Wednesday, June 24, 2009
If you were a geek in the '90s, you were surrounded by the work of graphic designer Margo Chase, even if you never knew it. Her logos were almost everywhere, and her legions of imitators were everywhere she wasn't.
America had never seen a logo quite like the one Chase did for Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 version of Dracula. Somehow it managed to look crazed and violent at the same time that it was precise and elegant... In other words, it was an absolutely ideal signature for a vampire.
In the '90s Chase designed logos for musicians like Prince, Madonna and Cher, capturing their personalities with aggressively seductive fonts. Demonstrating her versatility, she also did pert, charming logos for the girly-girl TV of the era, shows like Felicity and Gilmore Girls. But she remains best known for the powerful logos she did for some of the best genre TV of the '90s.
Her logo for Buffy the Vampire Slayer was absolutely perfect for the series, a mix of feminine swirls, sharp and jagged type, and streaks and drops suggesting freshly spilled blood. (And did you notice the inverted cross? Right there in the center of the design, but just subtle enough that you could see it 10,000 times on your TV screen and never notice it.) It's no exaggeration to say that her Buffy logo probably did a lot to convince people that this wasn't just some silly little show for teenagers. Any show that starts with a logo like that deserves a second look.
Her logo for the Buffy spin-off Angel was composed of strong, masculine type that was also strangely broken and incomplete - an apt metaphor for a guy who had been alive for a few hundred years but was only now finding himself.
Chase's logos always found the essence of a show and put it front and center. Her Charmed logo was another beauty, a teasingly girlish font, with sharp thorns. Right away, you knew what you were getting. Magic. Sex appeal. Whimsy. Danger. All that, in seven letters.
But the problem with being a distinctive, popular graphic designer is that your work can become too tied to an era. By the late '90s, almost every vaguely occultish TV show, movie or CD featured some approximation of Chase's swirls, droplets and vaguely Celtic knots. By the new millennium the look had become passe, and even Chase had to move beyond it. Today she designs for huge clients like Target and the E! network, but while her logos are as striking as ever, it's hard not to miss the sinister playfulness of her best '90s work.
Let's be frank: the '90s were kind of an ugly decade. But in the midst of all that big hair and day-glow colors, Chase brought a new kind of gothic sophistication to pop culture. Next year, when the first big wave of '90s nostalgia comes crashing down on us, at least we'll probably see the return of the Margo Chase look. It's about time.
(Click the cover at left to buy the book Chase co-authored, Really Good Logos Explained: Top Design Professionals Critique 500 Logos and Explain What Makes Them Work.)
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