What Makes a Great Design Partnership
By Ken Carbone & Leslie Smolan

November 8, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-938461-02-6
288 Pages / Over 350 Illustrations

$75 USD

Ken Carbone and Leslie Smolan

The branding campaign for Nizuc, an international brand of luxurious resorts, residences, and spas in Mexico, features a photograph of a woman wearing a pendant with the Nizuc logo.

Carbone and Smolan first took investment firm Putnam’s 80-something individual funds and organized them into four simple, color-coded categories of investing. They then photographed small-scale objects, either from nature or antiques, to become the “icon” for each fund. Their intent was to demystify the process of investing for individuals. After their design presentation, the CEO exclaimed, “I hired graphic designers and got management consultants!”

For the past 25 years, CSA’s signage system for the Musée du Louvre has helped more than 150 million visitors find the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and the toilettes. It’s now a permanent part of the museum, literally carved into the building’s honey-hued limestone walls.

Aether Apparel is known for their stylish, high-performance sports apparel. They created the linear “A” symbol, referencing both the clouds that gather at the top of mountain peaks and infinity. It became the central element of the branding and was applied to everything from the website to product accessories.

Their branding program for Christie’s, the auction house, was applied to locations around the world. They started with a nip-and-tuck facelift of the 250-year-old cameo portrait of James Christie, established an official and custom “Christie’s red,” and applied it to auction invitations and packaging.

For a poster created for the announcement of the destination for an IBM conference for top salespeople, Ken interpreted Rio’s famous Sugarloaf Mountain in a colorful, “pixelated” typographic illustration that evoked IBM’s iconic punch cards.

The logotype and brand pattern for Morgan Stanley was redesigned to suggest the visual motion of stock tickers. The sign that towers over their headquarters, left, takes its rightful place among other major global brands in Manhattan’s Times Square. Standing at thirty-feet high, in ten hues of blue, the sign gives Morgan Stanley a modern, refreshed look. Every letter in the new logotype was hand-drawn to create a unique corporate signature.

The concept for the recruiting brochure created and designed for law firm Skadden Arps took on an inherently humorous tone, featuring portraits of attorneys and staff that coincidentally had the same names as celebrities and historical figures, such as Lewis and Clark, and Peter, Paul, and Mary.

Leslie Smolan teamed up with photographer Rodney Smith to self-publish The Hat Book, which chronicles the experience, whimsy, and sense of style that hats bestow. The book won many awards including the Leipzig International Book Competition and the Communication Arts Magazine Design Competition.

As members of the prestigious Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI), Leslie and Ken were invited, along with 100 other designers, to celebrate Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in a poster to be displayed at an exhibition in Mexico City. They chose the playing card composition because both were artistic royalty, and the suit of hearts represents the artists’ legendary romance.

The stunning photographs of the high-end stock agency Corbis Images needed little explanation. But combining images in a surprising way made designers take a second look. Their overscale brochure, Hot Buttons, presented provocative juxtapositions of images that made visual statements about contemporary cultural and societal issues.


Presented as a conversation between two trusted design partners, “Dialog”: What Makes a Great Design Partnership explores over three decades of work from one of the world’s most accomplished design firms, the Carbone Smolan Agency. Written by design journalist Raul Barreneche and lushly illustrated with a wide array of materials, including exclusive images and sketches from the studio’s archives, the book showcases thirty-five of their projects for international brands, such as Christie’s and W Hotels, and cultural icons, like the Musée du Louvre and The Chicago Symphony Orchestra. “Dialog” brings you behind the scenes of the prestigious agency’s most celebrated projects and reveals the collaborative ethos that has resulted in a stunning array of designs for a world-class clientele.

About the Author

Ken Carbone is the Co-Founder and Chief Creative Director of the Carbone Smolan Agency, a design and branding firm in New York City. Ken is recognized as one of the nation’s top graphic designers. Leslie Smolan, Co-Founder and Director of Creative Strategy of Carbone Smolan Agency, brings the wisdom of 35 years of experience to mentor both clients and designers on the power of strategic design.


See Also

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Talking Heads
Making Marks
Drawing Fashion