When designer Ron Arad was working on his first eyewear collection for pq, at one point he had to design the collection logo. For this purpose, he and Assaf Raviv, pq's founder and owner, met with representatives of Pentagram, one of the best-known design and branding companies in the world. But they didn't like Pentagram's ideas.
“Assaf did research and brought Pentagram to the office,” Arad recalls. “During the meeting, we had a private language that nobody else understood. We spoke in Hebrew” – he smiles – “and I told him that it was out of the question."
“Pentagram brought in another graphic artist. They didn’t give up, but I didn’t see how I could connect to what they were offering."
"We’re very tough clients, even intolerable," Arad said. "Meanwhile, everyone was telling me about this young Israel couple that had just arrived in London, who I had to meet."
Soon thereafter, Arad invited one half of the couple – 30-year-old graphic designer Noa Schwartz – to his office for an interview. She brought an armload of books full of her work, Arad recalls.
"A few days later, she had her own desk at the studio," he said.
Arad – who planned the Design Museum in Holon, Israel, and designed furniture for big-name companies, like Kartell, Vitra and Moroso – is not known for hiring people off the street. But Schwartz has now been working as his sole graphic designer for 18 months, adding her skill-set to a firm that has made its name designing products rather than logos.
Schwartz arrived in London almost two years ago with her partner, Koby Barhad, 35, who is working on a master's degree in design at the Royal College of Art in London. The couple met while studying visual communication at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. They opened a studio together in 2004.
Since then, they have worked with arts and cultural institutions from around the world, including the Israel Museum, Nachum Gutman Museum of Art, Herzliya Museum, Center for Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Haifa Museum of Art and Goethe Institute in Tel Aviv.
A magical cave
Soon after joining Arad's office, Schwartz got to work designing pq Eyewear's logo. The brand's name, pq – which resemble a pair of eyeglasses – dictated the logo's general design, and the final product is simple and precise. But it took a long time to get there.
The project turned into an extensive branding process, which has been documented in a beautifully designed book that was published at the end of May.
“When we started working, we used a pair of 3-D glasses as a model and moved the letters around, searching for the perfect combination of my handwriting and Noa’s amazing design ability,” said Arad.
“In the studio, we have a file that documents the whole process, with 300 sketches of the logo," Schwartz said, “This is a work process that’s still new to me. It’s different from anything I knew before I started working here.”
Haaretz: And now, all of a sudden, you’re working on a commercial project.
“Yes. But the way work is done in a studio is so different from anything I thought I knew," Schwartz said. "Ron’s studio is a kind of magical cave. I can’t even put into words how very beautiful it is. The collaboration between all the workers – everyone is capable of doing everything – is wonderful and rare. The way we work involves a lot of research, discussion and investigation. Even though I’m the only graphic artist, I work closely with Ron Arad and everybody else in the office. It’s inspiring, and the amount of knowledge I’ve accumulated over the past few years excites me again and again.
“I sit with industrial architects and designers who work in the office. I show them sketches. They come to me with ideas. It’s an incredibly interesting team. It’s a kind of family.
"In my work with Koby, a particular logo or font is always chosen especially for the project. Koby and I feel that it’s important to create a unique template for every exhibit. And the book or catalogue should not only represent the exhibit but also be something that could be another object in the exhibit. Almost every catalogue we created has its own template and logo. There are very few cases where we didn’t create the font we used for the name of the exhibit ourselves."
Why is that important?
“We believe in specificity. We believe in creating an object that is unique to each topic or set of works. This particular book could never be used for any other exhibit. Using an existing font is less specific than creating a font especially for the project.”
What can you tell us about Arad?
“I think that there’s no place he loves more than the studio. He has a rare ability to take part in everything that goes on there. He always listens, gives us space and works with us. Watching him work is an experience. He’s brilliant and talented beyond anything any of us have ever seen. It’s no accident that he’s gotten to where he is today.
“You have to see the way his mind works, the contexts that he creates as he works, in order to understand it. And with all that, he’s still so modest and big-hearted that it’s inspiring. This is definitely one of the best things to have happened to me in my life – no question.
"It was a risk to leave everything and take off. We had to decide which of us would take the money and go for a master's degree. At this point, I'm glad I'm not the one doing a master's degree – not that Kobe isn't pleased too."
Last month, another logo that Schwartz designed with Arad – this one for an oddly designed rental home in Hawaii, called the Onion House –– won a 2012 Type Directors Club Type Design Award.
Here too, the logo’s design emerged from the form of the object it was supposed to represent. The home is a series of modular structures, with inner walls that can be moved to change the shape of the interior space.
“It’s simple geometry characterized by versatility, which comes from the three radii in the construction plan,” Arad said.
In the past, the studio would have focused less on the logo in its marketing, says Arad.
"Once I gave the building the name ‘Onion House,’ I would have found some way to write 'onion,' he said. But when Noa's in the studio, there's work. Maybe if we brought a chef to the office, we'd find work for him as well."
Another example of the work coming out of Arad's studio is the new logo for the French sportswear company Le Coq Sportif.
“Their old rooster looks like somebody wrung its neck, said Schwartz. Plus he's in a cage. That doesn’t look athletic at all. We took their rooster and looked at what he could do. We had hundreds of ideas we never used. With a logo, there's only one winner. You can’t put a different logo on every shirt. It’s actually a nice concept.”
Is there a difference between designing a product and designing a logo?
“It’s the same approach," said Arad. "Even though graphic art isn't the same as a building's plumbing system, they both start out the same. Logos and skyscrapers in Tel Aviv both begin with sketches, with conversations, with words.”
Is there a possibility that from now on, people will contact you just to design logos?
“It’s reasonable. Pentagram has departments for graphic arts, product design, architecture and more. But that’s who they are. That’s their main thing. We don’t have a main thing. Maybe we really need to create one. Look, now Le Coq Sportif has asked us to design the cup for the Tour de France.”