Patryk Hardziej explores a modernist approach to corporate design in Communist Poland
CPN: Logo, Identity, History charts the pioneering visual identity and branding of Communist Poland’s only network of petrol stations.
- Charlie Filmer-Court
- 13 January 2020
You could be forgiven for not knowing much about the Centrala Produktów Naftowych (CPN), however Poland’s only network of petrol stations during the Communist period was responsible for a surprisingly forward thinking and modernist approach to visual identity and design.
Patryk Hardziej’s new book, CPN: Logo, Identity, History, provides a reprint of the company’s original visual identity as well as an in-depth commentary that explains the work and its importance in Polish design history.
Having had an interest in the roots of graphic design in Poland while at University, Patryk researched and acquainted himself with many of the old masters of modernist design from the 60s and 70s – including Ryszard Bojar, Stefan Solik and Jerzy Słowikowski, who designed a CPN logo in that era. His expertise in the subject led to a project called the “Polish Exhibition of Graphic Marks,” which resulted in a chance meeting that would inspire his latest book.
“During the exhibition of Polish graphic marks, I met Ryszard Bojar, one of the co-designers of the CPN graphic mark. He was one of the pioneers of the systemic approach to visual identity design in East-Central Europe,” says Patryk. “In the past, single graphic marks were usually designed. Bojar changed it, CPN was a manifestation of the modernist approach to corporate image design in Poland.”
It was not just this new approach to design that made CPN so unique in its thinking. “CPN was remarkable on several levels. First of all, as I have already mentioned, for the first time, there was a brand book and systemic design. Secondly, branding took the designers over 35 years of uninterrupted work,” explains Patryk.
“In 1965, they were commissioned to design and develop a new fuel distributor. After designing a modern shape, the old graphic mark designed in 1945 did not fit the device. They decided to redesign the symbol in such a way so that it was modernist, was structured, and you would need as little paint as possible to reproduce it. Therefore, one of the letters uses negative space. The distributor did not enter mass production, but the logo was so popular that the company started to rebrand itself with it.”
Bearing in mind the political landscape in Poland at the time, this approach to design was extremely rare. Much of this fresh thinking was brought by lead industrial designer, Ryszard Bojar. “As a student, he was sent by his lecturer, Professor Jerzy Soltan (a colleague of Le Corbusier) on a UNESCO scholarship programme to the USA. He studied at the Illinois Institute of Technology School of Design under the supervision of Jay Doblin (Unimark International), and later Bucky Fuller,” explains Patryk, who also runs Hardziej Studio in Gdynia.
The book itself explains and demonstrates the design of everything from the main logos down to the petrol canisters, going into great detail on each component. Noting that the company has not been around for decades, locating such in-depth the material for reference and usage in the book was no simple task: “Digging up the sources was not an easy feat. Fortunately, Ryszard Bojar has quite an archive in his basement. We managed to archive almost 60 years of projects, and they were the basis for the book,” says Patryk. “The company’s brand book was unique. It was created in the late 1960s and was developed throughout the years. It was the first book of this kind in Poland. After Bojar’s death in 2017, his daughter Joanna Bojar-Antoniuk was helping me with finding new materials.”
Despite having such a fascination with historical design, Patryk does not feel that the quality of large-scale corporate branding has reduced, although he does reminisce over some aspects. “I think that if we look at the great branding and logo coverages of the modernist era, we may get this impression. But times have changed, so branding itself is just one of the communication tools, not its basis,” he says.
“The Internet and technological possibilities, which are basically unlimited, have reformulated everything. Although I do understand the changes taking place nowadays, I miss the monumentality and meticulousness of the old graphic design.”
GalleryPatryk Hardziej: CPN: Logo, Identity, History
Patryk Hardziej: CPN: Logo, Identity, History
About the Author
Charlie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in December 2019. He has previously worked at Monocle 24, and The Times following an MA in International Journalism at City University. If you have any ideas for stories and work to be featured then get in touch.