Ivan Chermayeff obituary

By Alan Powers

One of the leading graphic designers of his generation

Ivan Chermayeff, who has died aged 85, was one of the most admired graphic designers of a generation that redefined the profession. His 60-year professional life, from which he never retired, was shared with a fellow student from Yale, Tom Geismar, and a succession of other partneirs, the first having been Robert Brownjohn and the most recent Sagi Haviv. The work of their firm – currently known as Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv – included many famous corporate logos, of which that of Mobil is probably the best known, but it ranged widely over 3D objects, such as the giant red figure 9 on the pavement in West 57th Street, New York (1974), signage, museum displays and campaigns for the environment and politics.

Chermayeff and his partners claimed their work was “problem-solving”, which included first working out what the problem actually was. Wittily eliminating the superfluous, it struck home with techniques ranging from hand-drawing and collage to unadorned photography. In 1985, Chermayeff metaphorically located himself in “a little corner close to the children where no one speaks in riddles or through layers of fog. I want everyone, as well as myself, to be closer to art, which is sideways to life, and to a kind of graphic design which is sideways to art.”

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