Enter the 1970s. With the raucous mood of the 60s still sticking, things were about to get a whole lot more rebellious. The anarchy would be heightened by discontent – economically and politically the mood in Britain was sobering. Union strikes were intermittently stagnating industry, a recession threatened to skyrocket unemployment, and rapidly increasing prices made the cost of living an uncomfortable squeeze.
Thankfully though, elsewhere in the culture sphere – things were considerably more buoyant. And it was these positive vibrations that would seep into the graphic design of the era. Musically, the 1970s were an eruption of glitter, platforms, flares and multi-coloured mohawks. Glam rock birthed otherworldly creatures like David Bowie, pop icons ABBA were christened, and bands like The Sex Pistols and The Clash were fashioning a movement we’d come to know as punk.
Away from the stage, technology was budding into a new era too. Colour television was broadcast across three stations, with 91% of households owning a TV by 1971. The electricity demand was fast overtaking coal. And radical inventions like the personal computer, the mobile telephone and the Walkman tape player felt altogether revolutionary.
So, how were these flourishing cultural forces dictating the branding and advertising of the decade? Much of the 60s psychedelia would be retained, but with iconography that tipped into hippie motifs such as paisley patterns, floral illustrations, and mandalas. Colour pallets clashed, funky typefaces bubbled and bulged in all different manner of sizes, and persona-driven designs began to take hold across adverts. You only need to look as far as any synchronous rock album, to see how icons were upheld as being almost saint-like.
Brands anchored to the 70s distilled the groove of the decade directly into their product and their visual identity. Take for instance Kodak. The original camera manufacturers captured the essence of 70s design when they created their iconic ‘K’ logo in 1971 – one that would serve them right up until 2006. With a colour pallet of mustard-yellow and primary red, the clashing combination was instantaneously synonymous with the brand. The design sets the text within the instantly recognisable K emblem, cleverly including shapes and angles to make a deliberate nod to the shutter of a camera lens.
And to omit mention of the original 70s arcade game in an article talking about the decades’ graphic design would be an unforgivable oversight. With its emboldened typeface sitting at an odd angle, as though being projected from the underside of a spaceship – the ‘shoot them down’ alien game electrified youth and age alike. Pixelated creatures set to the game’s signature looping four-note bassline sparked a significant cultural moment: the birth of the video game.
Each of these 70s brands set the patent for their modern contemporaries to follow. So should any of today’s brands wish to articulate their visual identity in a way that harks back to the tone of time, there would be a distinct and deliberate set of rules for them to follow.
Let’s look first to Burger King. A brand that has been around since the 1950s, the iconic fast-food chain has had many iterations of its logo spanning just as many decades. Yet in 2021, the brand decided to ditch its most modern version – a stamp first unveiled in 1999 – and drive the identity back to the groove of the 70s.
Sieving through the archives, the branding and advertising team behind Burger King, hauled out a version of their logo from 1969. The team bid farewell to the vibrancy and shine of their contemporary colours and opted for the more muted tones that typify the 70s era. Curving yellow graphics representing the bread of the burger bun frame a red and rounded bubble typeface within which the brand name is written. This simple, retro logo stamp was soon rolled out across everything from uniforms to mobile apps, and it wouldn’t be long before the swagger of the 70s would cross into the chain’s marketing campaigns too.
In December of 2021, the team launched an advertising campaign they coined ‘The Fall Collection: Sauce Couture’ – a clever play on the high-fashion world of Haute couture. Strewn across tv sets and billboards alike, the creative outputs were so wonderfully 70s it could have been a relic of the decade, rather than a remake. Using the same character-driven narratives that were deployed by brands in the 1970s, Burger King donned models in silk shirts of the most clashing colours. Greens, yellows, pinks, and reds are all featured in a Hawaiian-style shirt crafted by fashion designer Kate Eary to replicate the messy contents of a Whopper – tomatoes, salad, sauce and bacon. The one-off shirt was designed to hide the inevitable spillages that come with tucking into one of their meaty delights. In the ad, models sit poker-faced in their 70s high-fashion garms, nonchalantly holding a perfectly stacked beef burger. It’s cool and it’s clever, and with taglines like ‘made for dippin’ typed in the decades signature rounded fonts – it’s mouth-watering too.
Another of today’s brands whose visual aesthetic is rooted in the 70s is the global cosmetics brand Glossier. Somewhat of a viral sensation, Glossier products have taken social media by storm and sold out quicker than they can be restocked on many online retailers. Part of that success it seems is related to the brand’s highly Instagramable visual identity, which is hinged on 70s style. And you only need to look as far as the Glossier logo to spot it.
