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Joseph Selame, created brands, logos for many companies

By Bryan Marquard
Globe Staff / April 24, 2011

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Starting out in a Newton storefront that formerly housed a pizza parlor, Joseph Selame kept everything simple when he launched Selame Design in 1960.

Necessity dictated certain decisions, such as storing photos in ovens where pies once cooked, but a philosophy flowered from the circumstances.

“As designers, our goal is the same as it was 30 years ago when we started: to come up with different yet simple identities that will stand the test of time,’’ he told the Globe in 1990.

For more than a half-century, the identities Mr. Selame helped create have stood along many roads and thoroughfares of commerce, from the traffic light logo of Stop & Shop to CVS to the capital B that draws eyes to the signs for KaBloom flower shops.

Mr. Selame, whose company also created brands and logos for enterprises as diverse as Fenway Franks and Goodwill Industries, for which he designed a smiling G, died March 29 in Hospice by the Sea in Boca Raton, Fla. He was 86 and had been diagnosed with dementia.

“In an increasingly crowded marketplace, a good name helps a company stand out from the pack,’’ he told the Globe in 1999, adding that “a good name is designed. It’s part of a total marketing strategy.’’

Among the logos and brand identities Mr. Selame and his company worked on were those for Prince spaghetti, Massachusetts General Hospital, the Museum of Science in Boston, Hood, Eastman Kodak, and Zoots.

“He liked to keep everything simple all the time,’’ said his son Ted of Newton.

Sometimes improving the identity of a business was as simple as trimming a few words.

“With Bank of Boston, we shortened their name from First National Bank of Boston,’’ Mr. Selame’s wife, Elinor, told the Globe in 1994.

Elinor Selame, formerly president of the company, died in 2008. In the interview, she spoke of how traumatic it could be for a company to radically shift its identity though something as significant as a name change.

The Selames themselves made such a decision when they renamed their company BrandEquity in the mid-1990s.

“The name Selame Design does not really conjure up what we do,’’ she said. “The word ‘design’ — most people don’t understand what it means. They see it as casual, as cosmetics. It actually means ‘plan.’ And the name Selame is mispronounced very often. . . . We look at what we do as brand building. So we said, ‘Why don’t we better describe what we do with a name?’ And we came up with BrandEquity — a single word so we can protect it legally.’’

The company’s work was often honored, including a silver award from the Industrial Design Society of America for redesigning the juice bottles for Veryfine.

In 1998, the Art Institute of Boston presented Mr. Selame an honorary doctorate. He had served on the institute’s board and taught graphic design there, along with teaching at Boston and Northeastern universities.

Mr. Selame and his wife also wrote books, including “Developing a Corporate Identity: How to Stand Out in the Crowd,’’ “Packaging Power: Corporate Identity and Product Recognition,’’ and “The Company Image: Developing Your Identity and Influence in the Marketplace.’’

“In my eyes, he was quite the genius,’’ said his brother Morris of Windsor, Conn. “Although design and the commercial part of art were foremost in his heart, he had many other interests. He was so interested in the human condition.’’

The oldest of 10 children, Mr. Selame was born in Manhattan, N.Y., and moved with his family as a child to Winthrop, where he grew up. He graduated from Winthrop High School.

His family’s last name was spelled Salame, which he changed to Selame so it would be easier for clients to pronounce. His parents had emigrated from Lebanon, and his father opened a series of stores in Boston.

Drafted into the Army during World War II, Mr. Selame served with the 648th Army Engineers and worked on publications.

“From that experience, I learned how to create things simply,’’ he told the Globe in 1990.

After the war, his parents sent him to art school in Chicago, where he studied briefly before returning to Boston. Mr. Selame worked as an apprentice in design firms and as a graphic designer before opening his own company in his early 30s.

In 1948, he married Elinor Leventer of Brooklyn, N.Y.

“It was typical in the Syrian Jewish community to arrange marriages,’’ his brother said. “There was no one in the Boston area, and my parents were very interested in getting him married. They sent him to Brooklyn to meet her and that was it, they fell in love right away.’’

Mostly through referrals, the Selames accumulated clients as word spread about the success of their ideas. In the early 1970s, the Selames began working with Veryfine, the juice company then based in Westford.

“Until Joe got involved, juice had been sold in cans,’’ Greg Kolligian, who was managing director of Mr. Selame’s company, told the Globe in 1990. “He saw that something different could be done, namely a wide-mouthed bottle with a Styrofoam label.’’

Mr. Selame created a logo for Veryfine, which also sold its products in sleek black vending machines that stood out against the colors of soda dispensers.

“It’s a silent salesman,’’ Mr. Selame told the Globe in 1987.

“He used to tell everyone that a company without a symbol is like a country without a flag,’’ his son said. “He was really great at what he did.’’

A service has been held for Mr. Selame, who in addition to his son and brother leaves another son, Robert of Palm Beach, Fla.; a daughter, Nadine Franc of Boca Raton, Fla.; four other brothers, Edmund of Northridge, Calif., Isaac and Robert, both of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Theodore II of Spruce Pine, N.C.; two sisters, Sumra of Spruce Pine, N.C., and Shara Salame Hernandez of Davie, Fla.; and six grandchildren.

Though known for his sense of humor, Mr. Selame was troubled by wars that roiled the world and once came up with the idea of combining the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religions into one.

“He even designed an emblem for it,’’ his brother said. “He went to priests, rabbis, and Muslim leaders and spoke to them about it, and generally got an answer he expected, that it never could happen.’’

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bmarquard@globe.com.