Magazine article Eye : The International Review of Graphic Design

Flight of the Imagination

Magazine article Eye : The International Review of Graphic Design

Flight of the Imagination

Article excerpt

Do Ivan Chermayeff's uncompromising posters, designed to revive a big airline's flagging fortunes in the early 1970s, signify the last days of Modernist ambition?

Before retiring in 1968, Juan Trippe, the charismatic founder of Pan American World Airways, ordered 25 Boeing 747s. The world's largest airline would never recover from this bold move: by 1971, when the first of these 'jumbo jets' flew under the Pan Am brand, the company - weighed down by recession, inflation and increased competition - was already heading towards breakdown.

Elected chairman in 1970, Najeeb Halaby tried to inject new life into this notoriously conservative, unsophisticated corporation with a redesign of its visual identity. Tipped by his friend Eliot Noyes, Halaby commissioned Ivan Chermayeff to do the job.

Chermayeff and Tom Geismar ran one of New York's most influential design practices: their portfolio included identity systems for corporations such as the Chase Manhattan Bank, Mobil and Xerox; as well as graphics for the United States pavilions at the Expo '67 (Montreal) and Expo '70 (Osaka) world exhibitions.

Under the supervision of Patrick Friesner, Pan Am's head of sales and promotion, Chermayeff & Geismar was one of a handful of studios taken on to produce, at a frenzied pace, promotional materials that carried the new identity; others included George Tscherny, Rudolph de Harak and, in London, Alan Fletcher.

Ivan Chermayeff himself artdirected a set of posters for Pan Am offices and travel agents around the world. 'The whole idea of this series,' he said in a recent interview, 'was to make a simple statement about some part of the world ... and to use that simple, straightforward message with the Pan Am identity. Make it as little "corporate" as possible and make as much a sense of adventure and of the place as possible.'

According to both Chermayeff and William Sontag, his designer on the job, it was the evocative, often solemn, photographs of farflung destinations that 'made' these posters. …

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