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Introduction: Great Britain and Ireland, 1973
An introduction to British logos, written by Colin Forbes and published in Top Symbols & Trademarks of the World Volume 4.
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The following is an introduction to Volume 4 of Top Symbols & Trademarks of the World written by Colin Forbes and offering an insight into British logo design in 1973. It’s illustrated with images from three sections of the book, Great Britain, Belgium and Netherlands. If you enjoy articles like this, and would like to support the project, subscribe to Logo Histories.
The trademark has a special place in graphic design in that it is a visual shorthand; the imagery is a synthesis of complex ideas, yet however simple the eventual mark it will have overtones and connotations not necessarily conceived by the designer. In addition, simplicity is also dictated by the means of reproduction in various media, forms and sizes. Its function is apparently simple: "to uniquely identify an organization, product ot activity". The increasing number of marks designed each year means that designers are constantly searching for new ideas to fulfil the same criteria.
Trademarks are a common language recognized and understood by most people. If one were trying to explain the work of a graphic designer to a person outside the field of design, having said first that it is not advertising, at least the trademark would be comprehensible to him rather than the more intangible implication of a ‘corporate identity programme’.
A further example of this is that of the financial journalist who, writing about the merger of two organizations will invariably use their trademarks as illustrations to immediately represent those organizations.
The design of trademarks in Britain over the last twenty-five years is a mirror of the change in graphic design generally, which in itself reflects the establishment of a generation in the society. The editors of this book, choosing internationally known work from an exterior point of view, have independently illustrated these events. England was affected socially by the war as much as any other country in Europe, but the changes seem to have taken longer to show any effect and did not immediately become noticeable until the early sixties. This is evident also in respect to trademarks: in 1949 the Central Office of Information ran a competition to design a symbol for the 1951 Festival of Britain. The designers chosen were Tom Eckersley, Abraham Games, Milner Gray, Ashley Havinden, F.H.K. Henrion and Hans Schleger. If a similar competition had been held in 1959 the same six names would have been included on the list. This statement is not meant to imply favouritism or nepotism - it is made only to show that the designers who had established themselves before or during the war remained the only nationally or internationally known British graphic designers until the early sixties. In the sixties the design scene changed rapidly as did many other activities in England. For example, the Beatles' arrival in pop music, John Osborne as playwright, Stirling and Gowan as architects, and nearer to design, names such as Dick Smith, David Hockney and Peter Blake were all part of the same generation.
The graphic design created was a mixture of two major influences: the Bauhans/Swiss influence through the London art schools, and the arrival of American designers who came to London at the time of these changes.
In the development of my own work, two events particularly illustrate these influences. The first was being a student of Jesse Collins who had established the first graphic design department in England which was a rebellion against the old arts and crafts movement. During the ten years that he ran the Graphic Design Department at the Central School of Art and Design, he gathered at various times all of the most talented designers as visiting lecturers.
The first group of students went on to staff a number of other London schools, and this small movement gradually snowballed to the extent that the majority of graphic designers trained in London in the following ten years were at least indirectly influenced by Jesse Collins. The names of designers from the Central School will appear consistently throughout the book: Kenneth Hollick, Peter Wildbur, Peter Kitley, George Daulby and myself and my partners, Alan Fletcher and Mervyn Kurlansky.
The second event was in 1960 when Bob Gill came to London from New York followed by Robert Brownjohn, Lou Klein and many others. These three in particular were already successful and well-known in New York before arriving in London. They brought with them another ethic, ‘problem solving: there is an infinite variety of solutions to every problem; every solution should come from the problem itself; the design should communicate the idea with the minimum graphic means. They were interested in communicating ideas rather than in abstract design.
The British designers trained in formal design terms with considerable skills and disciplines were often frustrated by the approach that ended in abstract symbols and neat ranged left sans serif typography. The problem solving idea was itself the solution in that they used images that did not look consciously ‘designed’ but were powerful messages. This was the beginning of a new movement in which a relatively small number of American seeds fell on very fertile ground.
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Extra Issue – Unlocking opinion and insights from the past.
About Logo Histories’ Extra Issue
Logo Histories' Extra Issue unlocks opinion and insights lost to time, buried within the pages of rare out-of-print design books and magazines. Through this series, you'll come to understand the challenges and opportunities corporate identity designers of the past faced to help you better understand design practice of the present. For Logo Histories, click here.