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Introduction to the trademarks of Italy, 1973
An introduction to Italian logos, written by Vittorio Gregotti and published in Top Symbols & Trademarks of the World Volume 5.
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The following is an introduction to Volume 5 of Top Symbols & Trademarks of the World written by Vittorio Gregotti and offering an insight into Italian graphic design in 1973. It’s illustrated with images taken from the Italian trademarks section of the book. If you enjoy articles like this, and would like to support the project, subscribe to Logo Histories.
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The "design" (in the dual sense of planning and form) of a trademark is in many ways - in the necessary economy of means that may be employed, in the rigorous limitation of the number of signs, in the necessity of being immediately recognizable on any scale - the most pure and difficult task in the graphic designer's profession.
The designer must deal with, on one hand the immense storehouse of signs that constitutes the explicit tradition of the trademark; and on the other, in order to confront the problem of the symbolic reduction of an activity, with the implicit tradition of the archetypical and magical signs alive in every social group. Taking all this into consideration, nothing summarizes the problems and concrete contradictions of the graphic designer's work in as radical a manner as does a collection of trademarks.
It seems to me that every aspect of graphic design, Italian or other, must have as its starting point the existence of a paradoxical situation. Advertising operations, and consequently the graphic design which summarizes its visual aspect (thus the most salient in terms of our civilization) were born as an industry of communication - intended as persuasion - and in the ultimate analysis as "fabrications of consciousness". In little more than one hundred years their autonomous and vast proliferation now not only constitutes what is paradoxically our most natural urban environment, but also serves as a source of experiences for each daily figurative procedure, even the most complex or refined. So that, to a highly significant degree these operations can be considered as a meeting ground between various levels of culture, and in both quantity and iteration, as powerful elements of interaction between these levels.
In recent years there is no doubt that, although the graphic image has enormously increased its capacity to furnish communications, the number of messages has greatly exceeded our quantitative capacity for reception. On the other hand, we must recognize that this same society that communicates essentially through images, also elaborates through and operates by means of other theoretical, methodological, ideological, political, etc. channels. In other words this increase corresponds to a stronger system of separate dependencies, and thus to a degeneration of the capacity to produce authentic messages. Stated more clearly, the increase in communications amplifies the already substantial detachment of ends from means, emphasizing the contradiction between production and consumption, development and progress; bringing with it a substantial reduction in the penetrational capacity of graphic design communications.
It occurs to me that following this reasoning I have moved toward a point of view completely intrinsic to the formation of graphic work, toward the process of visual planning which summarizes, at least for my interests, the manner in which the graphic designer operates. Pursuing this course, still extremely general but which makes it possible to fix a particular perspective, it seems to me that one can point out a series of difficulties that the graphic designer has in common with all designers who approach the problem of creative planning.
These problems take the form of questions concerning the consumption and eventual destination of the product, or of recognizing and maintaining the appropriate place occupied by the product in the formation process. The designer must also recognize the necessity of acquiring - and the resultant determining force of - techniques both specific and lateral to the graphic deign operation, and the consequent interdisciplinary problems. However, all this must be considered together with the substantial difficulty of correctly using the figurative material of visual communications. Thus these problems correspond to the relationship between function and meaning: between establishing a general and specific methodology of planning and the planning operation itself, whether as a proposed theme or as the different means of realizing this theme (from posters to pamphlets, from newspaper imagination to pages of advertisements). These are the questions confronting every designer, even aside from the basic ethical considerations: on the meaningful function of his work; on its placement in the hierarchy of needs; on the continual, substantial compromise of the work as "merchandise", in contradiction with the attempts to avoid the condition of being merchandise. Lastly, there is the problem of the inevitable encounter with the historical stages of the discipline; the awareness of being part of a tradition which in the past has offered a series of solutions to different problems, in materials which we reshape in order to move ahead. The lack of an organic, historic treatment of Italian graphic design to which one could refer (until now the great quantity of published material has been organized according to the criteria of a "collection" or "annual" ) is particularly evident when one wants to verify certain morphological threads, the cultural traditions behind the qualities and limits of current Italian graphic design.
Between the two wars, the encounter of Italian graphic designers' culture with the international avantguard (which founded transformational principles in the area of graphics: in one sense based on linguistic renewal - renewal of the means of constructing an image, through the use of collage and of typographic and graphic methods as iconic signs; in another sense using the rationalization of method to move the phenomenon of graphics from the applied arts closer to design) centered around three main graphic experiences: that of Edoardo Persico and the magazine Casabella, the vast information and examples furnished by Campografico with Attilio Rossi, and the work of the School of Applied Art at Monza under the direction of Marcello Nizzoli. Later there was the decisive movement to spread the Bauhaus interpretation of graphic design, motivated by Xanti Schawinsky's presence in ltaly and by the work of Antonio Boggeri's studio.
