Introducing Polaroid Originals, a new brand which launches today in tandem with the 80th anniversary of Polaroid. “Polaroid hasn’t had a rebrand – they’re still very much around,” explains Polaroid’s creative director Danny Pemberton. “Polaroid Originals, on the other hand, is a completely new brand, built by members of the Impossible Project, completely dedicated to analogue instant photography.”
The brand is set to launch a new analogue instant camera — the Polaroid OneStep 2 — and a new range of original format instant film in colour and black and white. We caught up with Danny Pemberton to find out more.
First things first: 80 years after the launch of the brand, what’s new for 2017?
In a word, everything! Polaroid Originals has been built from the ground up, although almost every aspect of the identity is directly inspired by several iconic eras of the Polaroid brand. The visual history of Polaroid is incredibly rich, and the work that was done in the 1960s and 70s in particular was years ahead of its time. People often compare Polaroid to “the Apple of its day”, and it’s completely true. Not only was Polaroid a technological groundbreaker, it also made a massive contribution to visual culture, through photography, art, and design.
So, the rather daunting challenge for us has been to do this legacy justice while creating something new and, well, original in its own right.
Can you tell us about the decisions and process behind Polaroid Originals’ new identity?
Polaroid’s history spans 80 years, and there have been many different versions of the visual identity over that time. The design team realised pretty early on that if we were going to have a hope of doing this project justice, we needed to be as well-informed as possible, which is why we spent so much time on research.
We hear you dug deep into the Polaroid archives on a hunt for old ads… Can you tell us more about that?
That’s right! Myself and another team member were lucky enough to travel to Boston earlier this year and spend a few days digging through Harvard’s Baker Archive. There’s a wonderful team there, and they’ve got something like 4,000 linear feet of Polaroid’s corporate material from the early days right up to 2006. It’s a complete treasure trove, containing R&D records, marketing materials, packaging, and much more. Our goal was to gather as much visual material as possible, and this was our departure point for Polaroid Originals. Throughout the redesign, we have constantly referred back to this material.
I’d like to make a special mention to Paul Giambarba in connection to the archival material. Paul is the art director who was responsible, among many other wonderful things, for introducing the colour stripes to Polaroid’s visual identity in the 1960s. His thinking around “product identity systems” is wonderful, and can be seen in how he took a common brand element, like the rainbow, and treated it differently depending on the product line it was intended for. The result was a graphic system that was broad enough to cover a really wide range of products, with the flexibility to let you know exactly which type of product you were looking at.
The two-tone camera illustration style is another nod to Giambarba’s work. We created these camera illustrations using vector tools, but because they felt a little cold compared to the originals, we ended up re-drawing them by hand. The result is that our illustrations have a kind of warmth (not unlike Polaroid pictures).
The typeface was obviously a big decision, and the Archive was instructive here, too. Giambarba had originally chosen News Gothic because it was, “the only decent sans-serif face available at the time”. It’s a classic, and we spent a lot of time considering a return to News or something similar, but it just never felt quite right. We were eventually drawn more toward Polaroid’s typography of the 1980s, which was when the brand made a big shift toward Helvetica, and went from all-caps to a more International Style of type. Helvetica was not exactly an original decision, but some of the typographic applications from the 1980s that we uncovered at the Archive were wonderful, inventive and playful.
However, the visual landscape has changed a lot since then, and it didn’t feel right to return to Helvetica, either. When we came across FF Real (2015), it was clear that this was the typeface we’d been searching for. It’s a wonderful grotesk by Erik Spiekermann, which is full of charming little details, like the old-school double-storey ‘g’, the round points and a slightly odd ‘7’.
What was behind the decision to revive analogue photography after a 15-year-long hiatus?
Strictly speaking, analogue photography never went anywhere, although the Polaroid photograph did come perilously close to extinction back in 2008. It’s true that we’ve been seeing more interest in analogue instant photography over the last few years. There are many factors behind this, but I think a large part of it comes down to the physicality of the object itself, and the fact that it’s a one-off; an original. Because it’s a chemical process that captures light, there will only ever be one of every single Polaroid you take. This fact alone makes each artefact special and valuable. Polaroids are scarce in a way that other photography is not, and for that reason they come to represent much more than what they contain inside the frame. One photo could represent a summer, a song, a relationship. That’s part of the magic of Polaroids.
What excites you most about the launch of Polaroid Originals?
First of all, I’m incredibly proud of the team that’s pulled this identity together, and I’m excited to see their work out in the world. But I’m most excited to see what our users create with these new tools. I always think how lucky we are as a brand, because our product actually looks a million times better after it’s been ”consumed”! The list of luminaries who have been inspired by the medium is incredible, but at the same time, there’s something wonderfully democratic and accessible about Polaroid. I think of our film as a collaboration between company and customer, and I can’t wait to be surprised and delighted by the creative applications our community find for it.