Hex Marks the Spot: The CBS Eye

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Design historians have perpetuated the story that the CBS eye was designed in 1951 by William Golden (above right) based on a Pennsylvania Dutch hex symbol.

“Golden’s original inspiration came while driving through Pennsylvania Dutch country. He became intrigued by hex symbols resembling human eyes that were painted on the Amish barns to ward off evil spirits. Additional inspiration was found in Shaker art from 1850s. His basic concept was to portray television’s unblinking electronic eye,” notes designhistory.org.

It is also acknowledged that the final iteration of the logo was sketched and executed by the designer Kurt Weihs. The story, however, is not entirely true.

Talking with George Lois, who was the featured speaker at Dublin’s OFFSET conference this past weekend, I learned that the “driving through Pennsylvania Dutch country” detail may be apocryphal.

“That’s not how I heard it from Bill or Kurt,” says Lois, who worked for Golden at CBS in the early 50s.

Rather Golden and wife, the art director Cipe Pineles, were, like many of their generation, avid antiques collectors. And according to Lois, while browsing Antiques magazine, Golden found the hex symbol or “God’s Eye” was at the top of a vintage birth certificate, which looked pretty much like the recent sketch by Lois on the left. Golden showed the magazine image to Weihs (who incidentally, lived in the same building in Greenwich Village as Lois and his family), and told him to redraw and clean it up.

Weihs proceeded to make a schematic. “He was always extremely precise,” says Lois. “If he were drawing just a circle, he’d make all sorts of geometric guide lines,” illustrated in Lois’ sketch on the right.

Although Lois never saw the final tracing paper drawing, he recalls “the stat I saw, all drawn in line, was a negative, with some of the lines browning.” This before CBS was placed in the pupil. Weihs had kept the browning stat in his flat file until he died in 2004. Its whereabouts today is unknown.

About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →