Enter the 1950s. War had ripped across Europe only five years earlier, leaving both people and places still reeling from its irreparable wounds. In the immediate aftermath of this global disaster, the murmurings of change had begun, and the first buds of capitalism and mass advertising began to bloom. In this new decade – these murmurings would grow, gather momentum, and turn to loud callings for something new, a rejection of the old and bringing in the modern.
In the 1940s, Paul Rand started to script a new language for modern advertising. Through his work, Rand helped companies distil their brand identity into an ultra-simple, visual logo, using distinct typography that would become synonymous with the company name. Think IBM, Ford, and UPS.
Now in the 1950s, this visual identity would be pushed even further. This decade would see modernism firmly take its place within the era’s advertising campaigns. It was a style of art and design rejecting everything else that has come before. Here experimentation was king, trialling and testing, pushing boundaries of form and technique. And the aim? Form ever follows function. A maxim originally coined by American architect Louis Sullivan, expressing how seeking functionality over beauty is the driving force behind the modernist movement and its aesthetic genes.
So how did all this talk of modernism play out within the graphic design of the 1950s? The seismic shift was towards a universal, visual language and no-fuss. Simple forms, clean compositions, and primary colours. The overuse of typography found in the previous decade fell away, and where text was used the typeface was uncomplicated. Sans serif fonts became widely circulated, across everything from highway billboards to record sleeves.
Themes of curvature and strict geometry were also being championed by other artists, away from the world of graphic design. Modernist giants such as Alvar Aalto – a Finnish designer and architect – revolutionised furniture design by rejecting previous patterns and rethinking the ergonomics of simple domestic items such as the chair, or the glass vase. By introducing sinuous curves in his work, Aalto brought grandiose modernist thinking into the everyday. Building the foundations for what today we’d call ‘Scandi design’, Aalto married function with comfort, put beauty in the machine made and showed how modernism didn’t have to be cold or aloof, but rather inclusive and available to a much broader range of people that art might previously have been.
Today, when we think about brands that articulate their identity with a modernist aesthetic, there is of course a whole host from which to choose. But to us here at Glorious, it feels like those who do it best are able to do it with both style and substance.
Take Spotify. One of the best-known logos of the digital era, it features a series of three curved white lines in a green circle – the curved lines representing sound waves or connectivity, while the circle, a universal sign of community and inclusion, all values that Spotify holds dear. Just as we’d expect from a modernist visual identity, the brand name is expressed in a custom version of the Gotham font, a simple sans-serif font with lots of straight lines and easy legibility.
Spotify is itself Scandinavian, launched in Stockholm, Sweden, by Martin Lorentzon and Daniel Ek, and so descendants of Alvar Aalto’s clean composition and simple graphic design are evident throughout visual branding. In 2019, the brand launched its ‘Music for Every Mood’ campaign. Splattered across subways and highways, this bold marketing campaign featured a humorous series of adverts that brought the modern ‘meme’ concept into mainstream advertising. Scribed in the quintessential modernist font, posters read ‘You: I want to give them the hint and not be subtle about it.’. And then the subsequent rhetoric, ‘Spotify: Wedding Bells,’ playlist. It’s tongue-in-cheek and clever modern marketing that pushes the boundaries and embraces new modes and methods, just like the modernists of the 50s.
Later Spotify campaigns include the end-of-year #Wrapped advertising which allowed its users to see a summary of their year in music streams. This multichannel campaign highlighted the individuality of the platform and championed artists who had received exponential listening numbers and thanked them for soundtracking a year filled with lockdowns and restrictions. The design assets were typically modernist, written in the brand’s signature sans-serif fonts and plastered in simple, bold, and contrasting colours. And as a result, #2020Wrapped increased the Spotify mobile app downloads by 21% in the first week of December 2020 and helped drive audience growth up by 29% from a year earlier.
Another brand with its roots firmly in the 50s modernist era is the practical streetwear brand, Carhartt. Founded all the way back in 1889 America, Carhartt began its life by clothing railroad workers, farmers, and other labourers. Today, it’s loved by everyone from skateboarders to influencers, represented by a brand identity that encapsulates the modernist movement of inclusivity and progress.
