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Gods of Graphic Design: Ivan Chermayeff

By Burkey Belser
December 7, 2017
Gods of Graphic Design: Ivan Chermayeff

Ivan Chermayeff passed this week at 85. I first met him in 1982, where I was taking a viciously tough week-long design workshop in New York with Milton Glaser. Every day of the week, Glaser brought in one of the titans of design (They all lived on Olympus in the City) including on Tuesday, Ivan Chermayeff. Ivan designed the logos for the Smithsonian, Showtime, Pan Am (in the Jet Age, 1963). His firm at the time, Chermayeff & Geismar, also designed the logos for Mobil, Chase Bank, the EPA, MOMA and so many others. He was gentle and charming, not at all like the other Madison Avenue types. Even Milton Glaser, our generation’s Leonardo, was (and is, I assume) sharp, acerbic and tough in his unapologetic pursuit of excellence..

 

Our lives intersected shortly after when the Federal Trade Commission asked me to take over from the firm the design of the EnergyGuide, that yellow sticker that lives on all major appliances even today. C&G was missing the boat with their designs but I knew instantly what needed to be done. Sometimes, just a different mind is needed on the job. I’m also quite certain Ivan never saw a lick of his firm’s work on the assignment. The project passed quietly to me and thus I learned my first important lesson about gods: no one is perfect. But Milton Glaser said unforgettable words during that week-long class: “The worst work of the best designer is better than the best work of an average designer.” Yow. Ivan has a lifetime of great work from a great designer to polish his memory. Adios, Ivan.