Roy 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 Gil— 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.
Labenz 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!”