While Ron Arad was designing his first collection of eyeglasses for the "pq" brand, he reached the stage about 18 months ago where he had to design a logo. To that end, Assaf Raviv - the entrepreneur who convinced the Israeli-born architect and designer to undertake the eyewear project - consulted with the London representatives of Pentagram, one of the best-known design and branding firms in the world.
"Assaf did research and brought Pentagram to my firm," recalls Arad, himself a longtime resident of London. "During the meeting we had a private language no one understood; we spoke Hebrew. Pentagram brought along another graphic artist and they didn't give up - even though I couldn't see how I could connect to what they were offering. We are very difficult clients. Intolerable, even. At the same time I was getting information from different directions about a young Israeli couple who had arrived in London, whom I ought to meet. That's how I got to know Noa. She came to our office and she showed me her work. A few days later she already had a table at our studio."
Noa Shwartz is today the only graphic designer in the firm owned by Arad, whose works include architectural projects like the Design Museum in Holon and furniture for companies such as Kartell, Vitra, Moroso and others. Two years ago, after studying at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem and opening their own graphics studio, Shwartz, 30, and her partner Koby Barchad, 35, came to London nearly two years ago; he is currently pursuing a master's degree in the design interactions program at the Royal College of Art in London. Back in Israel they had worked mainly with organizations from the world of culture and art, including the Israel Museum, the Nachum Gutman Museum, the Haifa Museum, and the Goethe Institut. Their projects included designing graphic materials and, primarily, catalogs for exhibitions and art books.
Shwartz's first project at Arad's firm was to design the logo for the pq glasses. The name was chosen because the lowercase letters "pq" resemble a pair of glasses. And even though the final result is simple and precise, the work on it involved a prolonged process that is reflected in a recently published and beautifully designed brand book, explaining the various typographical elements of the logo, its correct creative use and so on.
Says Arad, who along with Shwartz was recently visiting Israel, "when I started working, we made a 'three-dimensional model of eyeglasses and we started moving the letters around and looking for the perfect combination between my handwritten letters and Noa's professionalism."
"We have a file at the studio that documents the whole process of the search [for the pq logo] with 300 sketches," Shwartz continues. "This is a work process that's new to me, different from everything I had known until I started working there ... Ron Arad's studio is a kind of magical cave. It's impossible to explain how beautiful this place is and the cooperation that exists among all the employees, which is also manifested in everyone's ability to do everything. It's marvelous, extraordinary.
"The work process includes a lot of research, conversations and testing, and though I am the only graphic designer, I work closely with Ron and the other people in the firm. It's inspiring. The amount of new knowledge I have accumulated in the past year thrills me again and again. I sit with the architects and industrial designers and show them sketches, and they come to me with ideas - it's a terribly interesting team, a kind of family."
Shwartz notes that previously, while working with Barchad, "there was always a logo or font chosen especially for the project. It's always important to create a specific image for every exhibition ... and for the book or catalog, not only to represent the exhibition, but also to constitute another object to display ... We believe in specificity, in creating a unique object for every topic or contents. The way one book looks wouldn't suit any other exhibition."
What can you tell us about Arad?
"I think there is no place where he more loves to be than the studio. He has a rare ability to take part in everything that happens, always listening - giving us space as well as working together with us. It's an experience to watch him work. He's a brilliant and talented person. It's with good reason he has gone so far.
"You have to see how his mind works, the contexts he creates during the course of the work ... and at the same time he is modest and generous in an inspiring way. This is without a doubt one of the best things that ever happened to me. Totally. It was a risk to leave everything and go abroad, to decide which of us [she or Barchad] would do the advanced degree, in whom to invest the money."
In April it emerged that another logo Shwartz designed together with Arad - for the Onion House, a modular residential building - had won an award from the Type Directors Club in New York. In this case, too, the shape of the logo derived from the shape of the object it was supposed to represent: a structure in which the internal walls can move and thus change the interior space.
"This is a simple geometry, characterized by versatility that is derived from the existence of three radiuses in the building plan," explains Arad. "It's an example of the kind of logo that, if Noa weren't in the office, we would have sketched out by hand and played around with," he adds with a smile. "If she didn't exist, logos would not have become so important."
Arad stresses that his studio has "always dealt with the graphics for our own projects, but this area has a professional side that we had neglected a bit. We compensated for that with other things, like using handwriting or freestyle [for example, in logo and other designs] ... After I'd come up with the name Onion House, for example, I said to Noa: 'Come on, let's make a logo.' Now that she's at the studio, there is work. It could be that if we brought a chef into the office, we'd discover that there was a lot of work for him, too."
An extraordinary example of a design that came out of Arad's firm lately is the new image of the French sports apparel firm Le Coq Sportif.
"Their old rooster looks like they'd wrung his neck and he was inside a cage - the least sportive thing imaginable," says Shwartz.
"We took their rooster and looked at what he could do," adds Arad. "We had hundreds of ideas that somehow we didn't use. With a logo, there is only one winner; you can't have a different logo on every shirt."
"Come to think of it, that's a nice concept," observes Shwartz.
Is there a difference between designing a product and designing a logo, we ask. "It's the same approach," says her boss. "Even though graphics and the pipes in a building are not the same thing, both of them start out the same. Logos and tall buildings in Tel Aviv both start the same way: in sketches, conversations, words."
Can you imagine people turning to you in the future just for the design of a logo?
Arad: "That's perfectly possible. Pentagram has departments for graphics, product design, architecture and more, but that's the way they are built. That's their flag. We don't have flags. Maybe we really should design some sort of flag. Look, now Le Coq Sportif has asked us to design the trophy for the Tour de France."
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