The San Francisco restaurant Embarko opened in 1989 when I was twenty-eight. Slated to be called Trudy’s after the owners’ dog, I was so uninspired by the name that I proposed multiple alternatives, Embarko among them. The new name referenced both the restaurant’s bayside location on the Embarcadero as well as the owners’ canine empathies.
The Embarko trademark takes the form of a rebus which requires the reader to decode conventional symbols of language—letters of the alphabet—in the company of a pictorial element representing sound. Inherently playful, the rebus is common to children’s puzzles but is less frequently found in trademarks. (One notable exception: Milton Glaser’s 1977 I♥NY.) An important development in the history of writing, the rebus is believed to have been invented by the Sumerians around 3000 BCE and subsequently adopted by the Egyptians.
My intention was to render the dog (which represents the onomatopoetic sound “bark”) as a glyph to visually approximate typography. I began by setting the letters E, M, and O in Raleigh Gothic Condensed, a geometric sans serif designed by M.F. Benton for the American Type Foundry (ATF) in 1932. By matching the stroke weights of the dog to those of the letterforms, the dog visually groups with and “reads” like the text. Happily, the dog’s “bark” also corresponds with the natural stress of the restaurant’s pronunciation: Em-bark-o.
The yellow Post-It note shows my original sketches for the trademark. I ultimately hand-inked the dog and rule with a Rapidograph technical pen; the type was set on a typositor by the San Francisco office of Andresen Typographics. Final art was a black and white “stat.”
My work for Embarko was selected for inclusion in the American Institute of Graphic Arts’ “Under 30” national competition in 1990. Some of the other young designers whose work was represented in “Under 30” includes Carol Devine Carson, Chip Kidd, and Alexander Isley. [MF]
See the Embarko rebus under Design is Play Studio Symbols Trademarks Food & Drink.