gives you another responsibility, that is the requirement to know about the cultures and the languages of those communities. What makes Ivan Chermayeff design equally successful identities for very different communities, like a company in Turkey, an another one in Japan?

Good identity design is based on ideas, and is simple, easy to use, memorable, and original. Therefore it applies universally, if it applies at all.  It also only comes with hard work.

We make every effort to reject the thoughts that first come to mind if they aren’t up to these criteria. If they do not work well in the competitive environment in which they will be seen, they have to be rejected. 

- Corporate identity for Chase was probably the first big project for Chermayeff & Geismar. Chase was the 'Bank of Manhattan', back in 1955 and you designed their logo in 1961. 51 years passed after you created that modern, timeless octagon and today, Chase is the second largest bank in The United States, with its more than 5.000 branches and almost 150.000 employees. How did you feel about that impressive progress?

We designed at least twelve alternatives for Chase Bank, which we presented in 1961, and any one of them would have worked well. The one accepted and in place all these years works because it is contained, dynamic, flexible, simple, and remains a recognizable constant. It’s nice to see it everywhere.

There is no doubt that the most valuable graphic design piece is a logo. A wrong, problematic logo can even change the history of a brand. Despite that, the rapid development in digital technology makes everyone a potential logo designer and logo design has just seemed to become something that everybody can do. In some websites, the owner fills a form, tells about his company and puts an extremely low price for his brand's new identity. Then, several designers from different countries submit their work online and the owner picks the one he likes best. That's how thousands of people get their brand identities created.

Everyone is not a potential logo designer, and logo design is not something everyone can do. It takes experience, self-criticism, and very thorough thinking about what and for whom it is intended. Clients should not be select from anything that a good designer has not presented. Many designers make the mistake of designing something they think will be accepted. No designer should present something they don’t stand behind 100%. Most designs are not good. This is the reason some designers can’t make their own logos—they’re too close, too subjective, and incapable of self-rejection. 

Of course that doesn't change the whole game and the real designers keep their incomparable value, but it still affects people's perceptions. How do you evaluate the future of brand identity design, when you think of that progress? 

The future of brand identity design is that it has gotten better and will continue to do so. There are more designers, better schools, better and more teachers, incredible new tools.

You always worked in New York. How does the Big Apple motivate you? As a New Yorker and a designer, what do you think about Mr. Milton Glaser's 'I Love NY' logo?

I have always worked all over the world. I happen to be a New Yorker, where there are many good designers, including Milton Glaser, who is also a great illustrator. His ‘I Love NY’ logo has been very successful and deserves to be.

Do you think graphic design has the power to change the world?

Absolutely not. It doesn’t even help. Good graphic design improves the visual environment but doesn’t change anything of vital importance.

Other than graphic design and branding, what fields of visual arts are you personally interested in?

IC: Painting, sculpture, collage, drawing, by the great artists of any time. My favorites are Picasso, Matisse, and Klee.

If you had one chance to go back in time, which artist would you want to visit first and what would you say to him/her?

Matisse. I would wish him well.

Theme of the 17th issue of Bak Magazine is 'Face'. What comes to your mind when you think about it? Is there a specific face you see when you close your eyes? 

I love faces too. A lot of my collages have faces. The wonderful thing about faces is that if you have two eyes, anything can be a nose.

If they (the thoughts that first come to mind) do not work well in the competitive environment in which they will be seen, they have to be rejected.

- Ivan Chermayeff / Bak 17
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