The Carhartt brand logo is a wave-like shape, revealing a white crescent within the rounded yellow symbol. Its curving sinuous lines are typically 50s modernism, evoking a sense of growth, evolution, and movement. Underneath sits a wordmark in lowercase letters in a simple structured typeface; modern, bold, and brave. All this visual branding is reflective of the brand’s core values; steadfast principles that have been synonymous with the brand since its inception in the late 1800s. Those of quality, functional, and purposeful fashion.
In some of its most recent marketing campaigns, Carhartt has drawn on its history and shown how it has always belonged to a modernist way of thinking. Campaign taglines such as ‘Making it happen since 1889’ and advertising scripts that include lines like ‘We don’t just live in this world, we gather, we hunt it, and we take it apart and we build it for the better,’ reflect the brand’s dedication to the ingenuity and the inescapable modernist idea of reinvention and advancement.
Here at Glorious, one of Manchester’s leading branding agencies, we have been responsible for bringing modernist graphic design into the visual brand identity of many of our clients. One of those clients is the UK’s leading telephone answering provider, alldayPA.
In recent years alldayPA business has moved into the corporate space, widening and strengthening its service offering. Generating new business and increasing brand awareness had previously been the role of digital marketing channels such as SEO and PPC, yet there had been little investment in the way of brand-building. So when their team approached us looking for exactly that, we began the project with extensive research into the market, analysing the competitive landscape and market needs.
What we uncovered was that the sector was primed for a progressive and forward-thinking operator, and well, a disruptive modernist market leader. alldayPA needed to bring their core values of ‘believing in small businesses,’ and ‘believing in real people,’ into the foreground. From local tradesmen to blue-chip companies, and household names, Glorious repositioned alldayPA – redefining brand attributes and values, and evolving a single-minded proposition that would resonate with any one of those audiences.
Once we had defined that the purpose of alldayPA is to support businesses and give them time to focus on what really matters, the proposition became apparent: ‘We create… time – alldayPA gives you the only thing money can’t buy.’, read the new strapline. A strong brand personality was expressed through a new visual language and reimagined tone of voice. The Glorious design team created a brand that is approachable and unassuming; it educates without being patronising; balances size, experience and expertise with familial outlook and values.
The new brand assets feature a sans-serif typography, typical of that of the 50s modernist movement, set in a solid pink hue. The imagery was fun and playful, with messaging that pulled not on the product alone, but rather on the potential that the product permits. ‘Golf day,’ one advert might read, and the next ‘anyone for tennis,’ bold, inviting text layered onto images that played in the ellipsis found in the brand’s own logo using golf and tennis balls. The advertising campaign implied the gift of time, with calls taken care of, alldayPA clients have more time to do what they really love. Inventive, smart, and revolutionary, all key modes of thinking when it comes to executing a modernist brand identity.
So, if all that talk of outside-of-the-box thinking has left you ready to take on a modernist movement of your own, then here are our top five tips for branding 50s style:
Being inventive is a core part of modernism in branding and advertising, and so you need to adopt this mode of thinking whilst considering your new creative direction. Begin without restrictions and don’t be afraid to explore, try and test; experimenting is essential when it comes to 50s-style branding.
Geometry plays a huge part in modernism creative styles, and it’s not all exclusively circles and rounded curves either. From angular corners to sinuous lines, putting shapes into your modernist campaigns will certainly deliver the edge…
Remember, function is important too. So, whilst your designs should be experimental and avoid being obvious – there should be plenty of hidden meaning there too, rather than plonking shapes any old way and expecting the viewer to understand your intent.
Colour pallets used in modernist branding should be bold and strong yet one-dimensional. You don’t want a confusing colour pallet to interrupt the impact of your cleverly thought-out campaign.
Modernism doesn’t follow trends or fads, it’s revolutionary but it’s timeless too. So, when planning your next big modernist campaign – make sure to navigate away from cliches such as saturated hashtags and overused millennial jargon!
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