Enter the 1930s. With the hedonism of the 1920s building to its grand crescendo, next came the crash. The Great Depression would loom over this decade, casting its sombre shadow over much of the period’s art and design – and bringing with it tension and turmoil, what would turn to be the murmurings of another world war.
Slipping away from the curvature and symbolism found in the previous epoch, here was command and statement. The artistic expression faded from branding and design, replaced by poster advertising that left no room for individual interpretation. Text and wording became a huge part of how both brands and governments communicated with their audience. Typography was capitalised and domineering, emboldened and italicised, stressing each word and message.
The tone of voice would change too. The consumer was no longer being invited for the pleasure of something but rather addressed personally and told to buy, not just for their own benefit but for the bettering of the nation. Here was a political, national agenda beginning to permeate through advertising design. Coined ‘graphic agitation’, this visual language became an inescapable part of consumerism in the 1930s. Everyone was to play their part, to follow the rules – the contribute, to crusade, to count.
Yet, it wasn’t all bad. The 1930s also saw a pivotal shift in technology, where modern amenities became more accessible and affordable. Revolutionary feats of engineering were invented and manufactured, including the automobile, and the telephone. And electricity became widely circulated through many more homes in Britain.
The lives of ordinary people were being radically transformed, and the art and design of the time began to reflect that. Alongside the bold text of adverts. illustrators used graphics that emphasised the supremacy of technology, speed, and industry. Their work showed scale and movement, with 3D-style gradients and textures making posters feel immersive, even looming, and larger than life. As though the subject matter was almost invasive, its visual representation as demanding as its written message.
For today’s brands, this style of omnipotent design direction still has its place. Take Nike and their ‘Kiss My Airs’ campaign launched back in 2017 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of one of their most influential and successful trainers, Air Max.
The idea was to create a campaign content that reflected the soul (or rather, sole) of the shoes, that being fierce anarchism and the unconventional. The clever tagline ‘Kiss My Airs’ represents an unapologetic middle finger to the so-called ‘system’ and is written in large, italicised text, followed by a smaller subtext ‘The revolution never ends’. It’s big and it’s bold, and just like 1930s ad campaigns, there is no hidden message – just clarity and command.
The deployment of Nike’s ‘Kiss My Airs’ campaign is quintessentially 30s too. Strewn across iconic New York landmarks, plastered on LA highways and London’s Piccadilly Circus screens, it’s omnipresent, imposing, a deliberate interference. And it’s either coincidence or cleverness that 30 years of Air Max is portrayed in 1930s design and direction.
Having always been aligned with the political and official sentiment, the style of 1930s graphic design has also moulded modern-day presidential campaigns. In 2008, the then-Senator Barack Obama had his face emblazoned onto posters by the street artist, graphic designer, and activist Shepard Fairey. And what started on lampposts and billboards would then become a marching banner, a single, signature image which would follow him all the way to the Whitehouse.
What Fairey did was quintessential 30s. Taking an existing portrait of Obama, he transformed the image with a high-contrast stencil technique, admittedly inspired by the political, bold graphics of Soviet Socialist Realism. And beneath the dynamic, almost 3D illustration reads one word, ‘Hope’. It’s an unforgettable message, its power in the simplicity and universality, a togetherness that makes the reader not just included and important but accountable and responsible. If you want hope, vote. In fact, so influential was the image, that the New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl deemed it ‘the most efficacious American political illustration since ‘Uncle Sam Wants You.’
Here at Glorious, we’ve been responsible for delivering several campaigns that demand attention with the same vigour as those of the 1930s. One of the more poignant projects though was a suicide prevention campaign delivered for Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership.
Each year over 200 people take their own life across Greater Manchester: men, women, parents, children, friends, and colleagues. From the outset, our design team understood that sensitivity and compassion would always be at the heart of the project. We began with a series of invaluable and truly humbling focus groups, held with people from the most at-risk groups, presenting a range of creative directions for discussion.
An amalgamation of research, insight and ideas, the final campaign proposition was settled, ‘Shining a Light on Suicide’. We understood that as well as highlighting the subject, our design direction needed to be bold and direct conveying a sense of positivity and inclusion that we all have a part to play in suicide prevention.
Following the design style typified by the 1930s posters, the typography used was simple, clear, and weighty – just like the importance of the campaign message. Encased within a circular spotlight illustration, the text was then projected and superimposed onto landmarks across Greater Manchester. Echoing the delivery style of the era, we understood that this message, although way more significant than any political agenda, needed to be received by the public in the same unmissable manner. Where the message couldn’t not be noticed, understood, or actioned. And the result? The ‘Shining a Light on Suicide’ campaign outperformed any other launched by the authority on social media, whilst also being the one delivered on the smallest budget.
WorkInc too were another brand in search of some 1930s aesthetic. A dynamic, ambitious new co-working venture, from established Leeds-based property business Parklane Group, with a brief to create a distinctive and forward-thinking brand that differentiated them in the highly competitive market.
Following a review of established businesses already offering co-working desk space, our team gained a more comprehensive understanding of what companies, from start-ups to corporates, are looking for when it comes to a collaborative workspace. From here, we set about creating a brand that would resonate in a more meaningful manner with the target audience; the idea being to highlight co-working communities, rather than swanky desk banks and meeting rooms alone. This way, we were able to place Workinc at the forefront of the modern co-working ethos; one that’s redefining how businesses are choosing to work.
Visually, we brought the concept to life with the striking style of typical 30s typography. It’s bold, confident, and unapologetic in its tone, clearly asserting the advantages and benefits of working in a collaborative, stimulating, and rewarding environment. Statements like ‘COMMUNITY over AGENDAS’ and ‘PEOPLE over PERSONALITIES’ and ‘DOING over SAYING’ were all part of the strong and certain lexis chosen to represent the advertising campaign. Scattered across the billboards of London’s east end, in an unmissable shade of yellow, the creative demanded attention, rather than asked for it. Just as you’ve likely come to expect from a 1930s visual.
So, if all this talk of instruction and disruption has left you feeling like your brand has got something to say – then follow our top five tips on mirroring the magnitude of 1930s branding and visual design.
Text must be the focus so think carefully about word choice. Give the message impact and directness, one that’s so certain and definitive, that it’s memorable. Remember, these adverse left no room for misinterpretation and so neither should yours.
Graphic design and illustration ought to be dynamic, almost 3D. These visuals need to feel as though they are approaching the audience, looming larger than life, as opposed to being flat on the page.
When deciding on the typography style, consider again how to best lift the text from the page. Capitalisation yes, but also a high contrast of colours and textures to give a message movement akin to that of the era’s preoccupation with speed, technology, and industrial progress.
Perhaps more so than any other epoch we’ve discussed in the series so far, here campaign placement is an essential consideration. The epitome of the design style is interruption, disruption, and announcement, so thinking about where campaign assets are deployed is crucial if they are to effectively carry off this kind of message. Think big impact, high footfall, and plenty of visibility.
Colour-wise there needs to be a directness in your pallet. The subtleness of pastels and lighter shades simply won’t wash, and instead, it requires backgrounds of solid, bold colours, and darker, thick-lined text. Think officialness, statement and presidential campaign conviction.
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