Carbone Smolan Agency

The Carbone Smolan Agency (CSA) is a graphic design and branding firm started in 1980 by Ken Carbone and Leslie Smolan. It began in 1976 as a satellite office of Montreal-based Gottschalk + Ash International. In 1980 Carbone and Smolan bought out the interest of their Canadian partners and in 1985 the company was renamed Carbone Smolan Associates. Ken Carbone is the agency’s creative director. Leslie Smolan is the agency’s director of creative strategy.
Carbone Smolan Agency has been responsible for creating visual systems and branding programs for some of the most recognizable brand names in the public and private sector. (See: Fast Company, Five Tips for Forging a Lasting Creative Partnership)
CSA's work in corporate, consumer and cultural sectors, in particular, embodies the CSA philosophy: “unify, simplify and amplify.” (See: Mohawk Connects, Felt+Wire Interview with Tom Biederbeck and Business Insider, Three Words You Should Remember, by Mellisa Stanger)
Design credits for clients include Canon, Morgan Stanley, Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Christies, Tiffany & Company, Herman Miller, Mohawk Paper, Architectural Record Magazine, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The Jewish Museum, Musée du Louvre, The Woodruff Arts Center, The Morgan Library & Museum, MoMA, and Hartford Stage. (See: AIGA Design Archives, Carbone Smolan) The company is located at 22 West 19th Street in New York.
The history of the Carbone Smolan Agency began when Ken Carbone graduated from the Philadelphia College Art (now University of the Arts Philadelphia) with the intention of becoming a professional musician but early advisors instead steered him towards the commercial arts, specifically graphic design. After graduating, Carbone set off for Europe, calling upon influential designers such as Tomas Gonda, Karl Gerstner, Armin Hoffmann, Wolfgang Weingart, and professors at Basel School of Design in Switzerland affiliated with his professors at Philadelphia College of Art. (See: Adweek Article, Six Questions with Ken Carbone)
After his European sojourn, Carbone returned to New York in 1973 and landed his first professional design job at the office of Chermayeff & Geismar Associates, now Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv. Carbone told Debbie Millman with Design Matters, a service of Design Observer Media Group, Design Observer Media Group, that his early exposure to such graphic masters as Alan Fletcher, Ivan Chermayeff and Thomas Geismar enabled him see design through a “broad lens” — as a two-dimensional, three-dimensional, aural, verbal, visual field of interdisciplinary practice that could, when applied properly, be a force for positive change. (See: Design Matters Interview with Debbie Millman)
In 1976, Carbone was recruited from Chermayeff & Geismar by Montreal-based Gottschalk + Ash International to work on the design guidelines for the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. When his Canadian visa expired in the fall of 1976, Fritz Gottschalk suggested to Carbone that he open a satellite office of Gottshalk + Ash in New York. Carbone, then 25, and with no business start-up experience, accepted Gottshalk’s challenge and opened a small design office in Midtown Manhattan in fall 1976. (See: Dialog from Pointed Leaf Press)
The Musée du Louvre project propelled Carbone Smolan into the first rank of international design agencies and led to its first feature profile in Communication Arts Magazine, one of the nation's preeminent design and advertising journals. (See: Communication Arts Magazine, Sep/Oct 1987, Print Edition) In the ensuing years, CSA has created numerous assignments for other cultural institutions including MoMA (New York), Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The Jewish Museum (New York), Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, The High Museum (Atlanta) and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. (See: Dialog from Pointed Leaf Press and See: Mohawk Connect/Felt+Wire Interview with Tom Biederbeck) While designers and design agencies may come and go in New York, less common are partnerships that endure for decades. Among those that have are: Vignelli Associates, Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv, Pentagram, Push-Pin Studios, Lippincott, and Landor Associates. Today, Carbone Smolan Agency is stands among them, a 35+ year old design partnership that continues to thrive and evolve in a competitive market where many good agencies arise, thrive then disappear. CSA’s founding partners believe shared values are the explanation for their long run. (See: Entrepreneur Online, When to Hire a Design Firm to Get Your Logo Just Right)
Business Philosophy
In an interview with Business Insider in October 2012, Carbone and Smolan said the keys to their enduring relationship are their aligned ambition and trust, their complementary (but not necessarily identical) interests and skills, their respect for each other’s ideas and opinions, and, most notably, the forbearance to choose the right partner in the first place. They contend that “unified, simplified and amplified” brand identities, products, and systems communicate principles and convictions that can be shared by others such as customers and fans. Carbone later told Entrepreneur Online, "Branding is not a start-stop activity, it's a commitment over the life of a company. We like to guarantee each brand identity a minimum life span of 15 years." (See: Entrepreneur, When to Hire a Design Firm to Get Your Logo Just Right and Business Insider, October 23, 2012, Three Words You Should Remember When Designing Your Brand, by Mellisa Stanger)
Clients & Scope
CSA has been involved with numerous projects over the years for a wide variety of corporations and organizations in finance, computers, consumer products, publishing, hospitality, fine paper, professional trade organizations, museums, government institutions, fine arts, photography, and auction houses. Among them, Citicorp Center, Morgan Stanley, IBM, Bideawee, W Hotels, Tropicalia Resort & Residences, Architectural Record, MOHAWK Paper, The Jewish Museum, San Francisco International Airport, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Corbis Images, and Christie’s. (See: American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), Online Design Archives).<ref name="aigaarchivesixteen" /><ref name="aigaarchivefour" />
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