Can consumer culture be environmentally sustainable?

The following essay was originally written in 2012 as part of the requirements for my second year studying BA Graphic Design.

The first part of this essay will explore and examine the effects of consumerism on current societies where people are indoctrinated into buying what they do not essentially need. (Lawson, 2009) It will also touch on commodities and explain how consumerism has contributed to waste disposal. It will then focus on the concept of sustainability and discuss whether consumer cultures can be environmentally sustainable, and if not, how things can be changed for the better.

Consumerism is not a new idea, it has been in existence since trading of goods began in pre-Roman times and shopping lists have been discovered from as far back as AD 75. In a way, the term consumerism has become connected with everything that people buy, from clothes to holidays, and health care to education. (Lawson, 2009) However, in contemporary culture there is a greater “demand for a wider range of goods” which has resulted in further competition between manufacturers that sell similar products. (Ambrose and Harris, 2009:p44) Consumer culture has made Western societies concerned with “‘having’ rather than ‘being’” (Julier, 2008:p56). Consumption prompts ideological beliefs of how humans should behave or what they should buy, what is good and how people should appear.

Since consumer culture has become a massive part of life for people all over the world, it is now a primary method for both individuals and groups to build their identities. (Julier, 2008) Life, for most people, used to be defined by what employment role they had and how much money they earned, however this definition has now progressed to what people do with the money their work generates. Certain people are now preoccupied with what they buy rather than what they do with their lives. (Lawson, 2009) People are constantly judged by what products they own especially, for example, items of clothing. Clothes in particular, but also other merchandise, indicate status which “also implies the existence of a group for whom a particular commodity has a particular meaning.” (Miles, Anderson and Meethan, 2002:p3) On the other hand, it has currently become the norm for certain people to be the owners of particular commodities which then affect how each individual is identified as many people begin to appear the same. This has affected cultures in general and it could be argued that “if we are all consumers of the same products then we are all the same culturally, no matter where we originate from.” (Corrigan, 1997:p69)

Loss of identity does not just affect individual humans; it can also affect brands especially when there are many brands selling similar items. Brand companies no longer focus on selling their product but rather focus on generating brand awareness so that customers throughout the world can identify with them. (Barber, 2007)

“Since the collapse of Eastern-style communism, consumerism has emerged as a global hegemonic idea.” (Grabriel and Lang, 2006:p97) There has been a revolutionary rise in commoditisation of everything throughout the world especially since brand identity has become so important and competitive, providing more products, more commodities, to grab the attention of the consumers. (Ambrose and Harris, 2009)

Commodities have become fetishisms for many people. Marx described a fetish as “anything which people like to select for adoration” (Jhally, 1990:p53) The intended use of objects has become less important to consumers, it is what these objects now represent that is more significant. Sue Collins quotes Varda Burstyn to demonstrate this in relation to sporting goods: “… it is the idea of the athlete the equipment represents, not the equipment itself that is so passionately emulated and identified with…” (2000) [Online] It is because merchandises are being commoditised that they become more appealing to the average buyers. (Benjamin, 1973)

Commodities have become progressively publicised through various means such as packaging and advertising. (Julier, 2008) Since the twentieth century, advertising has begun to reject the individual consumer and has focused, rather, on a society as a whole, transforming “‘class’ society into ‘mass’ society”. (Corrigan, 1997:p74) In this way, brands have been able to connect particular merchandise with certain groups of people such as feminists or those wishing to live a ‘green’ lifestyle in order that they can target their advertising towards a particular demographic. When advertising certain products the truth, including benefits of the product, is not always presented. People are not always told what the genuine positive impacts an item has neither on people or on the environment. Instead a fairly old method is often employed in which an idea or image, often unrelated, is connected with the merchandise. This may produce a positive subliminal message which then helps sell the product to the public. For example, in 1929 Edward Bernays was hired to create a campaign intended to encourage women to smoke. To do this he focused on the female movement of the period, the suffragettes, using images of women smoking ““torches of freedom” while marching in an Easter Day parade in New York City”. (Holland, n.d.) [Online] The connotation of freedom connected to smoking entered women’s minds on a subconscious level and triggered a rise in female cigarette consumers. “Smoking and freedom was in fact a totally irrational connection but it worked.” (Holland, n.d.) [Online]

