The world looked much different in 1957 from the way it does now. The National Geographic Magazine had the same cover design that it had used for decades. Pan American Airways was the major U.S. international air carrier, its fleet painted with a primitive logo, simply letterspacing its initials. Eastman Kodak's product design bore traces of industrial styling called streamlining, and had begun to identify its national advertising with a turned-up page bottom revealing the well-known Kodak logo in its trademark red against a similarly trademarked yellow background.
I began this project by working two days a week in an old factory building on Windsor Street in Cambridge where Polaroid housed its advertising and sales department. I spent those days in meetings and creating an art department, as well as developing a system to coordinate print production. On the other days I worked out of our two-bedroom apartment in Harvard Square at an old drawing table and less than $100 worth of supplies and equipment.
This is what we were up against -- the saturation of Eastman Kodak yellow in the worldwide photographic marketplace, no place more obvious than in the U.S.A.
Earlier, Polaroid management had engaged the services of a design firm which created its packaging for point-of-purchase in a shade of gray that was immediately swallowed up Kodak yellow. Rumor had it that the M.I.T. school colors of gray and red were chosen to gain former M.I.T. student Edwin Land's approval.
At a time when Polaroid as a brand name had no connection with photography and many could not correctly pronounce the product name, insisting on calling it Poyl-a-rode, the type face chosen made very little sense because of the slight distinction between "o" and "a."
My typographic mark for Polaroid, 1958.
The type face is the American Type Founders version of
News Gothic, designed by Morris Fuller Benton.
One of the first projects was to design signage that would relate to the product image at point-of-purchase. It was not a simple task to find fabricators willing to work in a simple style. They sold the same products to breweries and liked to add cascading waterfalls.
My first hardware packaging were set-up boxes. It was 1958 and box runs were few and in small quantities.
The black end-panel of this packaging gained us an edge on Eastman yellow. It caught on years later when other photographic products began to be packaged this way. When I did it, I ran into opposition from some of the middle managers who parroted Ernst Dichter, the motivational guru of the time, who said that black was a morbid color. Dichter was also credited with advising Ford Motor with its introduction of the Edsel. But that's another movie and I digress.
The entire photographic line of products which I designed in 1958 at that $10 drawing table in Harvard Square.
I did this when Polaroid introduced the first of its electic eye camera models. It was my first use of Helvetica, then called Neue Haas Grotesque. I had found it in Switzerland in 1959 so the year was 1960 or later.
1962. My favorite design for product identity. It was so popular in Europe that it became almost generic for sunglass graphics.
1968. Polaroid Colorpack film, the first instant color film to be introduced into the photographic marketplace. The silhouette illustration identifies which model of Colorpack camera it is. Print reproduction was poor because there was no budget for higher quality board, so the silhouette technique seemed to be the perfect solution.
The silhouette technique was also used in newspaper advertising where photo reproduction was nowhere as good as it is today.
The technique was also used for large display panels in exhibits.
By 1960 I had completed my 18-month hitch of creating an art department and shepherding production at Polaroid in Cambridge. I moved my wife and baby daughter with me to Cape Cod where I built a proper workshop, as shown here, on the footprint of a two-car garage, measuring only 480 square feet, which included a photographic darkroom as well. I created from scratch hundreds of Polaroid designs here, with occasional help from part-time assistants
who learned the basics of graphic design by show and tell, common sense, and osmosis.
By 1966 I had created this entire line of Polaroid photographic products.
The dummy packages were constructed from burnished sheets of pressure-sensitive color film over negative photostats cemented to blank packages supplied by the box printer.
By 1973, management decided to introduce a square format film to sell for less than the rectangular format that had done so well so far. Economy became a factor to be reckoned with as a recession curtailed consumer spending.
By that time Polaroid had begun to sell in great quantities in the big box stores, as they began to be called. It was a very rewarding challenge to design the packaging to be used as traffic builders in a form of paper sculpture in stacks. Many in the sales department objected to the less than over-size use of type to identify the product but it's my opinion that design sold the product. Sales managers like to write all over product packaging, which is why -- with the exception of Apple products -- the marketplace is inundated with visual pollution today.
How this particular product identity works when stacked.
Type 105 film introduced a usable negative, hence the reversed type on the hardware package.
My designs for the introduction of SX-70 film, 1972.
My design for accessory kit for the SX-70, created in the same time frame.
1974. My designs for more in the same SX-70 family of camera, film, and accessory boxes.
1975. More product Identity for stacks of my first Pronto! family.
1976. Dummies of Pronto! RF family of cameras with rangefinders.
Somewhere around the same time I had fun with what was a frustrating challenge.
These camera models used both rectangular as well as square format film.
Meanwhile, back at the workshop, I began creating dummies by setting my own type and then transferring designs and type to package dummies using Dupont Cromalin proofing material. These dummies were so sharp that Polaroid used them for product photography thereby saving weeks of lead time by not having to wait for press proofs, which were never as sharp.
This is an example of the output I could get. The kit dummy sits on top of my drawing table. To the left of it is part of the mechanical which, once approved, will be sent off to the box printer.
1977. This is the printed piece and the sales department did get to write all over the box.
1977. My final project. Package design and product identity for the ill-fated Polavision line of instant movie film.