[Podcast] How to Solve Big Brand Problems with Sagi Haviv

[Podcast] How to Solve Big Brand Problems with Sagi Haviv

We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.

Sagi Haviv is a logo design legend. However, in this episode we go deeper and uncover what it takes to solve big brand & business problems.

We discuss CGH’s branding process using case studies from Discovery+, Harvard University Press and Chase Bank, as well as Sagi’s biggest life lessons, how to “pressure test” a trademark & visual identity system, presentation techniques that win, when & how to break the rules, and ultimately how to “problem solve”.

sponsored message

Adobe Creative Cloud Discount

Hint… you first must define the business’ problems & success criteria. Tune in for a monster value-packed episode.

Listen Here

Love the show? Please review us on Apple or Stitcher.


Play Now

Watch on Youtube

Show Notes


sponsored message

Learn Brand Strategy

Best Brand Strategy Course Online

Brand Master Secrets helps you become a brand strategist and earn specialist fees. And in my opinion, this is the most comprehensive brand strategy course on the market.

The course gave me all the techniques and processes and more importantly… all the systems and tools I needed to build brand strategies for my clients.

This is the consolidated “fast-track” version to becoming a brand strategist.

I wholeheartedly endorse this course for any designer who wants to become a brand strategist and earn specialist fees.

sponsored message

Check out the 15-minute video about the course, which lays out exactly what you get in the Brand Master Secrets.

Transcript (Auto Generated)

Hello, and welcome to JUST Branding, the only podcast dedicated to helping designers and entrepreneurs grow brands. Here are your hosts, Jacob Cass and Matt Davies.

Hello, and welcome to JUST Branding. Today, we have Sagi Haviv. Sagi Haviv is a partner and designer at Shmeyeth and Geismar and Haviv, which we will call CGH from now on.

The firm is responsible for many of the most famous logos of all time, including those for the US Open, Harvard University Press, Chase Bank, National Geographic, and more recently, Animal Planet, Panda and Discovery Plus. To simply put, Sagi is a logo design legend. However, today we’re going deeper and we’re uncovering what it takes to actually solve these big brand and business problems.

So, Sagi, welcome to the show.


So, I wanted to lead you with a sort of icebreaker question. I noticed a lot of your firm’s logos are animals, like NBC, Animal Planet, Panda, and so on. So, if you were an animal, what would you be and why?

I would probably be a Labrador Retriever, and I’ll explain a little bit how it connects. And I did not know you were going to ask that.

No, I bet you’ve never been asked that one.

No, I have not. I thought you were going to ask about how difficult it is to design animal logos, and I can talk about that too. But the reason I say Labrador Retriever is that they are pleasers somehow.

And I think that this instinct that I have really kind of colors the relationships I have with my clients and wanting so badly to solve a problem for them so that they’re pleased is really kind of motivating, is one of the motivating factors in what we do. We really are kind of restless until we’re happy, they’re happy, and we have a good design solution in place. So I think that is the most I will say about what kind of animal I would be.

So you’re talking about the client relationship, you and the client, so that the bond between you and the client.

The bond and wanting to please them. Now, it’s a little bit of a contradiction, right, because we always say that this is really not about making the client happy only. We need to be happy about the result.

And when we come to like, is the client always right? That’s not at all true necessarily in a process like this. It’s a partnership and it’s something that, the client’s expertise in their business and our expertise in identity, that combination is what kind of assures a great solution that can last for a long time.

But the attitude that I have and my instinct is always to please. And that makes sure that even when there’s tough conversations, the connection is always good. And they have to be able to trust us.

And for that, they have to really be convinced that we have their best interest in mind, even if we have to push back a little bit.

I love that reply. And Jacob, you’ve gone completely off-piece with this. And we never normally start like this, folks.

I just thought I’d mention like Jacob’s wrecked everything. But seeing as he has wrecked everything, I would like to know, Jacob, what animal you would be, sir?

That’s a great question. I hadn’t even thought about that for myself, sir.

You can’t ask other people questions and then, yeah, you can’t ask them questions and then not be ready. I’ll answer it for you and then you answer it for me. The flamingo that you have everywhere on all your stuff.

sponsored message

I think that’s probably a good, you’re standing around mainly on one leg, a little bit pink sometimes. That kind of rolls. What about me?

What do you see me as?

Well, I was actually gonna answer a lion for me personally. Courageous, powerful, king of the jungle. Absolutely.

And then, yes, the brand.

I mean, I could see that.

And what about yourself?

Well, I think I’d like to be a lion, but let’s be honest, they’re probably more, you know, bumble around like a bit of a buffoon. So I’ll go with that as the reality check. The branding buffoon, there you go.

There’s one for folks. So no, no. Yeah, awesome, awesome response.