Stores are promising various guarantees for their products such as “happiness, every label guarantees high quality.” (Miles, 2010:P98) Advertising not only includes promoting individual products or brands but is effectively a process “drilling into our collective heads” the idea that buying and owning more ‘stuff’ leads to success and happiness. (Hamlett, n.d. a) [Online] Slogans have been a way of subconsciously telling people that they need to buy a particular item or consume a specific brand. Seiko, a brand of watches used the slogan “Seiko. It’s your watch that tells most about who you are”. (Textart, 2012) [Online] Therefore it could be suggested that as well as watches Seiko is selling people an extension of their identity. In this sense, companies are constantly selling people their identities. (Lawson, 2009) Banksy argues that advertisers are effectively telling people that they are inadequate, not good enough, and not sexy enough. He concludes that they are bullying people with the advanced methods of marketing: “They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you.” (Solomon, 2012) [Online]

Since consumer society has effectively prompted people to buy more things that they do not necessarily need the amount of waste produced is in turn rising. Many commercial items are now built with the intention that they will eventually be disposed of. This can be referred to as built-in obsolescence, “a method of stimulating consumer demand by designing products that wear out or become outmoded after limited use.” (Attwood, 2008:p115) This process has been embraced by a variety of industries since the 1950s. At this time Harley Earl declared that the process of obsolescence should be sped up “In 1934 the average car ownership span was five years; now it is two. When it is one year, we will have a perfect score.” (Whitely, 1993:p16) Obsolescence is what consumers want which is why disposable products are increasing.

There are obvious items such as razors that make it clear that they are to be disposed of regularly however other products which, in the consumers’ eyes, are expected to last, are also disposable in their own way. The average life of electrical products used to be around 10 years, yet now commodities such as computers are only built to last 3 years and people are replacing other electrical items, for instance mobile phones, every year or so which is not always necessary. Before, people used to repair damaged goods and make do with what they had, but these skills are disappearing from modern culture, which effectively in turn causes more waste. (Lawson, 2009)

It is not just about the amount of waste that is produced that has risen but the amount of unused products that are eventually thrown away. An example of this is food waste; people buy unnecessary items on impulse or in response to advertising. Food has become the largest commodity that is thrown away, totalling up to 21% of the total waste produced in Britain alone. (Lawson, 2009) A questionnaire, by Brian Wansink to find out why people buy items they never use, revealed that many people end up with unused items because the intended purpose the product was bought for never occurred. Over 50% of the 412 American homemakers questioned admitted that they end up just throwing away these unwanted items. (CNN, 1999)

Disposal of waste has become increasingly challenging in recent years, partly as a result of the growth of consumer society. However there are a wide range of disposal methods at hand today such as landfill, incineration, composting and recycling, including reducing and reusing waste. Recycling is one of the more environmentally sustainable methods of disposal which involves “collection, separation… processing of wastes into reusable, marketable products.” (Mansvelt, 2011:p454) Despite this, landfill is still the most common method of waste disposal throughout the world as a whole. (Mansvelt, 2011)

People tend to forget or are not aware that it is not just the disposal of the product that can be environmentally harmful but also the production. Just packaging alone can be a massive issue in terms of sustainability. It begins with the manufacturer producing the raw materials, which are then turned into the required material, such as cardboard. The packaging then needs to be passed around to several people to pack and sell to the end user. Finally the product can be recycled. (Computer Arts, 2007b)

The idea of sustainability is a more recent concept. People, in general, are becoming progressively aware of how unsustainable societies have become globally. Developments have been made in technologies without realising just their potential impact for the environment. In the past, individuals and communities were unaware that the world’s resources could run out. “Effectively, what we have done… is to treat the planet simply as an infinite resource at our disposal.” (Fry, 2009:p1)

For many people today, the environmental challenges that consumerism faces is finally clear especially since the world has provided evidence of shortages of resources that consumerist societies need, including “oil, water, land, soil, clean air and minerals.” (Gabriel and Land, 2006:p196)

