Logo Design Love

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All about Chermayeff & Geismar

Chermayeff & Geismar

Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar met as students at Yale in the mid 1950s. They were doing research for papers on typeface design. In the spring of 1957 they teamed up with Robert Brownjohn to form Brownjohn Chermayeff Geismar. Three years later, Brownjohn left the partnership.

Hundreds of trademarks have been created by Chermayeff & Geismar Inc. Their logos and identity programs for high-profile corporations such as Mobil, Time Warner, Viacom, and Xerox (before their recent re-brand), and for institutions such as the New York Public Library, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Museum of Modern Art, are instantly recognisable hallmarks of design.

In 2008, designer Sagi Haviv became the third principal partner at the firm, and the youngest in its history. Some of the most recent identity projects from the firm include new logos for Armani Exchange and the Library of Congress.

Ivan Chermayeff Tom Geismar Sagi Haviv
From left to right: Ivan Chermayeff, Tom Geismar, Sagi Haviv

The following video created by Haviv — LogoMotion — features an animated showcase of some Chermayeff & Geismar Inc. logos.

If you can’t see the video above, click here to view a selection of Chermayeff & Geismar Inc. logos on YouTube.

Not a crescent swish or 3D relfection in sight. Excellent.

Celebrating 50 years of working with partner Tom Geismar, Ivan Chermayeff (at the recent Design Indaba conference) noted that in the early days, when people would ask him what he did at parties he used to tell them he was a commercial artist, “They didn’t know what that was but they left you alone, which was good.” Now he says he’s a graphic designer, “and they say ‘Oh, my niece is studying graphic design’. But they still don’t know what it means and they still leave you alone. Which is also good.”

Chermayeff & Geismar Inc. logos

NBC

NBC logo design

Designed in 1986, the six-feathered peacock (representing NBC’s six divisions) has become one of the world’s best-known birds.

Barneys New York

Barneys New York logo design

Designed in 1981, the type manages to be both contemporary and classic, emphasizing the proud New York heritage by placing the ‘N’ and ‘Y’ in the centre.

Chase

Chase logo design

Designed in 1961, when few American corporations were identified by abstract symbols, the Chase octagon has survived a series of mergers (quoted from Logo by Michael Evamy).

Mobil

Mobil logo design

Designed in 1964, the Mobil logotype has become instantly recognisable across the globe. With this design reliant on colour, the black only version makes use of two concentric circles (for the letter ‘o’) suggesting motion and mobility.

Bond Market Association

Bond Market Association logo design

Designed in 1997, this trade association for brokers and dealers uses a logo that appeals to those with an eye for upwardly-moving charts.

Steff Geissbuhler

The Chermayeff & Geismar Inc. design firm can’t be featured without mentioning Swiss designer, Steff Geissbuhler. Steff was a key part of Chermayeff & Geismar’s success.

In 2005, Chermayeff & Geismar Inc. was dissolved following the departure of Geissbuhler and several senior colleagues, who established their own successful design firm, C&G Partners. Ivan and Tom along with Sagi continue to trade as Chermayeff & Geismar Studio.

Further resources on Chermayeff & Geismar

Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities

26 appreciated comments

  1. Chermayeff and Geismar are icons. Great feature, thanks for the video!

  2. You know, I’m glad you listen that Mobil logo. I’ve never actually seen it out of color – and understandably so, considering how heavily it relies on that red – but I hate to hear that it has two different logos. Is that a common thing?

  3. Robert,

    You’re very welcome. I enjoyed watching the video and thought a few of you would too.

    Erika,

    It’s certainly not common for a logo to have to different representations for colour and black and white, and I was surprised when I first learnt the Mobil design does. You’d be hard pressed to find a black-only version, because pretty much everything the company creates uses their corporate colours.

    I did a quick search for you, and oddly, found a colour logo with the concentric circles. I don’t think it’s a proper version, but gives you an idea how the black-only design appears.

  4. Very Nice Article David.

    Learned new things about logo design, I think we can break the rules to get new ideas like using different versions for complete black and a coloured one…!

  5. Valentino

    Some superb modern logos, thanks for the knowledge. A couple of my favourites in there including NBC and National Geographic. Very iconic.