I think just tapping into seriously, Sagi, what you said, I think this angle that you’ve just sort of mentioned of trying to please has got to be a high kind of, that’s gotta be on the emotional intelligence of anyone who does strategic work, I would say, because you can’t always follow a pre-described thing and not everybody’s gonna fit into your vision of the world. You have to learn theirs first, you have to listen, you have to understand and you have to appreciate them. Before then, you can really help them.

And I think that empathy is absolutely crucial for people to think about. And that’s why I loved your answer because I think it really taps into that in a really meaningful way.

And I am totally realizing what you’re saying is so true because it has to balance. When I first joined the firm, I learned from Ivan Shamayev that we don’t give the client what they want. He was used to all these years being treated like a doctor.

sponsored message

Basically, it’s kind of symbolized in the contract that we sign with a new client. They put in front of you a contract that says, work for hire. And they talk about how they own everything you do, every schedule you do and everything.

We never agree to that on a practical level because we always keep our sketches and we only give them the rights to the one solution that they select for use. But on a more philosophical level, we don’t see ourselves as work for hire. We see ourselves as consultants, experts that come in.

And we are not there to please the client, actually. We’re there to do good work for their business, to do right by their business and by the principles of good design. So then where does that fit in this eagerness to please?

It’s to balance it out, right? So it’s all about the way that you behave, the way that you talk, the way that you will go the extra mile. You will do whatever they need.

You’ll be available over the weekend on your cell, anything so that they really feel that you’re there for them. And then you earn the right to push back, to not give them something they’re asking for or to really try to convince them that they should go for something that maybe in the very beginning and early stages, maybe is a little bit uncomfortable.

So what you’re talking about there is really problem solving, which kind of ties back into the discussion of this podcast. So it’s really at the purest level, what we do as designers and strategists. So before we get into problem solving, can you just let us know your idea or definition of branding and how you see problem solving fitting into that?

Sure. And I think that’s a great question to open with because obviously every design office, every agency has their own philosophy. And we feel very strongly that whenever there’s a conversation with a new potential client, it’s not only them sizing up, it’s also us sizing them and seeing if it’s a good match.

And if their design problem, if their branding problem fits our philosophy. And what is a brand for us to answer your question? A brand is so many things, right?

But our core competency and the reason that we have this portfolio of trademarks that people recognize is that because we approach the design part of the project from the trademark out. We see the trademark as the core of the visual brand, and then we build out of it. So naturally people come to us when they have a design problem that circles primarily around the trademark.

Maybe they have a trademark that doesn’t work in digital. Maybe it’s been around for 50 years and it really needs to be updated. Maybe they changed their mission and the trademark no longer resonates with their new mission.

Maybe they merged and it’s a merger and they need a new mark as a banner for the combined company. All these design problems that really put the trademark in focus, those are kind of the natural fit for us. Then obviously every trademark only works if it’s used properly.

So everything around it, a color scheme, typography, visual elements, visual language, and all those things are built around it. But for us, the trademark is a cornerstone of an identity program.

So I have a few questions there. First of, how do you choose a client? When is a client worthy of working with you guys?

And how do you approach, I guess, or redesign that trademark? What’s the information you’re given, or what process do you go through before redesigning the trademark?

Let me answer the second question first. We don’t do anything visual until we have thoroughly understood who the client is, what is their industry, what is their vision for the future, what are their competitors, and most importantly, what kind of image they would like to project. So that happens through a series of conversations.

So that’s kind of the way that we work, is that we would not do anything visual until we fully understood the client and then talked and created a strategy around what do they actually need, define the problem before we can solve it. How do we decide if a client is right for us? I would say when we get an inquiry, we would always want to have a conversation before we submit a proposal.

And I think that for us, there are different reasons to want the client and to work with the client. First of all, you got to understand from them that they have a certain level of deference for what we do. And that may sound ridiculous because they seek us out, they need a designer, but there are, and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you guys that there are these clients that feel like, well, I have Photoshop, I can do that.

Or, oh, it’s so simple, my daughter can do that. If there is a mismatch there between recognition that you bring something to the table that they cannot do on their own, that’s kind of one of the basic requirements. And then we look at their problem, and we see, is this a problem that requires us?

And more than that, we always like to find a problem that we feel that maybe we are the best fit for that. And usually, those are the problems that circle around the mark, the poor mark. I feel that branding is so many disciplines.

And I do feel that there’s that crafting a trademark is kind of one of those disciplines. And that is something that gets us excited and we also feel that we can bring value. It’s those two things.

The crafting of a trademark being kind of right in between something that’s simple and something that’s memorable and finding that balance and also on top of it, the unbelievable challenge, because so many have been done now. I tell Tom Geismar, who did the Chase Bank logo, if you tried to do the Chase Bank logo today, you know, blue octagon and everything, you would have to do trademark searches all around the world and everything. Back then, they could just do it.