These challenges, however, have not necessarily hindered the consumerist culture. It is apparent in some instances that companies have utilized this issue as a proposition to increase sales. Some businesses are openly dedicated to making the world a better, sustainable place. On the other hand, for some it is a useful message to make consumers buy. Consumption is “the leading device through which individuals construct their identities.” (Julier, 2008:p57) The ideological belief that everyone should be greener causes masses to buy the products that will make them appear in this way. Now increasing numbers of companies are constantly inundating the public with messages from various advertising campaigns instructing them to “buy our products… and you will end global warming, improve air quality, and save the oceans.” (Greenpeace, 2012) [Online] These companies are not necessarily sincere in these claims; their products will not necessarily end global warming. This process is called Greenwashing, which is a term coined by Greenpeace around 1990.

Greenwashing has been likened to whitewashing through which unpleasant facts are effectively covered up. (EnviroMedia Social Marketing, 2012) The reality is companies have spent time and money on logos, slogans and packaging to make them appear environmentally friendly, whereas they could have been using the same time and money to actually do something to make a difference to the world’s problems. (Greenpeace, 2012)

It has been shown through greenwashing reports compiled by TerraChoice that things are improving with the number of greener products rising between 2009 and 2010 however 95% of “greener” products identified are still committing at least one of the “sins of greenwashing”. (TerraChoice, 2010:p6)

The opinion has been voiced that “green advertising is fragile” (Tuerff and Davis, 2011) [Online] because convincing consumers to buy products based upon exaggerated claims can do more, unintentional harm to the environment. Businesses that are honest and use sustainable tactics will help to improve the world whereas greenwashers will hinder any developments by using money to make themselves look better in order to sell. (Tuerff and Davis, 2011)

“Good design respects planet, profits and people.” (Aiga, 2011) [Online] Designers can be hired to make a company show through designs, such as packaging and advertisements, that they are environmentally sustainable. Designers are open to challenges that are connected to environmental concerns. Sustainability is more relevant to the environment than design itself, however designers can use the opportunity to fulfil the clients wishes whilst causing no, or very little, damage to society. (Aiga, 2011)

Environmental concerns were already in existence back in the 1960s. At the time certain designers and philosophers, such as Victor Papanek and Ivan Illich, expressed the belief that designers ought to combine commercial needs together with environmental requirements. However there is still a concern today that designers are not in powerful enough positions to make a genuine impact, also the potentially higher production costs and prices of sustainable items and products can hinder both designers and consumers when trying to become environmentally sustainable. (Chapman and Gant, 2007)

Design as a profession has become regarded as a feature of consumerism. (Hamlett, n.d. b) However Jonathan Barnbrook suggests that designers need to stop thinking in only commercial ways. To become more sustainable and actually help people, designers need to be aware of exactly what is going on within their own communities and the rest of the world. Barnbrook argues that design is first and foremost about communication. (Penfold, 2008) “Designers have a responsibility to make clients aware of the environmental aspects of what they’re asking for.” (Computer Arts, 2007b) [Online] Designers need to know all about the production and disposal methods commonly used in order to use a minimal amount of resources.

In 2001 designers, in general were unaware of processes and the amount of resources needed especially for packaging of consumer goods. They were also unaware just how significant the impact cycle of packaging has in relation to the environment. Charter and Tischner suggest that a common rule within packaging design should be that the materials used should “be easily recyclable… or should be made out of natural materials that can be disposed of without causing any problems to natural cycles.” (2001:p135)

The problem then arises when selling to the consumer that may involve changing consumption patterns. As previously mentioned, consumer culture is a massive aspect of life for everybody as it has been used as a means of constructing identities. (Julier, 2008) Possible strategies to promote ecodesign are to make sustainable goods more attractive in order to appeal to and interest potential buyers. With packaging there is the opportunity for designers to provide details about sustainability. This can also be achieved through advertisements and education. (Charter and Tischner, 2001)

Being ‘green’ has been used by some as a selling point however this has become a widely used and recognised approach for promoting many brands. (Swift, 2008) This can cause problems, as mentioned previously, with certain companies employing greenwashing methods to convince people their products will change the world whereas, in reality, they will not. (Greenpeace, 2012) Swift (2008) [online] maintains, “green advertising is still searching for its visual language.”

