New York was the starting place for 4 interviews and some crucial archive research into the DOT symbols. Perhaps the best interview I had was with Tom Geismar, one of the founding partners of Chermayeff & Geismar, a known US design agency of the 1960. They designed among others the Mobile, Chase, Xerox and National Geographic identity. Interestingly they have a connection with the Netherlands: In the 1960s Total Design, Chermayeff & Geismar and Pentagram co published a book with their logo’s.
Based on the website of Chermayeff & Geismar I expected a rather small agency. Imagine my surprise when I found out it was bustling with energy and people, with Geismar still very much hands-on in business. This same active attitude he also brought to the interview. With a mountain of archive-files at his hand he proved to be an experienced story teller. It was he who had approached Roger Cook to ask him whether he and his partner Don Shanosky would be interested in designing the DOT-symbols.
I visited Roger (Rajie) Cook, now living in Pensylvania. He and his wife shared an amazing bungalow that he had designed in the 1960s. A modernist classic that even featured in an architectural magazine. Still a designer and an artist, he was bursting with enthusiasm about his latest projects and especially proud of the DOT-symbols.
His former business and design partner Don Shanosky retired earlier then him and lived in Fort Myers Florida. A one day trip from New York brought me there on the coldest day in over four years. Luckily the frosty weather was compensated for by the warm welcome of him and his wife. Just like Cook he was proud of the symbols, although he did seem to have a more relaxed attitude regarding authorship.
A known issue with design projects like the DOT symbols, with many people involved, is the question of who is responsible for the design. This is a particular interesting question with a project that was overseen by a working group of known AIGA designers such as Geismar, Vignelli, Chwast and De Harak. Although Cook & Shanosky were the ones actually drawing the symbols, they had regular meetings with the work group members who shared their own ideas and sometimes sketches.
Cook had donated his sketches and work drawings of the symbols to the Smithsonian Design Museum in New York. It was interesting to see which items Cook & Shanosky payed special attention too. There was for example an amazing variety of symbols for trains, boats and planes. Sadly not much correspondence was included. For that I took my resort to the archives of Geismar and the industrial designer Henrey Dreyfuss
In 1972 Dreyfuss published the known ‘Symbol Sourcebook’, the culmination of his long interest in symbols (1950s-1970s). During this period he had many contacts with people interested in symbols, in the US and worldwide. And even better for me, he was meticulousness in his archiving practices, even cross-referencing folders and documents. It soon emerged, that just like Geismar, he played a much more prominent role then assumed in the early development of the DOT symbols.
Perhaps the most relaxed interview I had was with Lance Wyman, designer of the many visual materials (including logo and symbols) for the Olympic Games of 1968 in Mexico. As part of my larger research project in 1950-1970s symbols I just had to drop by. He and his wife lived in a lovely house near to Central Park. His house was a reminder of the the time when down town New York was run down and cheap. Designers are seldom big business men. . .
Showing in his interior and on his walls was an amazing collection of Mexican arts and crafts pieces, testament to his lifelong interest in this country. The interior of his working room seemed to have developed in a symbol museum with framed pictures of his best work. But who would not do that with such a nice items? It was a good warm concluding interview of a New York that I could not appreciate that much because of the cold. . . .