It’s a very different kind of world now, but that’s a challenge. That’s an additional problem to solve that exists with every client.

Okay, so can we talk about the actual uncovering the problem? How do you uncover the problem? What sort of questions are you asking the client to actually define this problem?

I think the first question we always have is why change and why not? You’ll be surprised. Sometimes people don’t even know how to answer that question.

Sometimes they don’t need to change. I think we all know examples of that when Gap tried to change their logo and they didn’t even need to change it. It was their customer base that had to tell them that after the fact that there was really no reason to change.

They had a great logo. For us, that’s the first question. It’s why change?

Sometimes we’ll hear an answer and we don’t agree with it and we will maybe push back even on that. But that’s the first thing we want to find out. Then we want to understand about the business.

Sometimes it’s obvious. If a television station comes to you or if a new streaming service comes to you, it’s pretty obvious what they’re about. But if a new health tech comes to you and they’re doing something completely new that’s going to revolutionize the world of medicine or healthcare, there’s going to be a learning curve for us to understand exactly what it is that they do.

And I’m telling you, sometimes it takes a week just to understand what is it that they actually do through interviews and demonstrations and sitting through decks just to understand. And I want to say, well, why do you need to know so much? Because that’s what inspires our work.

And I sit in these interviews when we ask questions. I have this book, and the client thinks that I’m taking notes. But actually, I’m actually drawing.

I’m actually sketching throughout the conversation because these conversations, it’s very strange. It’s like this weird cloud. You’re in a cloud of words and terms and attitudes and feelings.

And it just inspires you to create the right thing, so that what you’re making is not separate from them. It grows out of their whole gestalt. And I find that the best time to do it is while they’re talking.


So I think that kind of leads into, you mentioned a few, I guess, streaming services. And I know you recently worked on Discovery Plus or Animal Planet. Like, did you want to talk through like a case study, for example, to share how you actually came to those solutions?

Sure. And maybe Discovery Plus, they just launched last week, the service. And, you know, that was such a big thing for them.

They’re a great company. They, you know, they’ve been around for a long time. And for a very long time, they’ve been associated mainly with the namesake Discovery, Discovery Channel.

And I’m sure not many people actually know that Discovery, the parents, owns much more famous brands, much bigger brands like Oprah Winfrey’s own and your support and they own Animal Planet and they own TLC and HGTV and Food Channel and all these kind of out cold names. But yet, nobody knows that Discovery owns that. And now when they’re getting ready to compete in the streaming arena, there’s such competition there that they really needed something that can make an impact visually, make an impact.

And so when it came to us, I mean, normally, and again, when you try to define the problem, what do they need? What is it that they need? A lot of the conversation went over Discovery plus the name and whether they need a symbol.

So Discovery Plus is quite short. And if you think about other streaming services like HBO Max or Netflix, Hulu, all the streams, the streams rarely have a symbol. They rarely have a mark with a name.

And that’s because, for obvious reasons, and by the way, that’s always one of the first questions when we try to devise a strategy, a design strategy, is do we do a symbol or not? And we actually find that a lot of companies now, a lot of agencies now are kind of scared to do a symbol because, as I mentioned before, so many symbols have been already done. So trademark availability is really a big challenge today.

And so we find that people come to us just for a symbol and they’re really eager to have a symbol. Sometimes we have to push back and say, look, you know, symbol is not what you need. You have a great name, you have a short name, you don’t need a symbol.

But with Discovery+, actually, the more we thought about it, the more we realized that they do need a symbol, partly because, you know, you have that icon, the app icon and, you know, on, you know, you do need that shorthand that needs to kind of work in limited sizes, small formats and so on. And what do you pull out of Discovery+, if you have a D+, you’re dead. You know, nobody wants to be D+.

So the more we thought about it, the more we kind of looked at it in different facets. We said, we need a symbol. So then it comes to, well, what should be the symbol?

What should be the symbol of Discovery+, and, you know, that D with the globe is so famous, it’s so well known, they own it the world over. And we thought, could we build on that so that it doesn’t take a whole lot of learning curve for people to get used to it? But it cannot be the globe, it cannot be the earth, because that immediately implies the content of like, you know, nature documentary, like Discovery Channel.

So we eliminated the earth from that circle and we redrew that mark as a bold geometric form. And then we kind of infused it with that spectrum color to imply that there’s so many things, you know, that the idea of diversity, diverse offering of so many different worlds you can dive into, that felt right for that. And on top of that, and this was a little bit in conversation with the client, that whole candy treatment that we’re not known for.

And I think that, you know, for us, we have these rules of like, you know, what’s good, what’s not good, but it’s also good to always question them and to see when is the right time to break them. And in this case, for a brand that’s so known for the analog and the television, being a television network, they’re breaking into digital. They really wanted something that really feels very different and digital and kind of flamboyant and that flamboyant look of the candy look with the 3D and the gradient spectrum.