Despite such potential setbacks, the designer Rick Poynor is convinced that designers have the ability to communicate and influence consumer societies through their work. They can “persuade, change behaviour, initiate and spread visual trends” (Poynor, 2012) [Online] in order to inform society about the environmental challenges that everyone is facing and what can be done about it.

In 2007, the British Design Innovation (BDI), who represent Industrial designers, conducted a survey that concluded that as little as 13% of design businesses had a sustainability policy. (Computer Arts, 2007a) One example of a design business that does have such a policy is Viola Eco-Graphic Design, based in Australia. They make the claim that they are “devoted to best practices in ecologically sustainable design” (Sherin, 2008:p115) Viola designers do not just concentrate on creating appealing designs for consumers, they also focus on what materials they will use including printers. By choosing sustainable technologies they effectively respect the environment thus when the product cycle reaches consumers they are also helping them to become environmentally sustainable.

Anna Carlile, the founder of Viola, believes that there is now a great opportunity for graphic design to impact on the current consumer society by working alongside recognised brands and companies that have made the environment their key concern. Carlile believes that “in the very near future sustainable thinking and a working knowledge of responsible production will be an absolute must for designers.” (Sherin, 2008:p116)

To conclude, it can be seen that societies have tried to become more environmentally sustainable. Companies have begun to adopt more ecological tactics and consumers have become more aware of the effects of waste disposal on the planet. However there are still problems such as greenwashing that mislead people in their attempts to be ‘green’. Although there is evidence of this improving the problem has still not been eradicated. Therefore in a consumer culture it is impossible to be entirely environmentally sustainable. There will always be the consumer demand for new products to replace the old; consequently the issue of waste disposal will never be solved. Sustainable items have become commodities themselves as they have become attractive to current consumers who want to be identified as eco-friendly. So unless consumers stop buying what they do not need and adopt a fully environmentally sustainable lifestyle, it is not possible for a consumer culture to do so. In spite of this improvements can be seen and there are individual companies such as Viola Eco-Graphic Design who are doing what they can for the natural world, nevertheless it will take entire communities to start behaving in the same way for any significant difference to be made. Therefore, to conclude, consumers have the potential to become environmentally sustainable, but currently consumer culture is not.

References:

Aiga (2011) Good Design Respects The Environment [online] Available from: http://www.aiga.org/landing.aspx?pageid=10592&id=52 [Accessed on: 26th February 2012]

Ambrose, G and Harris, P. (2009) The Fundamentals of Graphic Design, AVA Publishing SA, Switzerland

Attwood, J. (2008) Edexcel A Level Design and technology: Product Design, Pearson Education Ltd, Essex

Barber, B. (2007) Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole, W.W. Norton and Company Ltd, London

BDI. (2011) About BDI [online] Available from http://www.britishdesigninnovation.com/about [Accessed on: 14th March 2012]

Benjamin, W. (1973) Charles Baudelaire: a lyric poet in the era of high capitalism, Translated from German by Harry Zuhn, Verso, London

Chapman, J and Gant, N. (2007) Designers, Visionaries and Other Stories: A Collection of Sustainable Design Essays, Earthscan, London

Charter, M and Tischner, U. (2001) Sustainable Solutions – Developing Products and Services for the Future, Greenleaf Publishing Limited, Sheffield

CNN (1999) Study Unravels Consumer Waste [online] Available from: http://articles.cnn.com/1999-12-08/nature/consumer.waste.enn_1_products-brian-wansink-answer?_s=PM:NATURE [Accessed on: 29th February 2012]

Computer Arts. (2007a) Be A Greener Designer [online] Available from http://computerarts.co.uk/features/be-greener-designer [Accessed on: 26th February 2012]

Computer Arts. (2007b) Green Sleeves [online] Available from: http://www.computerarts.co.uk/features/green-sleeves [Accessed on: 26th February 2012]

Collins, S (2000) “E” Ticket To Nike Town, Counterblast: e-journal of Culture and Communication [online] Available from: http://www.nyu.edu/pubs/counterblast/issue1_nov01/pdf_files/collins.pdf [Accessed on: 14th March 2012]

