The Daily Heller: Hex Marks the Corporate Logo

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Rarely is perfection perfectly perfect. The logo for CBS television is perfect in every conceptual and formal detail. The eye had its premiere on CBS on Nov. 19, 1951, overlaid on a photograph of a cloud-filled sky (see The Visual Craft of William Golden, Braziller, 1962). The logo was not just a mark of distinction, it symbolized the strength of "all things ocular," as designer Will Burtin wrote in The Visual Craft: “His designs hit the bull’s eye of a target with the deceptive ease which only the strong can command.”

The symbol was quickly put to use in all aspects of identification for the network. Its ubiquity caused William (Bill) Golden (1911–1959), chief architect for the bold new graphic identity program, some second thoughts: “It is used so often that it sometimes seems like a Frankenstein's monster to me, but I am grateful it is such a versatile thing that there seems to be no end to the number of ways it can be used without losing its identity.”

Kurt Weihs, a designer working with Golden at CBS, who was involved in the identity project, remembered that the eye had its beginnings in an article in Portfolio about the relatively "esoteric subject" of Shaker design. However, there is an ongoing debate whether the inspiration derived from the magazine article or Weihs' own interest in hex symbols representing the human eye, painted on Pennsylvania Dutch country barns to ward off evil spirits.

As Wiehs recalled in The Visual Craft, “We had done eyes before. Everybody had done eyes; but this one was something that really worked. I felt that the eye could have become the corporate symbol. We saw the eye as symbolizing CBS 'looking at the world.'”

In the flat-screen world of on-demand cable and internet streaming, television networks have become dinosaurs, and their mostly mediocre identities signal this decline. The CBS eye in its purest form remains a hypnotic mark of brilliance (although it has yet to hex the evil Fox spirit).