It all felt right for them. But underneath it all, there’s a very distinctive, bold silhouette, simple silhouette of that D with a circle. And that allows them to use it in single color whenever they need to.

And they do already do that. They have a whole line of products that they send to a big mailing list of the media with blankets and baseball hats and winter hats and all kinds of products. And there they use the silhouette, the single color silhouette of that mark that works very well.

So I think that it’s okay to break the rule. Sorry, go ahead, Matt.

No, no, no. I was just gonna say, your work with them has been phenomenal. But I also know, one thing I was gonna ask you is, you’ve got the brand identity, which we’re talking about, we’re very much focused in on the symbol, like as you’ve been working on.

And you’ve mentioned that then from the symbol, you build everything else out. And I noticed, for example, with Discovery Plus, how versatile the identity language is. You use it as a mask.

You have, in some context, you use it within different, kind of, I guess, kind of different types of masking scenarios, some with images in the background, and then another image masked out across the whole identity, others where you’ve got different images within each of the pieces of the symbol. So how do you take it the next step? So if you’ve made the decision that the problem is that you need this mark, you talk about how you sketch out ideas and how do you put the flesh on the bones?

And then how do you take it into more of a, what I would call a visual language to help position them effectively?

Sure, so you’re absolutely right. This mark is a vessel that can house different content and they can really use it as kind of a vessel or portal into the worlds that they bring to the viewers. But part of our process is to make sure that it can do it.

So what we do is, okay, we sketch something and we are always like, oh, we like it. It’s very bold, it’s strong. It’s like a piece of modern art.

It’s very kind of geometric and very, very simple. Now let’s see if it’s functional, right? And that’s where, going back to the idea of problem solving, Jacob, I think for us, it’s not about finding something that tickles us and we’re like, oh yeah, oh, that’s so nice, I like it.

That’s meaningless. We need to make sure that it’s functional. We are solving a problem for them.

So that’s where all these executions that you were talking about, Matt, come into play. We do a lot of work before we even present anything to the client to do, we call it kind of a pressure test on the mark, can it do all the things that we want it to do? Can it work in tiny size?

Can it work in tiny pixel format? Can it become, for them, not for any client, but for them, a portal? Can it work in any color?

Can it work in 3D and also in flat? Can it be animated? Can it work, when we see it from far on a billboard, would it register?

Can it work with the name in different configurations? All these things we do before we show them anything. Then we do a trademark search.

Again, before we show them anything. The trademark search will be done in regions and in business categories that we agree on with them, but they don’t see anything before we submit it to trademark. And here, I probably don’t have to tell you, there’s tough conversations with the client because we trademark search all the options before we show it to them.

So the client might say, wait a minute, why do I have to pay for trademark search to something that I haven’t seen? What if I don’t like it? Why do I have to pay for that?

Show it to me first, and then I’ll tell you to search it. Well, that sounds like it makes a lot of sense, but actually it doesn’t. And I’ll try to explain why.

Basically, by the time we come in front of the client with options, we’ve done all the due diligence, both trademark and legal, and also, as I mentioned, pressure testing and ensuring functionality. That moment where we present options, they’re all presented in the context of applications. So each presentation is sometimes for 500 slides.

We might show five options, six or four options, three options, but they’re showing all these applications. Every option is shown in dozens of applications so that they get a chance to see that it’s going to work for them. And it also gives them an opportunity to imagine, can this become our face?

Because obviously, at that moment, trademark works through familiarity. And at that moment, nothing is familiar. So it’s often very difficult for any client to see themselves in the mark.

So these applications are going slide after slide after slide. Here it is in the app icon. Here it is in an advertising.

Here it is in yet another piece of advertising. Here it is on your letterhead. Here it is slowly.

You hear back from a client, well, when I first saw it, I didn’t like it. But by the time you got to the 19th slide, it’s plausible. It’s plausible.

You know, it’s that kind of process that we have to allow them. So the applications allow them to get used to it and to start kind of imagining themselves as, you know, using it as their flag for them. I love my kind of thought, but I’m sure it was going somewhere.

I think what came to mind for me were the Harvard logo and the Chase logo. I know there’s a great story with the Chase one, but more recently, the Harvard University Press logo that you shared in your course was a great example because it’s a very simple logo. It’s like six rectangles, more or less.

And if you can try, think of selling six rectangles through to a client, it’s pretty difficult unless you show it in context, just saying. And I loved how you shared that and how you actually sold through how well it worked in scenario. So for anyone listening, I think that’s a great visual or a great course to take to learn that, to see how you can actually sell through designs and to show the value of the trademark working in a system.

But I’d love you to share that Chase story, the logo one, if you be so inclined.

Sure, I’ll share the Chase story and then maybe I’ll actually share quickly the Harvard University Press story because they relate a little bit. For Chase, when Tom did the Blue Octagon, it’s now obviously very famous. One of the most famous probably bank logos in the world.

The chairman of Chase, his name was John McCloy, you know, was sitting there with two other people, president of the bank and also David Rockefeller was the third in command in the bank. He was in charge of the project to come up with a new logo. And Tom and his partner at the time, Ivan Shumayev, you know, they realized very quickly that there is no symbol one-to-one representation of banking or finance.

How do you represent that entity in a way that people can understand? It’s very difficult to find that one-to-one representation. So they thought maybe, you know, they come up with something very abstract that over time, with the immense exposure of the bank in advertising and so on, over time can come to represent the bank in the eye of the public.

So they showed some options, but that blue octagon really came to be favored by David Rockefeller. David Rockefeller was an art collector, was set on the board of the Museum of Modern Art, and he understood the potential of something simple, yet distinctive like this to become a great identification. But the chairman, that was not his thing, and he didn’t like it.

And he asked, what the heck does that mean? What does this blue octagon mean? It’s not us.

And he said, couldn’t we do a picture of the building? They were building a big skyscraper down time in Italy, and he was very proud of the building. So he said, let’s do a picture of the building.

So David Rockefeller said, look, you know, every building looks the same. It’s not distinctive enough. It’s not gonna differentiate us.

So then John McCloy said, well, couldn’t we do a picture of the sculpture? You know, they commissioned the sculpture by Alexander Calder. And if you know the sculptures by Alexander Calder, they look like spiders.

So David Rockefeller said, do you really want something that looks like a spider for our logo? That makes no sense. And back and forth they went, and eventually at the end of the meeting, John McCloy said to David Rockefeller, he said, okay, David, if you want it, you can have it for the retail bank.

But I don’t want to see it on my letterhead. I don’t want to see it on my business card. I definitely don’t want to see it anywhere in my office.

I hate this thing. I don’t understand it. So the bank adopted the logo, and it was a very big deal at the time.

It was the first upstart mark for a bank anywhere in the United States. And six months later, Ivan and Tom ran into John McCloy in the hallway of the bank, the chairman. And as he was walking toward them, they realized that he was wearing a tie with a pattern of the logo, and couplings of the logo, and a baseball cap with the logo, because it had become the representation of his bank.

And he felt a sense of ownership. And that was a big lesson. This mark is now over 60 years old, and it survived change of ownership, change of name.

Used to be Chase Manhattan Bank, then it became Chase Bank.

Now it’s just Chase.

But the symbol is the constant. And it shows the power of simple mark, and what kind of value it can accumulate over time. Just quickly, I wanna mention about Harvard University Press, which was a little bit of the opposite of the opposite.

We were asked to look at the mark. They had a very traditional seal looking thing with the Harvard shield, the Harvard University shield in it, and Laurel Reeves, and Veritas Truth in books. Very, very complicated, but also a little bit intimidating.

And we weren’t sure how far can we go. Eventually we came back with all kinds of revisions and updates to the mark that they have, and we threw in their wild card, which is the mark that you see today, these six equal rectangles. And to our shock, the director of the press, Bill Sissler, who’s a true visionary, he immediately locked into that completely different mark, the much more modern mark, he said, that’s it.

And his head of communication and his art director was sitting across from the table, and they said, Bill, hold on, let’s talk about it. This is a big departure. And he said, no, that’s the one.

And that’s the one they went with. And it shows that, we learned later on that, there was a desire to put some daylight between the press and the university and so on. But it shows that, never put past your client that they can really get it and do something great.

And just maybe give them the opportunity.

I think it’s interesting what you just said around the desire to put some light between the two organizations. And so I come at this from a strategic perspective. And for me, there’s always a, like you said, there’s always a problem, right?

But oftentimes, what we think might be a communication problem is bigger. We come at it as designers, we think we’re coming at it to solve a communication problem. But there might be undertones of a strategic problem, a repositioning problem.

Maybe there’s a, you talked about mergers, maybe there’s things like that that are going on. And there’s other things at play which are not necessarily always obvious. And so I think it’s interesting to touch on Jacob’s point, how do we uncover those bigger problems?

And do we need to do good work as designers? Sagi, because you just mentioned you did some great work and you didn’t really fully know that that was maybe in the back of the CEO’s head, but it was. So you’ve given him the opportunity to kind of leverage that without fully knowing it yourself.

How easy, how much easier do you think it would have been if that was more prevalent in your process? If you’d known that that was the strategic intent, even though the CEO perhaps couldn’t even tell you, but if you have, how important do you think it is for us to try at least to uncover those deeper signals that are going on, these deeper problems?

