Ivan Chermayeff - Death and Taxis

Following the death of the logo legend, we recall the place he did his best work - the back seat of a cab
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A selection of designs Chermayeff worked on
A selection of designs Chermayeff worked on

You may not be all that familiar with the British-born graphic designer Ivan Chermayeff, who died on Sunday aged 85 in his adopted America - but you certainly know his work. Over the course of fifty years, Chermayeff had a hand in creating some of the world's most succesful and familiar corporate motifs, including logos for Mobil, MoMA, NBC and National Geographic.

How did he come up with such strokes of design genius? By daydreaming in taxis, as he explained in an essay on inspiration for our book, A Smile in the Mind.

 

Chase Manhattan Bank logo (1961) by Ivan Chermayeff, as reproduced in Graphic
Chase Manhattan Bank logo (1961) by Ivan Chermayeff, as reproduced in Graphic

“I do half my work in taxis, not in the office,” wrote Chermayeff in our book. “As I go from one place to another thinking about things, I may suddenly have an idea and will put it down on paper. Sometimes the idea is OK, but it may evolve into other forms. My ideas may come quickly, or not at all. I have no compunction about driving around and being late if necessary.”

Elsewhere in the essay, Chermayeff admits that sometimes the solution to a brief comes to him as it is being pitched; however he warns against sharing these solutions with clients, lest they fail to recognize the worth of his rapid-fire solutions.

 

MoMA logo (1964/2004) by Ivan Chermayeff and Matthew Carter, as reproduced in Graphic
MoMA logo (1964/2004) by Ivan Chermayeff and Matthew Carter, as reproduced in Graphic

“The ideas that are quick, even instantaneous, are the best,” he said. “I sometimes have a great idea while the problem is still being described by the client. I have learned that the worst thing you can do is to put that idea forward immediately, because then it has no value.”

 

Graphic: 500 Designs that Matter

You can read more by ordering our book A Smile in the Mind, and to see more of Chermayeff’s classic designs order a copy of our mini book of graphic artistry Graphic: 500 Designs That Matter, here.


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