  6. Wow. Very impressive.
    Ugliest: Downtown Alliance….or, at least that’s the ugliest of the 20 minutes I watched. I don’t have time to watch the other 4 hours. ;)

  7. Great post, David. They really designed a lot of great logos.

  8. Chaitanya,

    Glad you liked the article, and learnt some new things. One downside of having two different logos is brand-recognition, although with the case of a logotype, as Mobil is, the black-only is a small departure from the colour version.

    Valentino, Roberta,

    It’s amazing how many iconic designs came from this organisation, and you’re very welcome for the feature.

    Jay,

    It is quite a long presentation, I agree. ;)

  9. Kelly

    David,

    Wow! What I knew of them before just skimmed the surface. I only knew 25% of the logos in the video, and only associated half or fewer with Chermayeff & Geismar. The more I watched, the more their beautiful, deceptively simple way with type had me entranced. (That I already knew, but I didn’t know the trance could last that long!)

    Great post and thanks very much for linking to the video.

    Regards,

    Kelly

  10. Jermayn Parker

    “Now he says he’s a graphic designer, “and they say ‘Oh, my niece is studying graphic design’. But they still don’t know what it means and they still leave you alone.

    I will have to try this one…

  11. Kelly,

    Great that you enjoyed the video, and you’re very welcome.

    Jermayn,

    I liked that quote too. ;)

  12. Great post, David. I’ve learned quite a bit since you launched this blog. And thanks for clarifying that Chermayeff & Geismar are not responsible for the Xerox re-brand. :-P

    Best regards,

    Kevin

  13. You’re very welcome, Kevin. Glad you’ve found some info of use here, and thanks for letting me know. :)

  14. Mark Ackley

    I worked with Tom Geismar when I was a student at Yale in the late seventies. I found him to be, unsurprisingly, a gentleman. Too, he was a serious and curious designer wanting to wring out all the relevant information before committing to any design work. The project I worked on with him and others, like Massimo Vignelli, and Rudy deHerak, was the DOT Symbol Sign Committee. My brief brush with this distinguished group of designers was both an inspiration and an unforgettable moment in time for me. I thank my department head, Alvin Eisenman for “hooking me up.”

  15. pat taylor

    I heard these two a couple of times.
    They are still two creative people, huge in our profession.
    May they live and work forever! P@

  16. Dominic

    I got the book, matching the logo-video. Personally, I am more and more going to this extreme iconic and grapical way of logo design.

  17. Alan Turing

    So.. how does a 34 year old designer, 5 years out of school, 5 years at the same firm, become a partner at said powerhouse identity shop, joining only 2 other partners, who happen to be the founders themselves, ahead of any other employees, who’ve been with the firm for ages!?

    Honestly curious—I know there’s a rational explanation here somewhere. Is it to branch out to younger clients? Is he their “internets” guy? I’m all for young go-getters, but on paper and in press, this reads rather bizarrely.

    Ok, no more coffee for me.

  18. Mark Ackley

    Two points about some of the comments I have just read can be made. Great designers are called so when important work is accomplished by intelligent minds. Every great designer has to be a great thinker as well. You can also include the success some of our best designers – and our most famous – is a result of their ability to communicate well in person and on paper. Don’t underestimate the value of being able to learn about the client’s needs. Tom Geismar is an incredible communicator in person. He is a great student as well. Paul Rand had a unique way of managing egocentric clients by becoming egocentric himself – when it was necessary to get the project done. Over the years I have seen some really sumptuous graphic work but have been able to remark only about its standalone beauty. I have no idea about whether a symbol satisfied the design requirement or pleased the end client. Successful designers have to be more than good mark-makers.

    The other comment – There are many logos that have more than one version. Burlington’s logo showed fabric lines in their mark and used varying numbers of threads based on the final size and implied viewing distance. Another mark that I worked on with Alvin Eisenman while a student at Yale was the World Check symbol fro the World Bank. It was essentially a circle with a checkmark inside. The circle had to be modified into a non-circle because when the checkmark was inserted an optical illusion distorted it. It had to be changed to LOOK like a circle.

  19. Good question, Alan. It’d be great to have an insight into Sagi Haviv’s career path, and how he made it to the current partnership.

    Hi Mark. I wasn’t aware of those facts about the Burlington logo and World Check logo. Thanks for sharing.

  20. Patrick Sheehy

    Can you tell me who designed the pegasus for mobil oil?


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