Soda Pop

There is a fine line in design between clever and trite. Often, I'll see a solution that is trying too hard, forcing itself on the viewer and screaming, "I'm clever!, I'm clever, dammit!" The projects that succeed are the solutions that appear effortless, even obvious. Obvious is hard. It's easy to think something won't work because it's so obvious everyone would have the same solution. But, that's just it. Everyone thinks that, so nobody does the obvious. The best example that is clever, effortless, and once seen, seems completely obvious is the work Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar did for Pepsi-Cola World. It's light, playful, never forced, and beautifully articulated.

The solutions, often a fused image, provide the viewer with the pleasure of solving a problem. The payoff is delight. I don't mean delight as in "That tea set is just delightful." Delight is hard to make. And it's a feeling that makes life worth living.

images courtesy of the Lou Danziger Collection and AIGA Design Archives

Pepsi Cola World, Chermayeff and Geismar, May 1958

The Long, Long, Long Directory

This is a combo type nerd/sign nerd post; so if you hate type or signs, go no further. One of the challenges of working within ADA signage codes is the size. When code requires 1-inch tall letters, you tend to find condensed typefaces. Otherwise you can end up with a “Stairwell” sign that is several feet long. I was enormously jealous when I stumbled upon the Chermayeff & Geismar signage system for Chase Manhattan in 1961. The ability to use beautiful extended letterforms on signs is a luxury we no longer share. The forms are so incredibly sleek and sophisticated. The signs take advantage and exaggerate the horizontality. The incredibly long Directory is perfect in a world of black suits, white shirts, and thin ties. My favorite item, however, is the round Directory. It is like a satellite that has landed in an office lobby.

The period between 1960 and 1980, the sexual revolution, was a brief moment in the history of man when having sex did not lead to life threatening issues. So free love reigned. Do Tom and Ivan know how lucky they were to live in a time when “free-type” was the norm. This was a short period when it was safe to use light extended type when you felt the urge. I can imagine the horror on a client’s face if I presented a 15-foot directory with sleek long type. They would run screaming from the room, yelling, “Why? Why? Why so long?”