Corrigan, P. (1997) The Sociology of Consumption: An Introduction, SAGE Publications Ltd, London

EnviroMedia Social Marketing. (2012) What is Greenwashing? [online] Available from: http://www.greenwashingindex.com/what.php [Accessed on: 7th March 2012]

Fry, T, (2009) Design Futuring: Sustainability, Ethics and New Practice, Berg, Oxford

Gabriel, Y and Lang, T. (2006) The Unmanageable Consumer, Ed.2, SAGE Publications Ltd, London

Greenpeace. (2012) Introduction to StopGreenwash.org [online] Available from: http://stopgreenwash.org/introduction [Accessed on: 7th March 2012]

Hamlett, P. (n.d.a) Are We Sustainable Yet? [online] Available from: http://www.commarts.com/columns/are-sustainable-yet.html [Accessed on: 26th February 2012]

Hamlett, P. (n.d.b) Everything You Know Is Wrong [online] Available from: http://www.commarts.com/Columns.aspx?pub=2075&pageid=857 [Accessed on: 25th February 2012]

Holland, D. (n.d.) Being Human: Feeling Our Way The New Millennium [online] Available from: http://www.commarts.com/Columns.aspx?pub=4707&pageid=1454 [Accessed on: 25th February 2012]

Jhally, S (1990) The Codes of Advertising: Fetishism and the political economy of meaning in the consumer society, Routledge, New York

Julier, G. (2008) The Culture of Design Ed. 2, SAGE Publications Ltd, London

Lawson, N. (2009) All Consuming, Penguin Books, London

Mansvelt, J. (2011) Green Consumerism: An A-to-Z Guide, SAGE Publications Ltd, London

Miles, S, Anderson, A and Meethan, K. (2002) The Changing Consumer: Markets and Meanings, Routledge, London

Miles, S. (2010) Spaces for Consumption, SAGE Publications Ltd, London

Penfold, M. (2008) Jonathan Barnbrook [online] Accessed from: http://www.computerarts.co.uk/interviews/jonathan-barnbrook [Accessed on: 26th February 2012]

Sherin, A. (2008) SustainAble: A Handbook of Materials and Applications for Graphic Designers and Their Clients, Rockport Publishers Inc, USA

Solomon, B. (2012) Banksy on Advertising [online] Available from: http://thefoxisblack.com/2012/02/29/banksy-on-advertising/ [Accessed on: 29th February 2012]

Swift, R. (2008) ‘Greenwash’ is losing its shine [online] Available from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7251380.stm [Accessed on: 7th March 2012]

TerraChoice (2010) The Sins of Greenwashing Home and Family Edition [pdf] Available from: http://sinsofgreenwashing.org/findings/greenwashing-report-2010/ [Accessed on: 14th March 2012]

Textart (2012) Database of Slogans [online] Available from: http://www.textart.ru/database/slogan/2-watches-advertising-slogans.html [Accessed on 7th March 2012]

Tuerff, K and Davis, V (2011) On FTC Green Guides: The ad industry doth protest too much [online] Available from: http://www.greenwashingindex.com/commentary_single.php?id=4303 [Accessed on: 7th March 2012]

Whitely, N (1993) Design For Society, Reaktion Books, London

Secondary Resources

da Silva, T (2000) The Curriculum as Fetish, Taboo, Volume 4, Number 1, p:26-27


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Brands, Packaging and Advertising

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How much has Britain transformed during the past couple of centuries? Everyone has heard stories from their grandparents or had conversations that begin “In my day … ” but without living through the changes, it is difficult to appreciate the various progress that has been achieved. History books can provide the (mostly) factual accounts of significant events such as the world wars and political matters, but what about the general lives of the British population? How can day-to-day life be preserved so that it does not get consigned to oblivion? The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising near Notting Hill, London, has the answer.

“They’re all here … the brands and packs, posters and ads, fads and fashions, toys and games. Evocative and inspiring, it’s a kaleidoscope of images and graphic design.”

Located in the old London Lighthouse – a residential establishment for people living with HIV or AIDS – the Museum of Brands has filled the building with over 12,000 original items owned by Britons throughout the past couple of centuries, from the Victorian-era to the present day.

