Lou Dorfsman: Remembering the Tiffany Network's Elegant Eye

Lou Dorfsman: Remembering the Tiffany Network's Elegant Eye Before it was called branding and contracted out to design firms that specialize in imagemaking on a global scale, there was the very cool job of corporate art director. Lou Dorfsman designed every aspect of CBS's image, from the sign system for the Eero Saarinen "Black Rock" headquarters to the ashtrays that sat on his set for Walter Cronkite. Having access to the deep pockets of CBS chairman William Paley and a partner in corporate style with Frank Stanton, president of CBS, Dorfsman created an elegant visual image for the network that was recognized for 40 years both in the home and in the boardroom.   

Dorfsman was hired as William Golden's assistant in 1946. Golden originally designed the iconic CBS eye logo, and brought his inspired style to CBS from his years at House and Garden working under the renowned M.F.Agha. A mission of perfection and high style trickled down from Paley and Stanton to all aspects of CBS. After Golden died suddenly at the age of 48, Dorfsman was named director of design.

Dorfsman and CBS created one of the great in-house art departments. When CBS moved into its new headquarters on 52nd street in 1963, Dorfsman handled all the interior and exterior signage personally. He drew his own version of Didot renamed CBS Didot, and it became the official typeface of CBS appearing on all corporate stationery, elevators, napkins, mailboxes and promotional material. 200 office clocks were taken apart and their numbers were replaced with the new font. Inside the cafeteria, he created a 35 foot wall of wood type letterforms that created essentially an A-Z of food which greeted lunching employees. Dorfsman titled the wall, "Gastrotypographicalassemblage" and it is currently being restored after it was dismantled in the mid 1980s.  

But it was in his day to day work--creating full page promotional ads for CBS news, radio and primetime that regularly graced the New York Times--that his trademark humor, combined with a clear typographic style, created a corporate voice as familiar as Uncle Walter's. George Lois said in the New York Times "He was the kingpin of the New York School of Design, a pluperfect, fearless, uncompromising perfectionist, and a father of corporate image in the world."  Ads promoting CBS News specials on the Viet Nam war or black history were presented with the stark clarity of the most serious magazine journalism. As CBS grew, all logo designs, packaging displays, annual reports, consumer and trade ads as well as set design came out of the CBS art department.

After the first moon landing, Dorfsman convinced Paley to fund a coffee table book promoting CBS News's coverage. Dorfsman created a book jacket in light grey in which the surface of the moon was embossed.  Inside, a minute by minute transcript paired the lunar voyage with reporter's commentary. Dorfsman thrived in all media, creating simple but effective film graphics for movies of the week, late, late shows and special presentation bumpers that a generation of boomer kids would recognize instantly. In an era of hyper-specialization, it is inspiring to see how Lou Dorfsman's own visual style flourished in print, broadcasting and any medium or problem he tackled.     
  • Jeremy LaCroix

    Great post. His ability and dedication to creating outstanding work across platforms is uplifting and timely given the current pressure to translate established print brands to the web. Changing the numerals in the clocks to match the company typeface is hardcore attention to detail, completely obsessive and truly inspiring.

  • Jim Lawyer

    An amazing man. I had the privilege of sitting down for a portfolio review by him at his home last year and I didn't want it to end. He was so much fun and he told some of the best stories. One of them was about how he was the father of the celebrity cameo on TV shows. In the early 70's he really pushed the higher ups to have Walter Cronkite make an appearance on the Mary Tyler Moore show and it ended up being a huge hit for the network. What a trailblazer he was. He will be sorely missed.

  • Robert Perino

    Wasn't this great? I was not familiar with him until reading his obit but he sounds like a fascinating person. The type wall is fantastic. I want to take a tour just to see that.

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