During our last few days in Gdańsk, we were told we must visit the Roads to Freedom exhibition. The Roads to Freedom exhibition details the Solidarity movement in Poland (and other countries), something which I vaguely remember happening as a child, but really knew nothing about.
Now, I’m not usually one for museum visits — they tend to make me yawn and pay attention to how my feet feel at the end of a long day exploring, however, this exhibition was truly remarkable. I won’t tell you what the exhibition was like in detail because someone else has done the work for me, but I will say that for me, it was a real eye-opener. A history lesson I was glad to learn about, especially since my dad (and mum) were involved to some degree. If you’r travelling through Gdańsk, I absolutely recommend putting aside a couple of hours and checking it out. It’s a well set up exhibition, and super-cheap!
One of my favourite parts of the exhibit (and the reason for this post) was the small wall dedicated to the Solidarność logo design. I was extremely pleased to see the logo itself get a mention in the exhibit because it was such an important part of the movement. It was an unmistakable brand which was, and still is, recognised the world over.
There were of course many items from the movement bearing the logo: newspapers, flyers, posters, banners etc., but the best thing was a transcription of an interview with logo’s designer Jerzy Janiszewski, talking about the origin of the design. Here’s a photo I took of the text, but I’ve transcribed (and fixed up a few typos) here for easy reference:
I wanted somehow…, I felt I should be a part of what [was] happening in the Shipyard in August. I thought the best thing I could do would be to join in as an artist. The first thought that occurred to me was to design a poster… I was looking for symbols. I began to think about the shipyard gate decorated with flowers and flags: Polish white and red and the shipyard flag, about religious symbols, a photograph of the Polish Pope… I thought that those symbols would be a good starting point of a poster …but discarded the idea almost as soon as it had occurred to me. The shipyard gate actually was the right symbol, it seemed to separate the Shipyard area from the city. But it also had another function… the gate was something uniting people rather than separating them.
How did the idea of the logo that we all know today occur to me? It was at night, I was sitting and thinking about the real meaning and significance of what was going on. I was drawing various symbols, without paying any attention to the rules of recognised graphic art. I was looking for a slogan that would unite us all. I talked to poets, my friends. One of them Krzyszrof Kasprzyk suggested the word “Solidarity”. I tried to match the word with the ideas l was dwelling on, and I explored the inscriptions that started to use various types of characters: Helvetica, capital letters, small ones… separated at the beginning. I wanted to do it in the most suitable, near and pretty way. But it was not the presentation itself that was the most important thing here, and all of sudden it became obvious to me that I could use the letters that can be found among people, in the streets, on the walls.
The character of such writing can be seen on the walls, in the paintbrush and the paint itself that is used to write on walls. So i took a paintbrush and some paint and started to paint in that way. I do not know exactly when I began to think about combining the letters as if they were people walking together, should to shoulder, forming a kind of a chain. The letters filled with paint made it look a kind of crowd. But that was not it yet… just a certain direction. I had still a lot of work to do. It was to be a crowd of people, tense and tight. A crowd of people was actually an [industrial] strike attribute.
Those were people who were together holding a Polish national flag. The flag suited the context, because the strike that started in the Shipyard soon spread to the whole country and acquired a nationwide significance. So the flag appeared kind of naturally on [the] “N” letter, which was graphically the most pure letter of them all. You can say that I wanted to emphasise the Significance of that letter. The letter that the word “Nation” begins with. But it was not my intention. Not at the time, really. Having completed the logo, I took It and went straight to the Shipyard.
— A fragment of the film “Ce que vlvre veut dire” shown on French TV in April 1983
Pretty cool, huh?
The design was successful because it was inspired by the slogans and graffiti painted by the people directly involved, but I think this design works both ways, in a kind of loop: The design was so simple and ‘homemade’, that it was easy for people with access to only a tin of red paint or a marker to create their own banners and posters. Much like this MercyCorps logo. For the people, by the people.
An awesome bit of design history.