The owner of the collection, Robert Opie, had the vision of unravelling the history of consumer products and preserving the design of packaging from bygone days. Opie states, “I was struck by the idea that I should save the packaging which would otherwise surely disappear forever. The collection offers evidence of a dynamic commercial system that delivers thousands of desirable items from all corners of the world, a feat arguably more complex than sending man to the Moon, but one still taken for granted.” Since 1984, this precious collection has been on display and continues to grow, marking the history and refashioning of consumer culture.

The main attraction of the museum is an extensive Time Tunnel that takes visitors on a long journey from the Victorian-era until the present day, passing through the Edwardian-era; the world wars; art nouveau and art deco movements; the space age; psychedelia; decimalisation; and the development of digital technology. From fashion to food packaging and toys and games, the exhibition includes examples of every commodity available in Britain throughout the time periods, revealing what has changed, what has disappeared and what has remained relatively the same.

One of the first items on show is a jigsaw puzzle dating back to the 1800s. Unlike today where it is possible to get any image desired on carefully cut out tessellating pieces of paperboard, these originals, the first thought to have been produced in the 1760s by John Spilsbury (1739-69), were only maps mounted onto pieces of hardwood. Instead of the oddly shaped segments, the cuttings were made along national boundaries to create a puzzle that served as a visual teaching aid for geography. Since the saws which gave jigsaw puzzles their name had not yet come into use, the puzzles were aptly called “dissected puzzles”.

As the exhibition proves, jigsaws have remained popular since their conception, providing entertainment for families of all classes, particularly during the early 1900s. Although sales fell after the Second World War, jigsaws are an existing product that will continue to connect the present with the past.

Another consumer product that makes a continuous appearance from beginning to end is the magazine. When the British retailer, W. H. Smith, began opening newsstands at railway stations in 1846, the newspaper and magazine became easily obtainable by the majority of the public. Although printing presses had been in use for some time, illustrations were only beginning to make appearances on these popular publications.

The Illustrated London News was the world’s first illustrated weekly magazine and was founded by Herbert Ingram (1811-60) in 1842. Initially, draughtsmen and engravers were commissioned to produce the illustrations for the magazine, eventually assigning other artists to take part as printing methods improved. In due course, photographers were invited to contribute their snapshots for publications.

The public was introduced to writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Thomas Hardy, J. M. Barrie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle through the issues of The Illustrated London News. The latter, famous for his Sherlock Holmes stories, was also affiliated with another British magazine, The Strand (1891-1950). Between its beginning and 1930, The Strand published 121 short stories and 9 novels by the famous author and sold approximately 500,000 copies each month.

As social interests changed, so did magazines. New topics and ideas were introduced and discussed through this public medium, bringing news of the world and gossip about people in the limelight – not much different from magazines today. A monthly periodical was established for middle-class women focusing on themes such as fashion, needlework and craft. The Young Ladies Journal ran from 1864 until the beginning of World War One, which was, incidentally, a time for the reorganisation of social stereotypes as a result of the protests led by the Suffragettes.

Magazine contents and formats were continuously updated as the world adapted to events and developments over the following years. In wartime, the publications focused on relevant articles, helping readers to come to terms with and survive the dreadful years. Soon, digital technology would revolutionise printing methods, allowing for thousands of different genres of magazines to be produced. Topics have been covered from sport to motor cars, from pop music to children’s television, and beauty to celebrity gossip.

As visitors make their way around the museum, the products on show help to illustrate British history. Events, such as the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park brought many new products to Britain with over seventeen thousand exhibitors supplying “art and industry of all nations”. Other public fairs, for instance, the Franco-British Exhibition (1908) near Shepherds Bush and the British Empire Exhibition (1924) in Wembley Park, also helped to strengthen bonds and trading with other countries. As these were significant events on the British calendar, memorabilia were sold to immortalise the experience.

Other occasions whose memories have been saved are the coronation of the kings succeeding Queen Victoria leading up to the present queen. With tea sets, postcards and special coins, the various accessions to the throne are documented – including Edward VIII who abdicated resulting in many inaccurate products – as well as jubilees and numerous royal weddings.

