“Knotted Pencil” by Gene Federico

The “knotted pencil” was one of Gene Federico’s favorite graphic design creations from his eight year time spent working at IBM in the 1960s. Designed in 1962, it was unlike the work he was most known for, as this work does not contain any form of text or visual pun. It was meant to represent the idea that traditional pencils were being left behind in the new era of typewriters which IBM specialized in producing at the time and was also planned to be used as a symbol for IBM’s newly introduced Stretch computer. However this idea was frustratingly rejected by the higher-ups at IBM. But since that rejection, the ‘knotted pencil’ has shown up repeatedly in commercial advertising, further adding to Federico’s bitterness for its rejection. He unfortunately never did learn the true reason for why his work was rejected.

Despite never being officially published by IBM, it goes to show that Federico’s concepts were ahead of their time in some areas. Because this was a personal favorite of Federico’s, the rejection of this particular piece of design may have been one of the bigger factors in why he decided to leave IBM and start his own graphic design firm in the late 60s. The constant rejection of his ideas made him seek greater authority, and ultimately helped propel his career to new heights. Although this idea was sadly never realized, it could be argued that its existence was a very important catalyst for Federico’s future success. More importantly, it proves that sometimes one must fail before they can succeed.


Source: Heller, S. (1987, September 30). Gene Federico. Retrieved from https://www.aiga.org/medalist-genefederico/