Classic logos for Nasa, American Airlines, IBM and the Munich Olympics are among those celebrated in the new issue of Graphisme en France, a print and digital publication from Parisian institution Centre National des Arts Plastiques (CNAP). The design of the issue, created by Elsa Aupetit and Martin Plagnol of graphic design studio Kiösk, riffs on the aesthetic of corporate style guides, using a strong grid based system. This is offset by their use of a rather lovely typeface that balances legibility and a touch of playfulness, Programme, a seven-style suite of types from Berlin-based designers Julien Tavelli and David Keshavjee sold by Optimo, and credited to Maximage Société Suisse.
The rigid, technical feel of the publication itself provides the perfect backdrop for explorations of corporate logos and identities, tracing key moments in branding from right back to 1907 to the present day. According to Yves Robert, director of the CNAP, the mag aims to look at this “vast subject” from a number of angles, “providing a broad understanding of its origins and practices rather than an exhaustive study.”
For those who swoon at the sight of a standards manual, there’s plenty to pore over here. Just a few pages in and there’s a sketch showing the graphic construction of Shell’s 1970s corporate mark by Raymond Loewy, Saul Bass’ logos for AT&T and the Young Womens Christian Association and Lester Beall’s 1960 construction diagram for the International Paper mark.
There’s also a couple of unexpected connections: 15th century jousting apparel and coats of arms are compared to modern day usage of visuals as key part of a brand’s identity.
The discussion of modular or flexible identities created with digital platforms as a primary consideration also draws on historical references, presenting Helmo’s colourful 2016 typographic identity for Jazzdor alongside 16th century modular constructions of Gothic lettering.
As well as presenting images to illustrate key moments in graphics from the last 100 plus years, there are also essays from luminaries such as Paul Rand, in the form of a French translation of his 1991 essay on visual identity creation. Elsewhere, Vignelli Center for Design Studies director Roger R. Remington provides a text surveying the origins and evolution of visual identities in the USA, and designer Vivien Philizot looks at the history of logos through an examination of their impact on the wider visual environment.
There’s also advice for designers on how the best identities are created from Parisian designer Ruedi Baur, and Martin Lorenz discusses how the digital world has led to his creation of increasingly flexible visual systems.
For a relatively small booklet, Graphisme en France provides a brilliantly wide-ranging exploration of visual identities and their impact on the wider world, outside of the graphic design community that takes so much delight in their history. Refreshingly, it presents branding and logos in wider social and historical contexts as well as splashing the sure-fire crowd-pleasers of Nasa logos, Pentagram creations, and Nike sketches across its pages.