Despite there being so many in the collection, magazines, jigsaws and royal memorabilia only amount to a small portion of the exhibition. The majority is in the form of old packaging from food, sweets, toiletries, cigarettes and other expendable items. On the other hand, there are larger, more permanent objects such as radios and televisions.

The influences on leisure and entertainment are interesting to perceive, particularly the effects of war and technical modernisation. Pre-digital lifestyles involved different forms of amusement including innovative toys for children, family board games and other activities, some which may question today’s moral standards and health and safety guidelines.

Producers of boardgames took advantage of the World Wars to create unique games to keep children entertained. As young boys dreamed of being soldiers, boardgame publishers such as Lowe and Carr invented controversial games such as War Tactics or Can Great Britain be Invaded? in which players were intent on capturing the enemy. The war-themed recreational fun continued during WW2 with more boardgames including Chad Valley’s All Clear Shooting Game.

It is highly likely parents today would protest if such games were to be brought back onto the market, preferring their children to play with mindboggling, unrealistic toys based on the latest television craze. From the 1950s onwards, space and aliens have been predominant in children’s merchandise particularly due to television shows and films such as Doctor Who and Star Wars.

Amongst these forms of entertainment and mementoes are the typical products and packages that would be found in general homes throughout Britain. The Time Tunnel shows the gradual changes in size, design and type of comestibles that made up the contents of kitchen cupboards. However, the museum has further exhibitions – some temporary – that take a closer look at individual brand histories, marketing methods and advertising, including television as well as print.

In glass cases, examples of packaging produced by particular brands, placed in chronological order, show the changes in design, material, size and so forth. Unlike the Time Tunnel, which displays products in relation to time period, these brand-focused exhibitions concentrate on one company or product at a time, thus providing a fascinating insight into the evolution of consumer brands.

One memorable brand on display is the famous PG Tips, a brand of tea produced in the UK since 1930. It first appeared on the market under the name Pre-Gest-Tee, implying it was suitable for drinking before meals as a digestion aid. By 1950, the brand name was officially shortened to PG Tips, although grocers and salesmen had been referring to the tea as PG for a good number of years before then.

The packaging of the first batches of tea sold under the name of PG Tips was different to current designs for obvious reasons. The tea bag was not introduced until the 1960s, therefore all tea prior to that decade was loose and needed to be boxed up differently.

Oxo and Heinz are another two famous names to join the other brands in the collection. Not only has the design of their boxes and tins changed, the types of product have as well. Oxo is known particularly for its original beef stock cube, however, it now produces other flavours, including chicken, Chinese, Indian and ham. As a result, the packaging design needed to be altered accordingly. Similarly, Heinz has been adding products to its range since it started up in 1896. Heinz Tomato Ketchup remains the most sold product, but Heinz also manufactures soup, baked beans, sauces, condiments, and syrups. These all need their unique packaging and branding to fit their range of shapes and sizes.

The branding aspect of the museum will greatly appeal to graphic designers and those involved in the marketing sector. It provides a visual timeline of graphic style, consumer preference and evolution of material. As new ways of storing food became available, i.e. refrigerators, packaging adjusted in order to remain as practical as possible. In more recent years, companies have researched ways to limit waste and be as environmentally friendly as possible. Throwaway items of the past are gradually disappearing in favour of the more easily recyclable.

Towards the final section of the museum is the opportunity to watch early television adverts that many may remember seeing on their screens in the 60s, 70s and 80s. It is a great insight into the promotion techniques of advertisers of the past as well as a historical documentation of society and consumerism. Putting lack of colour and access to digital technology to one side, these advertisements would not work in the twenty-first century. Fashion, fads, ideas and culture have altered almost beyond recognition, leaving these broadcasts seeming remarkably ancient, despite only being a few decades old.

The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising helpfully provides brief explanations about the different British time periods and certain items in the collection. However, the contents mostly speak for themselves. From Queen Victoria’s reign until Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, the evolution of British commodities is evident through the enormous hoard of packaging, toys, newspapers and household items. Not only is it a treasure trove for designers to explore, it is a trip down memory lane for the majority of visitors.