But it must be remembered that these international experiences permeated a cultural terrain which was anything but vacant: the graphic experiences of Futurism and pages of Lacerba were already forcefully present. And after 1919 they were opposed by the twentieth century movement, a proposition both archeological and rational, metaphysical and antiromantic. This movement tended toward the solidification and simplification of graphic procedures, and to researching its national roots through a process of development highly complex in its ideological uncertainties and political compromises. Neither should the presence of a group like Strapaese be forgotten, with Maccari and Longanesi's magazine Il selvaggio. Their reexamination of the whole popular Central Italian tradition (despite their nationalism, they were also inspired by English and American nineteenth century graphic design, its greatly reactionary point of view notwithstanding, constitutes a focus of research which persists even now in the discussion and work of Italian graphic designers. This research is composed of a complex network of reciprocal involvements and internal developments in which many essential roots of modern Italian graphic culture are submerged, sill a long way from being clarified.
The discourse on Italian graphic design becomes more precise after 1945, at least in a quotidian level. It was in these years that the Italian culture and customs furiously ran through a series of modernizations. This was on a scale that by now has affected much more than just the elites; for the most part retreading European cultural experiences that had been already "consummated", but with a new impulse toward the radical restructuring of relationships.
There was the rediscovery of abstract art - or rather concrete art as it was called in these years - as a fundamental matrix of figurative material at the designer's disposition, and of all the related formal and methodological connections, according to Max Bill's interpretation of the Bauhaus experiences. There was a climate that seemed to create a precise subdivision between those who worked within the sphere of contemporary experience and those who, on the contrary, not only refused this experience but also ignored it. Another important theme of these years can be summarized with the term "Polvechnic", which promoted revival of the connection between the cultural avantguard and the revolution, which were divided in the Soviet Union after the 1920's. There was also the group of graphic designers who came out of the Resistance with particular political and ideological commitments: the years of the red and the black, of attempts to rejoin the constructivist avantguard; graphic design as a public service, and the consequent attention to the more minute elements, like the advertising pamphlet or catalogue, in the work of graphic designers like Muratore, Steiner, Veronesi and others. Apparent in the work of all these designers is the artisan's noble sense of the profession, of the proper relationship between ends and means, of the functional, anti-decorative quality of graphic expression.
Even the graphic designers nearest to descriptive and naturalistic tradition (who in particular hold the monopoly on advertising posters), thus tied to the pictorial origin of the 'genre’ - which by now is degenerated to the level of the most vulgarly palatable effects - are in some way influenced by the attempts at raising the quality of the design; to the point of producing, as did for example Armando Testa, works of notable expressive capacity. Motivated by the expanding production of the years between 1950 and 1960, Italian graphic design is undergoing a process of professional development confronting it with new methodological problems, and with a consequent rigidity in terms of the market. In fact, while the demand multiplies, the concept of the advertising campaign little by little becomes more dearly a complex of actions coordinated toward the goal of communication, of which graphic design is one of the "moments".
An ingenious intuition at the designer's table is no longer sufficient to deal with an ever-more differentiated demand. Following the example of North America, the whole advertising technique has been reformulated into a new and different organization, the advertising agency. In accordance with the laws of capitalist concentration, produced work of relatively low quality, covering clearly underdeveloped areas; however in a few years it has improved the quality of its own products, guaranteeing at the same time the possibility of efficient coverage of the whole gamut of the advertising campaign. The product of its work is often available indiscriminately on the cultural plane, thus indifferent to the problem of maintaining meaningful connections between the specific work and the culture to which it refers: the difference between the two entities dangerously lessens with the passage of time.
It is true that in these years the majority of the advertising agencies has lived on material and experiences collected from qualified designers of preceding years: to such an extent that there is a continuous attempt to absorb the most qualified personnel, to arrange their personnel in more articulate organizations, and finally to achieve greater diffusion of the firm's image in all sectors. This last is a problem of comprehensive recognition of the diverse visual aspects of the firm's activities - through utilization of the principles of systemmatic graphic design, of coordinated planning, of the insertion of graphic design itself into a more general semiological system of mass communication. Thus there is certainly a common interest felt and even applied in more fully and meaningfully coordinating all the operations related to graphic design as the planning of visual communication; there is the awareness of a more systematic notion of planning; the preoccupation with achieving a more precise link with other sectors of creative planning; and the sense of the larger responsibility of those who participate in constructing the image of the urban landscape, a sense of the less irrational relationship between the informative role of the advertising message as a service of the society, and its destiny as a prime incentive of merchandising.
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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.