Seinfeld’s Last Episode and a Design that Raises a Smile

Who doesn’t recognize the‭ ‬“I Love NY”‭ ‬logo‭?‬

This logo can be defined as A VISUAL PUN‭.‬

A Pun is‭ ‬“a play on words”‭ ‬therefore a Visual Pun is‭ ‬“a play on visual images”‭.‬

This was the subject of my Graduate Thesis in communications design at the Pratt Institute NY back in 1998‭.‬

Milton Glaser designed the genius logo‭ ‬“I Love NY”‭ ‬in 1975‭ ‬as part of a campaign for the State of New York‭. ‬He is among the most celebrated graphic designers in the US and I had‭ ‬the honor and pleasure to interview him as part of my Thesis research on visual puns‭.‬

What is it about this logo that makes it one the world’s most popular and well known ones‭? ‬When discussing this question with Mr‭. ‬Glaser‭, ‬as well as his use of a red heart shape instead of the word‭ ‬“love”‭, ‬he said‭: ‬“This is an example of discovering the obvious”‭, ‬and explained that from the point of view of the designer‭, ‬presenting the obvious doesn’t necessarily make a design genius‭. ‬It is the ability of the designer to present the obvious in a way that leads the viewer to make the right connections in his mind and understand the message that makes a design clever and memorable‭.‬

Ever since I took my first steps in the profession of graphic design‭, ‬and more so after graduating from Pratt‭, ‬I have looked for‭ ‬and have researched ways to play with all the elements of design‭; ‬symbols‭, ‬visual shapes and typography‭, ‬to bring across a message that has more than one meaning‭.‬

There are in fact 3‭ ‬categories of Visual Puns‭:‬

The first category uses a visual symbol that has the same meaning as the word it replaces‭ (‬like a red heart shape instead of the‭ ‬word‭ ‬“love”‭), ‬or that has a similar sound to the sound of the word it replaces‭, ‬as in Paul Rand’s 1981‭ ‬design for IBM‭. ‬The word‭ ‬“eye”‭ ‬sounds like the letter‭ ‬“I”‭, ‬the word‭ ‬“bee”‭ ‬sounds like the letter‭ ‬“B”‭, ‬and the letter M remains an M‭.‬

The second category consists of a symbol or symbols that represent two meanings simultaneously‭, ‬and both meanings are necessary‭ ‬in order to convey the message‭. ‬As we can see in the J&B ad that was designed as part of a series of ads by the Grace‭ ‬&‭ ‬Rothschild ad agency between 1987‭ ‬and 1990‭, ‬the image of a cow‭ (‬meat‭) ‬standing over the J&B logo represents the expression‭ ‬“Meat over a J&B”‭ (‬1st meaning‭), ‬when in fact the word‭ ‬“meat”‭ ‬substitutes the word‭ ‬“meet”‭ ‬‮–‬‭ ‬conveying the expression‭ ‬“Meet over a J&B”‭ (‬2nd meaning‭).‬

The third category of visual puns comprises of symbols that replace letters that are similar in shape‭, ‬such as in the‭ ‬“Rock‭ ‬&‭ ‬Roll”‭ ‬design for an insurance company magazine cover‭, ‬designed by Herb Lubalin in 1956‭, ‬where the letter‭ ‬“o”‭ ‬in the word‭ ‬“Rock”‭ ‬is represented by a round rock image‭, ‬and the letter‭ ‬“o”‭ ‬in the word‭ ‬“Roll”‭ ‬is replaced by an image of a round bread roll‭.‬

In addition to the theoretical part regarding visual puns‭, ‬the Thesis included a practical element‭, ‬in which we were asked to design real examples that convey the question of visual puns‭ (‬the hypothesis‭) ‬and possible answers to it‭ (‬the Thesis‭).‬

My Thesis presentation took place at the end of May 1998‭, ‬one day after the final episode of the timeless TV series‭ ‬“Seinfeld”‭ ‬was broadcasted‭. ‬As a big fan of Seinfeld‭, ‬I did not miss one episode in the 4‭ ‬years I lived in NY‭, ‬and when I realized the proximity in dates of the Thesis Presentation and last episode’s broadcast‭, ‬the decision to implement my Thesis conclusions on elements related to Seinfeld felt only natural to me‭.‬

I designed three different elements to illustrate the three categories of Visual Puns‭.‬

The first element I designed was a special edition cover for‭ ‬“TV Guide”‭, ‬with an image of the bald George Constanza and the frenetic Cosmo Kramer‭. ‬To their close up image I added the wording‭ ‬“The Bald and the Beautiful‭ - ‬The End”‭, ‬using the design style of the logo of the well-known soap opera‭ ‬“The Bold and the Beautiful”‭. ‬The similar sound of the words‭ ‬“Bald”‭ ‬and‭ ‬“Bold”‭, ‬and the distinctive image of both characters in the context of a TV program‭, ‬conveyed the numerous meanings in a humoristic and witty way‭.‬

For the second category of visual puns‭, ‬where an image represents two meanings at the same time‭, ‬I created a cereal box showing‭ ‬Jerry Seinfeld’s face‭, ‬and the words‭ ‬“cereal killer”‭ ‬representing the cereals name‭. ‬Anyone who followed the series knew that Jerry loves cereal‭; ‬you couldn’t really miss the cereal shelf in his kitchen‭. ‬Replacing‭ ‬“Serial”‭ ‬with‭ ‬“Cereal”‭ ‬enabled the multiple meaning‭.‬

For the third category of visual puns‭, ‬where images replace letters‭, ‬I created an ad for an eyeglasses chain of stores‭.‬

The ad depicts Elaine shouting with her mouth open and sunglasses on her forehead‭. ‬The letter‭ ‬“O”‭ ‬in the wording that crosses Elaine’s face‭; ‬“in about an hour”‭, ‬is in fact her open mouth‭. ‬The text then explains that one hour is the time it will take to have your eyeglasses ready‭ - ‬just‭ ‬in time for Seinfeld’s last episode‭. ‬It closes the ad with a promise that‭ ‬“when it comes to your time we don’t tell you we’ll see‭ - ‬we guarantee you will see‭ - ‬in no time”‭.‬

In conclusion‭, ‬I would like to take you back to the beginning of this post‭, ‬where I stated that I look for visual puns in the majority of my design projects‭, ‬and to Milton Glaser on designing the obvious‭. ‬A recent project of mine was to design a Corporate‭ ‬Identity design for a new restaurant in Tel Aviv‭, ‬Israel‭, ‬by the name of‭ ‬“shulchan”‭, ‬which means‭ ‬“a table”‭ ‬in Hebrew‭. ‬In this case I did not have to look for the pun‭; ‬there it was in front of my eyes‭. ‬One of the letters in the Hebrew‭ ‬word‭ ‬“shulchan”‭ ‬has a table shape‭; ‬therefore the letter enabled me to represent a double meaning‭. ‬All I had to do was just emphasize that table‭ ‬shaped letter‭, ‬in order for the viewer to make the right connection and realize the pun‭.‬

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