For £9, visitors have access to the entire exhibition and can spend as long as they wish to study the objects of their personal history. The museum provides a selection of drinks and light refreshments in their café and encourages their guests to investigate their herbaceous perennials and sub-tropical plants in their courtyard garden. To finish off, their gift shop contains something for every generation, including books, toys, jigsaws, posters, postcards and a number of other fun souvenirs.

The Museum is just a two-minute walk from the world famous Portobello Road and is located in Ladbroke Grove, not far from Notting Hill. Opened Tues-Sat 10am-6pm, and Sundays 11am-5pm. 

Inspiration

Whenever faced with a new design brief, it is always useful to research what has been done before. This helps you to discover what works and what does not work. When stuck for ideas, looking at existing artwork can help to boost your imagination.

Here are some of the books I own that I recommend looking through for design inspiration:

13325960Typography Sketchbooks by Steven Heller and Lita Talarico

This book contains examples of sketchbooks kept by over 100 typographers. Although there are not many final outcomes featured, the selection shows the thought processes behind each typographical composition. Sketchbooks need not be neat and tidy, and there is no right or wrong way to display your thoughts. Typography Sketchbooks reveals what works best for each individual and may inspire you to try and document your work in an alternative way.

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Graphic: Inside the Sketchbooks of the World’s Great Graphic Designers by Steven Heller and Lita Talarico

Similarly to Heller’s Typographic Sketchbooks, this book also shows the sketchbooks of 100 of the worlds most influential designers, including Art Spiegelman, Milton Glaser and Sara Fanelli. Hence the title, Graphic, the subject matter of these sketchbooks cover a broader insight to the mind of a designer, introducing illustration and layout as well as typography.

 

 

9837813Drawn In: A Peek into the Inspiring Sketchbooks of 44 Fine Artists, Illustrators, Graphic Designers, and Cartoonists by Julia Rothman

Drawn In is a similar book to the two above except it includes a wider variety of disciplines. A landscape painter’s sketchbook is going to be very different from a cartoonist or graphic designer’s sketchbook. It also includes interviews with each artist and their opinions on keeping sketchbooks.

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The Picture Book: Contemporary Illustration by Angus Hyland

I highly recommend this book to illustrators looking for inspiration; especially those who are still developing their own style. The Picture Book contains some well known artists as well as promising newbies. Some of the work is very beautiful and uses a range of mediums you may have not even thought of using.

 

 

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Illustration Now! Vol.4 by Julius Wiedermann

150 illustrators working in 2011 are shown in this book. There are other volumes available from different years, but this is the volume I personally own. Some of the work in here inspired me whilst I was working toward my graphic design degree, especially as I was leaning more towards illustration than any other style. Illustration Now! also contains information about each individual’s career path, exhibitions and clients they have worked for.

 

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@Supermarkets: Package Designs by Kaoru Takahashi

I came across this book at a Christmas bazaar back in 2010. It is really interesting to look at the packaging styles and methods that some of the most well known companies use. It is also fascinating to see how competing  brands package their goods to try and sell their products.

 

 

 

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Handmade Graphics: Tools and Techniques Beyond the Mouse by Anna Wray

While studying graphic design, I became more interested in designing by hand rather than on a computer. Handmade Graphics is a very useful book that shows you how you can produce designs without digital input. There are also a few tutorials you can follow for each set of examples showcased.

 

 

 

 

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Fingerprint: The Art of Using Handmade Elements in Graphic Design and Fingerprint No.2: The Evolution of Handmade Elements in Graphic Design by Chen Design Associates

These two volumes feature hundreds of examples of design outcomes produced by hand. All of these have been used successfully in the real world. It is amazing the lengths that some designers go to achieve by hand what a computer could achieve (although less authentically) in a few minutes. There are also a handful of essays written by leading designers about the benefits and their experience of producing handmade designs.

88466511039320210247456 Graphis Annuals 

Every year Graphis publishes annuals for a variety of disciplines . Artists and designers submit their work and the winners get featured in the relevant annual. I own three annuals: Design 2010, Posters 2010 and Posters 2011. I have turned to these books quite often when lacking inspiration as they contain so many original ideas.

I hope you will find these books as useful as I have found them. Do you have any recommendations of books to turn to when in need of inspiration?