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.