An eye for Polish design

Hi, I’m Zofia, I am a Polish-born graphic designer, working at Interstate Creative Partners. With over eight years of experience, my main focus is branding and print design. Over the last 10 years I have spent time living in different parts of Europe — Denmark, Amsterdam, Barcelona, and now London. In fact, coming to London was actually a return of sorts; I lived here briefly as a child, when my father worked as a journalist for BBC radio. This European mix of influences has been a big part of my professional journey and a great source of inspiration that is reflected in my design work.

At Interstate we want to be inspired. We constantly look for interesting content that goes beyond repetitive Pinterest photos and popular design blogs. This year we established Interstate Creative Culture — an initiative that makes sure we stay fresh and openminded by arranging talks given by creatives who share with us their passion and experience. Last month, it was my turn to take on the mantle, and take this great opportunity to introduce the team to something I am passionate about — Polish design.

Although it has a very rich history, Polish graphic design remains relatively unknown abroad. The Polish design scene is much more than just the internationally acclaimed poster school. Graphic design has been evolving here rapidly over the past 10 years and is bursting with creativity, mixing global trends with a distinctive style, governed by decades of visual heritage.

ICC talk on Polish design.

Polish Poster School.

Polska Szkoła Plakatu, known for its iconic aesthetic has been a source of inspiration for decades, for artists both in Poland and worldwide. The eclectic style of posters is bold, full of symbols and references. It aims to surprise and make a connection with the audience.

As I write this you can find a few of H. Tomaszewski’s posters for Paul Rand in the up-coming auction of his possessions or see the exhibition-tribute to Roman Cieślewicz in Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

W. Świerzy, T.Trepkowski, R.Cieslewicz, J.Zasada, K.Iwanski, J. Mirny, Homework Studio

Back to the future.

The history of my country is a rather rough one. The visual arts have always been an important tool used to express our identity and a medium for personal statement. They have also been a thread between generations that results in a style full of references.

Selection of Polish Marks (OWZG Facebook page).

A very good example of this generational dialogue is the The Second Polish Exhibition of Graphic Symbols (Druga Ogólnopolska Wystawa Znaków Graficznych). The inspiration for this event was a 1969 exhibition that was the first attempt to showcase a cross section of achievements in Polish design after WWII. Works from 1945–1969, as well as 2000–2015 have been presented alongside each other, giving the visitors a unique opportunity to see the most iconic Polish symbols and to observe the evolution in style. It has been an honour to be a part of this exhibition with two of my logos presented in a selection of 150 best contemporary designs.

Exhibition in 1969 (left) and special show in Berlin, 2017 (right) (ph. J. Muszyński, OWZG FB page).

Poland’s most famous logo.

Most people would agree, that the most recognisable logo in Poland is one with a lot of history behind it: “Solidarność”.‘Solidarity’ was an anti-government movement during the communist era, that started a domino effect eventually leading to the first democratic elections in 1989. The logo, designed by Jerzy Janiszewski using bright red brush-stroke letters very close together denotes a crowd of people holding a Polish flag. This bold image would later appear in all collateral for the ’89 electoral campaign, becoming a great example of a low-budget, yet highly distinctive and powerful identity. The great visual impact combined with the weight of those events made this iconic style a strong reference point that echoes to this day in protests and manifestations.

Poster by Marian Stachurski for ’89 elections and contemporary takes on the iconic design.

Every letter matters.

The Polish alphabet consists of 32 letters, that’s 6 more than the english set. All the extra letters have diacritics, giving our language its distinctive sound and look. Polish words are composed of letters with many slants, thus they often appear pretty sharp and busy in comparison to latin languages. Often typefaces that look beautiful in the specimen will not suit Polish in practice. This means you will find many interesting type explorations from Polish designers attempting to overcome this challenge and create crafted fonts with plenty of character.

ThreeDots Type, Zuza Rogatty, Laic Type.
Zelek Pro by Three Dots Type–a digital update of the 1974 typeface Zelek. Right, in use on Basement’s Jaxx album cover.

Full speed ahead.

In a world driven by visual messaging, the generation of young, curious and entrepreneurial Poles is seeking professional and creative ways to connect with their audience. This growing demand made us connect as designers, to share our experience and know-how. We have created a design community that supports each other and learns from one another. Our community’s social media groups have evolved into well structured, specialised subgroups focused on a wide range of design disciplines: illustration, typeface design, animation, portfolio feedback, and many more. I try to keep up to date with all that’s going on in Poland and social media is a great way to stay in the loop, especially via my favourite platform–Instagram.

Some of my favourite Polish Design Studios: Hopa Studio, Studio Otwarte and Mamastudio.

Thanks for reading my brief wrap up on design from Poland. If you want to explore more, I listed some of my favourite studios and instagramers worth checking out. Enjoy!

Cześć, Zofia.

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