Logo lessons from Tom Geismar

What does it take to design a symbol that lasts for 60 years, and should all designers go back to the drawing board? CR catches up with esteemed graphic designer and logo legend Tom Geismar

Chase Bank has had the same logo for the last 61 years, and it’s as brilliant a piece of graphic design now as it was in 1961, when Tom Geismar and Ivan Chermayeff designed it. However, according to Geismar, when the pair first showed it to the American bank’s chairman and president, they hated it. “They thought it was terrible,” he says.

Banks of the time functioned under more traditional symbols, with the former Chase Manhattan logo a sedate affair, featuring a map of the United States, overlaid with a globe and the business name in serif type, as well as a ‘world-wide banking’ tagline. But things were changing in the world of finance. Financial institutions were leaving New York’s Wall Street for Midtown, new buildings were being completed, and Chase – created in 1955 by the merger of the Chase National Bank and the Manhattan Company – was itself moving into a 60-storey skyscraper.

Top image and above: National Geographic logo

“We tried to think what was the symbol of banking, and we couldn’t think of anything that wasn’t a dollar, or a pound sign,” jokes Geismar. “So we thought this would be a chance. At the time, it was the second biggest bank in the country, so they were advertising it in all the newspapers and they had branches all around. That exposure would enable them to establish a more abstract mark.

“The chairman said to us, ‘if you want this in a retail operation, OK’,” he continues. “’But I don’t want to see it on my letterhead. I don’t want to see it in my office. I don’t want to see it anywhere.’ And about six months later we were down there doing something, and we ran into him in the hallway and he had a tie with it on it, and cufflinks.”