I love this question. It goes to the heart of what we do. And I think that it is important to uncover as much as possible in the beginning.

I think that that process was ongoing in that specific case. So to answer your question, you have to ask all these things. And you have to find out all these things.

And until you understand all of them, that’s why we always insist on keeping the circle of interviewees as wide as possible, to anybody that we can offer us any type of information we would like to talk to. At the end, the people that see a presentation and get to make decisions should be kept to a small circle. But in the beginning, we should cut the wide net.

But I think that this goes a little bit to why we show options. And I want to talk about that for a moment because sometimes we have these conversations, and I literally had a conversation like this recently with my partner, Tom, like why are we showing so many options? So many, three, four, why are we showing options?

And I know that the legend of Paul Rand, that he would only show one. I cannot see us showing one. And I’ll explain why.

I think that there’s always that possibility that we just touched on, that something that is in the head of the client has not been verbalized, has not come to light. And it’s right there in the back. And when he sees an option, it might seem wrong to him for reasons that we cannot anticipate.

So to me, it’s a little, it’s a little vain to show a single option. I just don’t see that. I think that there’s always a chance that there’s a fatal flaw to that option that we cannot know, that the client might know.

So we are the kings of pushing back. We have no problem pushing back when we think that something is right for you. But if the client can articulate that there’s a real issue with it, then we have to be a little humble.

And I feel that that’s why showing option is important. But asking all the questions in the beginning is crucial.

Yeah, I agree. Asking the right questions and covering the problem, you know, it’s a major challenge. But I think you’re right, it’s part of the work to do the work properly.

And when you’ve described that, you know, around casting a wide net to start with, but keep the decision making sort of small, with a small group, I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that, right? Because you get the context as the designer, as the, you know, from my perspective, as the strategist advising on the project, you get the context, you understand from a culture perspective. For me, I don’t know what your thoughts are on this, Sagi, but I like to talk to customers.

I like to understand what the customer’s feeling, the customer’s thinking and whatever that problem might be. Look at it from a customer perspective, as well as internally from a leadership perspective. Because if you can come at things from an outsider’s point of view, sometimes that can add some value that people might not have considered before.

And then, as you say, when you go into an execution phase, you know what you’re trying to achieve. Super, super helpful. What do you think, Jacob?

Absolutely. Is that aligned with how you roll as well, Jacob?

Well, I was gonna let Sagi answer.

No, I was gonna, sorry.

Come back in.

I was just gonna say, speaking to customers is gonna be more than that. And that can sometimes market research to understand attitudes and to understand also, the situation in the market. I just give an example.

Two years ago, we designed a logo for the US. Open tennis championships. For them, the name US.

Open, there’s a very big event called the US. Open Golf.

And they were struggling with whether the logo for the US. Open need to have anything about tennis. And our instinct was like, yeah, that it should be something with tennis because what about US.

Open Golf? If you have the logo on a T-shirt, I go to the US. Open tennis, I buy a T-shirt, I go out into the world and as no reference to the sport, what did I do for the event?

What did I do for the sport? So that was our attitude, but we didn’t know. We didn’t know if that was really true.

So we commissioned market research and we asked a thousand people, when you hear the words, the name US. Open, what sport do you think about? 42% of people said tennis, but exactly the same number, 42% of people said golf.

So that said to us, absolutely we need the mark to connote tennis. We need the mark to have something to do with the sport, which is not always true. By the way, Australian Open doesn’t have a nod to the sport in the logo and that’s fine.

But for the US. Open, it was crucial. So I think understanding the customer, Matt, to your point, is absolutely true and how they perceive the brand and so on, very important.

And I think when I introduced you, I said the US. Open, so that could have been taken either way, golf or tennis, depending who the listener or their context and background. So you’re completely right.

And yeah, to your question, Matt, absolutely going through the eyes of the customer is a huge part of direction, your visual, your comms, your whole strategy and everything. So it’s such a crucial, crucial, crucial part. So I was gonna ask you about your influences, Sagi.

So like what got you to where you are today in terms of like getting to your position and like your journey to get there?

I guess the second class in graphic design seminar in Cooper Union was about Chumaev and Gaismar, Inc. at the time. And they showed all these logos.

And I remember the National Aquarium logo. And they showed mobile. And I was just mesmerized by the simplicity.

And I don’t know, I couldn’t really articulate it at the time. I was just really kind of turned on by that. So I went and I bought the book TM, which was this monogram, square monogram with all these simple logos.

There’s no writing anything. It’s just these logos. And it kind of became my dream to work for them.

And it so happened that one of the partners, Steph Geisbuehler, taught a course at the university at Cooper Union. And I got an internship and that’s where it all started for me. I was very lucky.

