Topos Graphics

Rub and Seth Labenz don’t just finish each other’s
sentences, they form sentences in tandem. Their description of a recent
project went like this:

Rub: It’s a website for an actor, and
there’s a cursor—
Labenz: No, start over. He’s an
actor. So, the only thing you have on screen is his face, a headshot.
There’s a cursor that allows the user to decide what expression is
on his face.
Rub: It’s all black-and-white
Labenz: His name is
Rub: And it’s set in Gill Sans!

Clearly, this is
how the two-man firm always functions. “A lot of our work is
talk,” says Rub. “The computer is the last part of the
process. The start is two chairs in a room.” The designers have
achieved symbiosis in spite of (or perhaps because of) their disparate
backgrounds: Rub is from Tel Aviv, Israel, while Labenz grew up in
Columbus, Nebraska. They met in 2004 at Cooper Union in New York, after
they both transferred there—Rub from the Bezalel Academy in
Jerusalem, Labenz from the University of Nebraska. “We felt like
we had a lot to learn from each other,” says Rub. “We
started having conversations, riffing off each other’s
ideas.” In 2005, they founded their firm, Topos Graphics, named,
in part, for a common reaction they’d get when telling people they
were typographers: “I’ve never met someone who makes maps
before!” This joke tied nicely into a more serious part of the
designers’ ideology: “Place was a hot topic for us,”
explains Labenz. “We made a lot of things in regard to home,
place, and geography.”

No Topos Graphics project epitomizes that
relationship to place better than their campaign for the Columbus Bank
and Trust. Labenz’s father is the head of the bank, which has been
in the family for generations. It’s clear just how much that means
to Labenz—every component of the campaign, with its sharp,
black-and-white visuals and quiet yet urbane execution, vibrates with
attention and love. For instance, Rub and Labenz decided to make the
bank’s officers the stars of the campaign. Each person gets one of
the bank’s two local billboards for three months, with a portrait
(by illustrator Bernd Schifferdecker) on one side, and his or her name
and “Columbus Bank and Trust Co.” on the other.

and Rub treat every checkbook and free eraser with equal attention to
detail. It’s typical of their approach. And for Topos Graphics,
dedication to quality is synonymous with creating a design that’s
unique to a project. “One of our best comments came from our worst
client, who said ‘You don’t have any style,’”
says Rub. “We always try to make things look different, and we try
to inject ourselves in[to] it,” he adds.

All their work breathes
with their distinctive personalities, whether it’s their
typography on garbage bags for New York magazine’s listings
or their precise, symbol-laden business cards for a proofreader. As for
upcoming projects, they seem just as excited about a wedding invitation
as they are about an artist’s book they’re working on for
Stefan Sagmeister. And it’s this thoughtful enthusiasm about their
work and clients that truly sets them apart. As Labenz says,
“We’re considerate!”