Lunch with Sagi Haviv, Purveyor of Simple Complexity
By Ed Roberts
Do you remember your first logo design? How about the client who assigned you the problem to solve; do you remember that person? I do. I can remember sitting in Ms. Malik’s art atelier on a wooden stool next to a drafting table wearing my black Member’s Only jacket, chewing a massive wad of Hubba Bubba with a look of total “over it” on my face. Okay folks, full disclosure, it was 1985 and I could have easily been a character in John Hughes’ “The Breakfast Club.” I just wasn’t aware that my art teacher was about to change my life—forever.
Ms. Malik, beginning that day and over the course of several weeks, introduced our class to the fields of advertising and design by first dissecting components of ads found in Life and Vogue magazines. She was the first person I ever heard utter the word “logo.” She went on to explain both the power and value of a company’s logo and the various uses. By the time she assigned my first logo project—a redesign for Wilkes Bashford, an upscale San Francisco-based haberdashery—Ms. Malik had ignited a fire and life-long passion in my belly.
I was recently reviewing my itinerary and all the incredible speakers that will be presenting at the 2013 HOW Design Live Conference next month in San Francisco. I read the description of Sagi Haviv’s session “Basic Principles of Identity Design.” I was intrigued by the opportunity to participate in what may very well be a master class by a man who is clearly an authority on both the simplicities and complexities of logo creation as well as the heir apparent to the future of world-renowned design firm Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv.
Thinking about design, San Francisco and selecting Sagi Haviv’s session as a “must attend” on my itinerary conjured memories of my very first attempt at logo design. I was compelled to reach out to Sagi and invite him to have lunch with us. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Sagi Haviv, a purveyor of simple complexity.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a fascination with simple graphics. But if I had to think of a person who turned me on to design, that person would be Philippe Apeloig. Philippe taught me typography at Cooper Union. His passion for design is contagious.
I’m curious, how has Cooper Union prepared you professionally and what advice would you offer new graduates standing on the starting line of their careers?
Cooper Union allowed me to focus on the design discipline and approach that came most naturally to me—that was great. As for graduates, I would like to quote experimental performance artist, composer and musician Laurie Anderson who ended her commencement speech at my graduation with this advice: Don’t wait to be asked.
How might a new graduate or seasoned professional put Anderson’s advice to work for them?
Be a squeaky wheel.
Don’t take “no” for an answer.
Get your foot in the door.
Now, that’s great advice coming from a talented, hardworking man who got his foot in the door and eventually his name in the logotype of an iconic design firm. Congratulations on all your well-earned success at Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv.
Please describe for me the internal culture at Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv. What impact has its employees had on its 56 years of global success?
We keep our office small by design, so we can have close and personal creative control over the work that comes out of our shop. That means that our team of designers is key to our success. Our office is not a conventional working environment—people come and leave on their own time, dress as they like, and no one’s watching you. It’s the people with self-discipline who share our design sensibilities that end up staying with us for years.
How important is sketching to your design process?
If you accept the premise that good design starts with an idea, then the best way—we find—to channel this idea into a visual is usually through a hand-held pencil or pen.
What are the characteristics of creating a great, enduring mark?
As Ivan, Tom and I wrote in the introduction to the book “Identify,” we work for clients who bring to us their own challenges and parameters: NBC’s trademark was too complex in form (the solution), Mobil Oil’s mark wasn’t relevant to the brand’s positioning (the solution), or Armani Exchange’s original identity not working well in advertising. Since more than one parameter is usually at play, every client’s design problem is unique.
With that said, a great mark fulfills three basic criteria: appropriate to the brand, distinctive enough to be remembered, and simple enough to work in every situation.
Just as important is what’s not necessary—that the logo makes you say “wow” when you see it for the first time. In fact, we remind clients time and time again that a good logo is not about what you like, but instead is about what works. If it works for you—your company, your organization—you will come to like it over time because it represents you.
Young designers seem to be fascinated with the notion that more is more; in the development of long-lasting trademarks, is the idea of less is more still relevant?
I used to be much more militaristic about more is more vs. less is more. The truth is that there is room for both approaches and the plurality makes our world more rich and interesting. It is undisputable, however, that a good, lasting trademark has to be fairly uncomplicated in form. That’s why when you look at the evolution of most trademarks over the years, they usually become simpler with each update.
You embrace creating fresh identities for government agencies. Are there unique advantages or challenges in working with government agencies?
Government agencies are wonderful clients because they are people—like every other client. You just need a LOT of patience.
How important is it to properly present an idea to a client?
We often spend much more time, thought and energy on figuring out the right way to present an idea than the time it took to come up with that idea. This is true to every discipline of design but especially with trademarks, where first impressions mean very little, so the task of “selling” the mark is often essential.
The problem solving approach at Chermeyeff & Geismar & Haviv matches my sensibilities as a designer. Working with Ivan and Tom is an incredible gift—you learn something every day. They couldn’t be more different from each other as people and as artists, but they share a common approach to our practice, as well as a sense of urgency about design.
Sagi, our conversation has been a real pleasure. Thank you, sir.
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Ed Roberts is a Creative Director who has assembled a brilliant in-house team of strategic, creative superheroes. Together they recently won 16 ADDY’s and three Telly awards for print, Web and broadcast work developed for ElectriCities of NC, an organization that manages billions of dollars in electric generation assets and serves over 500,000 consumers. Follow Ed (@InHouseObs) on Twitter for more inspiration and insight.
Opening image, left to right: Mirna Raduka, Sagi Haviv and Tom Geismar