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NBC And Pan Am Designers On How They Made Some Of The World's Most Iconic Logos

  • <p>The old peacock logo… had been initially introduced in 1956 as a promotional image for color television. …Although in reality the peacock is a mean, nasty bird with a terrible temper, it was certainly an icon that indicated color and, by extension, color television. It also had built quite a bit of equity over the years as a representative of NBC. …However, the rendition of the old peacock was unusable.</p>
  • <p>We had to reimagine the form to make it effective. We streamlined the bird’s outline, reduced the number of feathers to six, and regularized their shape. The bright colors assigned to the feathers are the primary and secondary colors of television. The peacock had been facing left--the wrong way for a reader’s eye--so we flipped it to face right. Finally, we redrew the peacock so that the bird’s body becomes, essentially, an upside-down feather, created in the negative space. All of these details helped make the peacock less of an illustration and more of a symbol.</p>
  • <p>…[T]here is no symbol that really means banking, and no symbol that represented Chase. We turned to the idea of an abstract symbol… The blue octagonal mark is abstract but not without meaning. It suggests a Chinese coin or, with the square enclosed in an octagon, a bank vault and by extension the notion of security and trust.</p>
  • <p>This was… a time when Americans were immigrating to the suburbs in increasing numbers. Oil companies such as Mobile found that they were being zoned out of new communities because of the less than graceful look of their service station.</p>
  • <p>The idea of the red O came about partly to reinforce a design concept to use circular canopies, pumps, and display elements for a distinctive and attractive look. It also served to help people pronounce the name correctly (Mo-bil, not Mo-bile)…</p>
  • <p>Ticket offices had the full corporate name on the facade, but almost everyone referred to the company simply as Pan Am. We convinced them to shorten the name for advertising and promotion purposes and designed a very simple wordmark for Pan Am. This was joined with a world globe symbol to form a clear, concise identity.</p>
  • <p>Posters from Pan Am’s ad campaigns</p>
  • <p>The shorthand for Showtime in [newspaper listings and TV guides] has always been SHO. This abbreviation inspired our solution: we highlighted SHO in the name by shining a spotlight on it--a simple, appropriate metaphor for show business.</p>
  • <p>Herb Lubalin’s old logo had the P rendered as a human face in profile, which was referred to internally as "Everyman." We realized that this P could form the base of a new symbol. We flipped the face around (to read left to right) and gave it a gentle lobotomy. We then repeated the profile in both negative and positive form, to suggest a multitude, a public.</p>
  • <p>The mark… achieves distinction and memorability by relying more on the unusual name and the unusual combination of letters (an X at either end) than on elaborate graphics.</p>
  • <p>Identify will be published Oct. 31. The list price is $45, but you can buy it for $28.51 on Amazon.</p>
  • 01 /13 | NBC, 1985

    The old peacock logo… had been initially introduced in 1956 as a promotional image for color television. …Although in reality the peacock is a mean, nasty bird with a terrible temper, it was certainly an icon that indicated color and, by extension, color television. It also had built quite a bit of equity over the years as a representative of NBC. …However, the rendition of the old peacock was unusable.

  • 02 /13 | NBC

    We had to reimagine the form to make it effective. We streamlined the bird’s outline, reduced the number of feathers to six, and regularized their shape. The bright colors assigned to the feathers are the primary and secondary colors of television. The peacock had been facing left--the wrong way for a reader’s eye--so we flipped it to face right. Finally, we redrew the peacock so that the bird’s body becomes, essentially, an upside-down feather, created in the negative space. All of these details helped make the peacock less of an illustration and more of a symbol.

  • 03 /13 | Chase, 1960

    …[T]here is no symbol that really means banking, and no symbol that represented Chase. We turned to the idea of an abstract symbol… The blue octagonal mark is abstract but not without meaning. It suggests a Chinese coin or, with the square enclosed in an octagon, a bank vault and by extension the notion of security and trust.

  • 04 /13 | Mobil, mid-1960s

    This was… a time when Americans were immigrating to the suburbs in increasing numbers. Oil companies such as Mobile found that they were being zoned out of new communities because of the less than graceful look of their service station.

  • 05 /13 | Mobil

    The idea of the red O came about partly to reinforce a design concept to use circular canopies, pumps, and display elements for a distinctive and attractive look. It also served to help people pronounce the name correctly (Mo-bil, not Mo-bile)…

  • 06 /13 | Pan Am, 1957

    Ticket offices had the full corporate name on the facade, but almost everyone referred to the company simply as Pan Am. We convinced them to shorten the name for advertising and promotion purposes and designed a very simple wordmark for Pan Am. This was joined with a world globe symbol to form a clear, concise identity.

  • 07 /13 | Pan Am

    Posters from Pan Am’s ad campaigns

  • 08 /13 | Pan Am
  • 09 /13 | Pan Am
  • 10 /13 | Showtime, 1997

    The shorthand for Showtime in [newspaper listings and TV guides] has always been SHO. This abbreviation inspired our solution: we highlighted SHO in the name by shining a spotlight on it--a simple, appropriate metaphor for show business.

  • 11 /13 | PBS, 1984

    Herb Lubalin’s old logo had the P rendered as a human face in profile, which was referred to internally as "Everyman." We realized that this P could form the base of a new symbol. We flipped the face around (to read left to right) and gave it a gentle lobotomy. We then repeated the profile in both negative and positive form, to suggest a multitude, a public.

  • 12 /13 | Xerox, 1967

    The mark… achieves distinction and memorability by relying more on the unusual name and the unusual combination of letters (an X at either end) than on elaborate graphics.

  • 13 /13

    Identify will be published Oct. 31. The list price is $45, but you can buy it for $28.51 on Amazon.

Think of a famous 20th-century logo, and chances are Chermayeff & Geismar designed it: Pan Am, NBC, Chase, Mobil, PBS, National Geographic, Barneys, AX, the Museum of Modern Art. The list goes on ad infinitum. Now, more than 50 years after Yale grads Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar founded their wildly influential branding and graphic design studio in New York, the two partners—along with Sagi Haviv, who became the firm’s third partner in 2007— are set to release a monograph that covers the principles of identity design, using their own trademarks as case studies. Above, we’ve excerpted parts of Identify to give an exclusive look at how Chermayeff & Geismar designed some of the most elegant, and memorable, logos of our time.

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