Printed in bold bubbled typography, and tilted on a slant, the brand’s chosen font is unmistakably 70s. Emblazoned across floral patterns in shades of pink and purple, the Glossier aesthetic is gorgeous in its appeal to the audience. That 70s palette is then carried with consistency across all touchpoints of the brand experience, right down to the packaging itself, which sees white bottles with tips dipped in the particular product’s shade.
Match that with a marketing slogan that reads ‘Skin first. Makeup second. Smile always,’ and you can see how the branding team are making the kind of statement that signifies an ‘up yours’ to the industry giants that have dominated the market for so long – perhaps putting profit before product quality. It’s the kind of punk mentality that would be applauded by consumers of the 70s, even if it is punk articulated in the prettiest hues.
Here at Glorious, a leading design and branding agency based in Manchester, we are well accustomed to helping clients connect to the groove of the 70s. One of those clients was HarperNorth – a new imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, established in 2020 in Manchester. This Northwest offshoot aimed to nurture and grow northern writing talent and bring the best voices to the widest national and international audiences.
The team appointed Glorious design agency to develop a new brand identity – one unapologetically Northern and unique. Most pressing in the brief was the development of a logo or imprint; the stamp that would appear on bookends, social channels, and advertising. A shorthand for all things HarperNorth. Settling on the final design of this crucial deliverable would mean first exploring several options, during a stage of the process we call the creative concept stage.
Our design team created no less than ten logo ideas for HarperNorth to muse over. One option was a small dog illustration that held a book in its mouth. A dog, like a good book, is often considered a valuable companion. We liked the idea of combining the two and borrowing from an age-old tradition, the faithful dog fetching its companion the newspaper. To help reinforce the geographical cover of the imprint we’ve opted for a whippet-like dog, a northern cliché. It also loosely relates to the idiom that northern folk can laugh at themselves. The visual pun helps to deliver the key value of approachability. We also believed there are other inherent attributes; loyalty, intelligence, and playfulness.
The North is also, perhaps unfairly, associated with some pretty miserable weather so it was this which influenced another self-deprecating creative route. The cloud in question also had literary links to the North; the opening line from Wordsworth’s most famous lakeland poem, ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’. Another option explored a visual metaphor, the pages of a book being turned to represent the rugged landscapes of the North. The full case study describing our creative process can be read here.
Yet out of the many put on the table for discussion, the design that resonated most with the HarperNorth division was an idea distinctly 70s in its look and feel. It was a creation of a strong, bold, and unique symbol, one that alludes to the north’s industrious and illustrious past. It is also visually aligned with the HarperCollins imprint – and whereas that alludes to fire and water – our imprint nodded to the industrial nature of the north and its network of waterways. Using the ‘h’ and ‘n’ symbols as a single device – we could test whether it was more impactful to move it away from the HarperCollins mark.
In a way that is typical of 1970s graphic design and branding, the final HarperNorth output used simple shapes and structures to signify a distinctive brand identity. With an accompanying typography that has rounded edges and even spaced lettering – there can be no mistaking the influential decade. Then, finally, so there can be no disputing the matter – the imprint was deployed in the most contrasting of colour pallets. A yellow logo on a green spine, a pink logo on a yellow book end, and so on. Clashing and daring, just like those 70s wardrobes.
So, if all this chatter of colour and clash has left you feeling like it’s the 1970s that is beckoning your brand identity – then you’ll want to follow our five top tips to get you back there:
Patterns and prints are unquestionably 70s, so don’t be afraid to include them in your designs. Whether it’s a floral motif or mandalas overlapping parts of your text – a pattern pays when it comes to designs in this decade.
When it comes to typography and typeface, your text should be curved and soft, bubbled and rounded. Remember, this is the groovy 70s we’re talking about, so no extreme angles or too many harsh lines.
A core part of 70s branding is those character-driven ads, so don’t be afraid to give your next marketing campaign a face. Think back to those Burger King ads, featuring 70s-style models donned in silk shirts – a tenuous link to the burger, but a captivating campaign all the same.
Perhaps the biggest rule when it comes to design and branding a la the 1970s is colour pallet. Clashing, contrasting, creative colours. Put the red with the green, the gold with the blue – it’s your rules and the more daring the better.
When it comes to Tone of Voice for taglines and copy – confidence is key. Statements should have intent and impact, and be bold and unapologetic. Because don’t forget this was the era of the punks and glam rockers, Viva la revolución!
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