Sagi Haviv: Chairman of the Brand

By Brett McKenzie Posted on Mar 08, 2018

Design luminary prepares to chair ADC 97th Annual Awards jury

The ADC 97th Annual Awards — one of the oldest and most respected accolades in the design and advertising worlds — has always prided itself on its spectacular juries. For the fifth straight year, we have put forth a gender-balanced collection of extremely talented men and women who will ultimately decide who will take home an elusive ADC Cube at Creative Week this May.

Each of our ten juries is chaired by a particularly outstanding industry star — and for our Brand & Communications Design category — perhaps the most hotly contested discipline in the show — we will be led by none other than Sagi Haviv, Partner of the iconic Chemayeff & Geismar & Haviv.

Ahead of next week's final rounds of judging, we chatted with Sagi about everything from his judging expectations, to the most outstanding piece of branding he's seen this past year, to even his dashed hopes of becoming an actor.


I remember chatting with you some time ago, and you mentioned that before the design world took hold of you, you had wanted to give acting a try. You did a year at the Lee Strasberg Theater, but discovered that, well, you were not really very good. That all said, what lessons did you learn in that creative world that helped you in design. Better put: how is a designer like an actor?

There is definitely a showmanship aspect to our practice. Sitting in a room with a client and looking at logo designs for the first time is pretty absurd — these things work over time through familiarity. So that moment when we present our creative work requires a certain direction. For one thing, we insist on conducting this presentation in person. And we often travel across the globe to make this happen. (Luckily people generally like to come to New York.) And once we are face-to-face with the client, it is kind of like a show, but the purpose of this show is not to get the audience excited. Rather, it's to prepare the client for not necessarily being excited right away.

You're a rarity in this business: a creative that has worked at one place pretty much throughout one's career, rising up the ranks. What drew you to Chermayeff & Geismar, and more importantly, what has kept you here all of these years? What's the magic formula, the secret sauce?

While at Cooper Union I came across the book TM: Trademarks Designed by Chermayeff & Geismar. I was fascinated by the simplicity and boldness of the designs and the consistent high caliber of work. As I studied further I learned that each of the marks was a carefully crafted solution to a problem. That’s the secret, such as it is. From the first time I walked in the door as an intern, the place felt like home. The office is informal and small enough that we can touch every facet of the practice. We are independent, so we’re only responsible to our clients and to what we consider to be good design.

2017 began with C&G&H celebrating an astounding 60 years in the game, and closed with a heartfelt goodbye to its co-founder Ivan Chermayeff. While I have no doubt that the firm is in excellent hands, what does the future hold for you and your crew?

One thing I learned from Ivan was always to be thinking of your next book. It’s not enough to make your client happy — you also need to be happy about the artistry of the design you put out. You want to think about whether this or that piece of design will be good enough to include in a book to be proud of down the line. Speaking of which, our new book will be coming out in May this year, published by the terrific guys at Standards Manual.

"One thing I learned from Ivan was always to be thinking of your next book. It’s not enough to make your client happy — you also need to be happy about the artistry of the design you put out."

There are many constants in the design world, but what do you think has been the most seismic change in the way designers design during the span of your career?

Advances in technology mean that designers can now do everything themselves and have more control over the entire process of design. A design entrepreneur can now have a successful studio doing top-notch work with just two or three people—or even in some cases, alone. This represents an incredible freedom that didn’t exist before.

The ADC 97th Annual Awards represents the very best work of the past year. Can you give any examples of branding you've seen in 2017 that made you drop your jaw and say "wow, I wish I had done that!"?

The revised symbol for DropBox by COLLINS is perfection. (And as often is the case, the early complaints about it were misguided). 

As the chair of the Brand/Communication Design Jury, you'll be leading a pretty eclectic group of designers. What sorts of things would you want them to keep in mind while going through this year's submissions? What advice would you give to help them select the very best work? What are you most looking forward to from this group?

We are looking for exceptional work. Sometimes a designer can do a great job for a client and solve their problem brilliantly, but the work might not be award material. A piece of design can be extremely visually appealing, and not be award material. We are looking for the perfect marriage of an original idea and visual form. Something that we will still remember ten years from now. Something that belongs in the history books. Something that design students will be inspired by. That’s how I think of the selection criteria.  

I’m most looking forward to discussing the entries with the other judges. We all come from different backgrounds and with different sensibilities, and there is something magical about listening and taking input from others.

"We all come from different backgrounds and with different sensibilities, and there is something magical about listening and taking input from others."

This is the fifth consecutive year that the ADC Annual Awards has had gender-balanced juries. As an industry veteran, how have you viewed the progress for women in this discipline?

In the honors design class we teach at the School of Visual Arts, 90% of our students are women. That’s not the proportion we see in the industry. What happens to these women along the way? In my comparatively short time in this field, I’ve seen women having to make difficult choices about their careers— we have lost great talent. Unfortunately, we are some ways away from real gender balance.

The theme for the ADC 97th Annual Awards is "where craft will take us". Which direction do you feel the design industry is headed (good and bad) in the next few years, in regards to the craftsmanship and artistry of the business?

More than anything, we are in the business of ideas. Although we work in the service of clients, we all got into this business inspired by art and artistry, and I hope we can all hold onto that in the years to come.


The ADC 97th Annual Awards begins its final judging on March 13. 



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