RoyRub and Seth Labenz don’t just finish each other’ssentences, they form sentences in tandem. Their description of a recentproject went like this:
Rub: It’s a website for an actor, andthere’s a cursor—Labenz: No, start over. He’s anactor. 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 ison his face.Rub: It’s all black-and-whiteLabenz: His name isGil—Rub: And it’s set in Gill Sans!
Clearly, this ishow the two-man firm always functions. “A lot of our work istalk,” says Rub. “The computer is the last part of theprocess. The start is two chairs in a room.” The designers haveachieved symbiosis in spite of (or perhaps because of) their disparatebackgrounds: Rub is from Tel Aviv, Israel, while Labenz grew up inColumbus, Nebraska. They met in 2004 at Cooper Union in New York, afterthey both transferred there—Rub from the Bezalel Academy inJerusalem, Labenz from the University of Nebraska. “We felt likewe had a lot to learn from each other,” says Rub. “Westarted having conversations, riffing off each other’sideas.” In 2005, they founded their firm, Topos Graphics, named,in part, for a common reaction they’d get when telling people theywere typographers: “I’ve never met someone who makes mapsbefore!” This joke tied nicely into a more serious part of thedesigners’ 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 thatrelationship to place better than their campaign for the Columbus Bankand Trust. Labenz’s father is the head of the bank, which has beenin the family for generations. It’s clear just how much that meansto Labenz—every component of the campaign, with its sharp,black-and-white visuals and quiet yet urbane execution, vibrates withattention and love. For instance, Rub and Labenz decided to make thebank’s officers the stars of the campaign. Each person gets one ofthe bank’s two local billboards for three months, with a portrait(by illustrator Bernd Schifferdecker) on one side, and his or her nameand “Columbus Bank and Trust Co.” on the other.
Labenzand Rub treat every checkbook and free eraser with equal attention todetail. It’s typical of their approach. And for Topos Graphics,dedication to quality is synonymous with creating a design that’sunique to a project. “One of our best comments came from our worstclient, who said ‘You don’t have any style,’”says Rub. “We always try to make things look different, and we tryto inject ourselves in[to] it,” he adds.
All their work breatheswith their distinctive personalities, whether it’s theirtypography on garbage bags for New York magazine’s listingsor their precise, symbol-laden business cards for a proofreader. As forupcoming projects, they seem just as excited about a wedding invitationas they are about an artist’s book they’re working on forStefan Sagmeister. And it’s this thoughtful enthusiasm about theirwork and clients that truly sets them apart. As Labenz says,“We’re considerate!”