But I think that in terms of inspiration, I continue to be inspired by everybody around today. I mean, it’s one thing to be inspired by books and by people that are kind of, you know, done work and now maybe don’t do work anymore. And there’s a whole other thing about, you know, looking what people are doing today.

I mean, I think that it’s very important and people are doing great work today. And I think that, you know, it’s always important to look at what others are doing and to learn from them for good or for bad. What is working?

What is not working? Finally, you know, I worked with Tom Geismar. I learned from him every day.

I think that Tom, you know, it takes him a minute to answer a question. So when you ask a question, especially now on Zoom, you might think that the signal is bad or something. But it’s because he’s thinking about it.

Because then when the answer comes out, it’s really smart, you know, and I can see the wheels turning and everything because he’s looking at it from every direction before he says something. And I think that, you know, if you don’t have at least a couple of people around you that you can learn from at all times, then something’s wrong. I think that’s kind of the basics.

Yeah, I completely agree with that. I love that you had this goal of working there and you just really went for it, you know, and here you are now. And, yeah, Tom, that’s like sign of wisdom right there, right?

Just genius, genius talking.


So, I had a few left ball questions, kind of like the start. If you don’t mind, I’ll ask you a few quick fire questions. So, what’s one life lesson you’ll never forget?

So, this is where Sagi’s looking at that from every different angle. So, we could be here just for a little while. What he’s gonna say next, folks, is gonna be super smart.

Well, sometimes you can hear things from somebody giving you advice. And it always takes like, you know, putting your hand on the hot stove to learn it for yourself. So, for all these years working with Ivan, he always, he had this thing that he said, he said, you never show a client a design you can’t live with because they’ll pick that option and then we’ll be blamed for it.

And you know it, you internalize it, you hear it all the time. And then, and forgive me guys, but I’m not gonna name the client because you don’t understand why in a second, but we had a client that was very big financial company, very famous brand. And they wanted something that we didn’t think was right for them.

And they kept saying, well, just show it to us. And we showed them all these great things. Just show us what we want, show us what we want.

We’re like, no, it’s not good for you. And eventually we relented and we showed it to them and they picked it. And ever since then, we don’t have it in our portfolio.

It was a huge missed opportunity. And missed opportunity, not just for us, but for them. Sometimes people have reasons to want things that nothing to do with their business and what the business means.

And for me, that was a huge lesson and now I would not do it. Now, it’s very easy to say, it’s much more difficult to practice. When a client wants something, it’s very difficult to say no.

I also recognize it’s easier to say no when you have Tom Gysmark standing next to you than if you have your own agency and you started your own office or whatever and you are trying to send up to a client that is paying your bills. It’s a very different thing. And I think that when it comes to saying no, you always have to rationalize.

You always have to show them, make a case, show them how others are doing it, explain why, talk about strategy. That’s why when we talk about strategy, when we’re done with these interviews, we put together a list of criteria. Success criteria.

What are we looking for? This is defining the problem together. Once we put on the success criteria, we meet with a client, we look at them, and we arrive at an agreement.

So that, okay, what type of personality are we looking for? What is the functionality challenges? Does it need to look local or global?

Does it need to feel friendly or does it need to feel serious? How important is it that it can work in any color? What is the kind of attitude that we would like to project?

All these things are important because then every option that we show will check all the boxes. So it’s not about showing you options for the sake of options, it’s about showing you options that all fulfill the criteria and then you have a great choice between good and great, right? Then it’s all about which one fits like a glove.

But I think that that’s where the strategy, design strategy, it’s a little bit separate from what we call positioning or Brian architecture or things like that tone of voice that are very kind of in and around the visual. But when we talk about a visual identity, for that we always insist on defining the success criteria before we get into our developing concepts.

You’ve made me very happy because I completely 100% agree with that. And if you think about it, how can you really do a good job as a designer if you don’t understand that? If you don’t have any strategy whatsoever, you just go in and go, oh, I’m gonna make something pretty.

It doesn’t make any sense. You’ve got to know, one thing I do is, I think, I don’t know what you think about this, Sagi, but for me, design is kind of selfless in one sense, whereas art, I mean, these are broad generalizations, is a little bit selfish. So in other words, an artist is about self-expression.

It’s about, I wanna express this. Design isn’t about you. Design really is about what the client is trying to achieve in the world.

It’s about their brand and really how their brand is gonna be perceived ultimately by their audience. Now you need to understand what’s going on there. Why isn’t it being perceived correctly right now?

Why do they need to, as you said, why do you need to change it? Why does this brand even exist? And you’ve touched on some of the things earlier around the visual language and the application.

Where is it gonna be seen? And what is the role of the identity in those scenarios and all of that stuff? And how is it gonna be different?

