Launched this year, Polaroid Originals is a new brand from Polaroid that is dedicated to analog instant photography in the original, iconic format. This sentence may seem confusing and it is, because why would Polaroid launch a new Polaroid? Also because we all wrote off Polaroid about seven years ago when they announced they would cease production of the film that makes Polaroid Polaroid. As a reaction, The Impossible Project was born, a group of enthusiasts who first bought all the film inventory left, then began creating their own film, keeping the Polaroid dream alive. (For a play-by-play turn of events, I suggest this article at The Verge.) The Impossible Project eventually came to own the rights to the brand and the intellectual property of Polaroid — even though Polaroid proper still exists on its own — and Polaroid Originals is the next evolution of that effort, which launched last week with the announcement of the first new Polaroid camera in years, the OneStep 2, and the revival of one of the most iconic brands. The identity has been designed in-house led by creative director, Danny Pemberton.
The organized research began in January when our team traveled to Boston and spent a few days digging through Harvard’s Polaroid Archive. They’ve got something like 4,000 linear feet of Polaroid’s corporate material stored there, from the very early days, right up to 2006. It’s a modern day treasure trove, containing R&D records, marketing materials, packaging, test photographs, and much more. The visual material that we gathered served as our departure point for Polaroid Originals, and throughout the design process, 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. Giambarba is the art director who was responsible for, among many other wonderful things, introducing the color stripes (the “rainbow,” if you prefer) to Polaroid’s visual identity during the 1960s.
Before going viral was a thing, I remember Paul Giambarba’s Typepad site going exactly that when he posted all the work he had done for Polaroid and Design Internet went nuts. With good reason because the work on that site was literal vintage design porn. All that to say, it won’t be a surprise that that stuff in this post looks like it does because how could you resist such a trove of visual references?
What’s good — or perhaps bad — about the new logo is that it looks like the Polaroid we all know. It’s good because there is an instant connection and everyone will quickly get that this is Polaroid. It’s bad, though, because there is no clear sense that this is new. It really looks like someone dusted off an old logo. So, depending on how close to the original you like this to be, then your appreciation will shift. I would have loved to see a little more distancing from the original, somehow being clearer that this is version 2.0 (or more like 10.0). Even if we agree that this was the right approach, the logo is slightly odd, with a super tight “Polaroid” and super loose “ORIGINALS” that don’t look good together. The icon is clever and charming but, at least to me, it wasn’t obvious that the proportions of the bar were meant to evoke a Polaroid frame. The red bar maybe had to be bigger and the spacing above it more exaggerated as it’s barely different right now than the spaces between the rest of the bars.
Despite my misgivings with the logo, the identity system and packaging picks up the slack.
Each format we produce film for is represented by a color: blue for 600, red for SX-70, and so on. This color acts as a wayfinder for the customer, from the packaging, the user manuals, the brand photography, right through to the entire digital experience. But finding the appropriate executions for simple ideas is alway far more difficult than it seems. To quote Giambarba himself; “You know how long it takes to do simple? About ten times longer than fast and dirty.”
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 never felt quite right. […] When we came across FF Real, it clicked almost immediately. FF Real is a grotesk designed by Erik Spiekermann and Ralph du Carrois, with more warmth than you’d expect from the category, and full of charming little details, like the old-school double-storey “g”, and a slightly odd “7”. The relatively high x-height and the round points give the typeface a character that asserts itself without ever overwhelming or shouting for attention. FF Real is a contemporary take on a solid 20th century typographic tradition. Much like Polaroid Originals.
The two-tone camera illustration style we developed is another nod to Giambarba’s illustrative work for Polaroid. We created these camera images the modern way (using vector software), but because they felt a little cold, we ended up re-drawing them by hand. The result is a kind of warmth that speaks to the power of analog creativity - such as that of Polaroid pictures themselves.
While I have the same overall feeling about the packaging as the logo — of it being too close to the original to be considered new — it’s hard to not be completely smitten by the colors, bars, rainbow diamonds, and overall nostalgia for the Polaroid brand. The camera drawings are a great addition and the only visual cue that there is something new going on here along with any packaging that features the number “7”, which looks amazing in FF Real. Overall, what this does best is cater to the diehard Polaroid enthusiast and any new user that responds to the vintage patina of pre-Instagram days and it does so beautifully but I feel like there was too much emphasis placed on the past and not enough on the future.