And how is it gonna stand out? And there’s loads of stuff. And the thing is, is I think, without doing that work, that’s what gets brand a bad name, in my view, where people just jump in and they just create some design, or you see these 99, whatever, fiver or whatever designs where you could basically go buy a logo off the shelf and bish-bash-bosh.

That isn’t doing it properly. Everyone can cut corners, but at the end of the day, every design should be grounded, in my view, in the strategy. And we call it all different names and we dance around it slightly differently, but ultimately that’s exactly what you’ve said in that last sort of piece.

And I think that’s so powerful. So thank you for sharing that.

No, that’s right, Matt. And I think that strategy, when we talk about strategy, strategy is more than a brief, right? Because otherwise 99 designs or whatever could work very well.

But the brief is just kind of the foundation for a strategy. The strategy grows out of these conversations. And we really, really insist on having these conversations, these interviews in the beginning, they go both ways.

On the one hand, we are drawing information and input from everybody that’s in charge of the brand. On the other hand, we are getting them comfortable with us and they come to trust us. Because these conversations are very informal, right?

It’s nothing kind of very rigid. It’s very informal. It’s very kind of fluent, you know, kind of a flowing conversation from one question to another.

And they get to feel comfortable with us. And then when we come back with a design strategy and then ultimately with a design, it’s almost like, you know, they trust us a little bit. And they’re willing to listen a little bit.

And we read back to them things that they said. And we base what we’ve done on what they were saying to us. And it’s very difficult to resist.

There’s still some resistance, but the building of the case is so important. And it’s building a case to get them what they need, not to get them what we like, which it goes to what you said, Matt, about it’s not an art. We’re definitely not artists.

There’s an artistic aspect to what we do. And we get excited when there’s an artistic quality to the product. But the product first and foremost has to solve the problem, the business problem.

Love it. Did we just say love it at the same time then, Jacob? That’s a bit weird, isn’t it?

Yeah, love it. And you heard it here, folks. First, Sagi is very hard to resist.

There you go. That was the takeaway I got out of that. So thank you.

I think we’re coming slowly to the end, Jacob, aren’t we? Have we got any kind of final questions for Sagi? We’ve taken up loads of his time.

We appreciate his wisdom. But anything we can kind of end on?

Last weird question. So there’s 25 hours in the day. How do you spend the final hour, the extra hour?

He’s coming up with all sorts now. I mean, where did that one come from? There’s an animal one, 25 hours in a day.

Sagi is thinking. He’s going to drop the bomb in a minute. I’m letting him think about that from all angles.

I’m just doing the filler. Go on, Sagi, nail that one.

I will answer it indirectly. But I will say, you know, with the move to Zoom now, I can tell you what we’ve been spending extra time on. Because basically, previously, we would never present a logo or a brand remotely.

We would always insist on coming in person. I’ve been traveling up until March, traveling around the world for two hours just to present a logo to a CEO or a chairman because we felt that being there in person, it’s so important to be able to kind of feel the energy and have an interaction that’s really personal. And now, this situation forced us to do presentations remotely.

And what it did to us, and this is what I’m saying, what would I spend extra time on? I know it’s not answering your question, but… I found myself with my team at 12 o’clock at night penesting the presentation to a client.

Every aspect of it, from the little nuances of the applications to the case or introducing the concept to the transitions, the rhythm, even all the way to how the color changes over Zoom. So we adjust the color for them to see the real colors. All this orchestration of a show.

It’s a show. And if you orchestrate the show properly, the reaction will be also appropriate. And we’ve now realized that we don’t need to go in person.

If we orchestrate that show properly, they will follow you. You know, that mark for Discovery Plus, at the end of the presentation, the principal said, it’s a 10. He said it, you know, we were surprised because his team thought that it’s going to take a while, back and forth and everything.

Because every moment, it’s even about the timing of how many sites, how long is the transition that you push up in Keynote? Does it come from the right or does it come from the left or does it flip? I mean, you know, Keynote has a lot of options.

And I would encourage everybody that’s listening to spend the extra hour of the day on orchestrating their presentation, because you have to think about how the person is experiencing what you’re coming to them and trying to kind of convince them to go with and make them follow your reason, follow your strategy and follow the kind of visual story you’re telling them.

That’s an amazing answer. So go the extra mile, folks. That’s the crux of it.

So, yeah, great way to end it. So thank you so much, Sagi. We really, really enjoyed this.

Well, I did. I had to speak for Matt.

I did as well. It was an absolute honor having you on. And, you know, keep doing what you’re doing.

We really, you know, Jacob and I are big fans and we really value, you know, you taking some time out of your schedule. So thank you.

Thank you very much, guys.

So where can people best connect with you?

Instagram. Actually, it took us a minute, but we now have an Instagram. So it’s chermayas, underscore guys, underscore Haviv.

We went a long route.

Thank you so much.


Share This Post: