Museum of Brands

21st June 2024

The first of its type in the world, London’s Museum of Brands feels very British. Which of course it is. A lens through which to see our social history and the changes in the nation’s tastes. The museum takes you through 200 years of branding history, and as a graphic designer I must say I have always been captivated by brands and their evolving designs. On the rare occasion I venture into those posher supermarkets, like Waitrose, I just love to look down the aisles of chocolate and coffee or the colourful boxes of tea, or elegant and vibrant wine labels – just to see the wealth of creativity displayed. A strange fascination I know. The wonder of this museum is that it displays the everyday, normal items that have been the wallpaper of our lives. It is in the looking back that nostalgia kicks in and you can really appreciate how design is such a strong part of our memories.

Childhood memories and brands artwork

The museum was started by social historian Robert Opie. The collection has been growing over the years, needing now its larger premises. Located round the corner from the famous Portobello Road market, it is a fascinating resource. The curators at the museum have been putting the archive and their expertise to good use. What caught my eye recently was an event they have been running, collaborating with artist Carey Bennett. ‘Memory & Remedy‘ explores the screen print artist’s relationship to brands and memory. She revisits her youth through the brands that she associates with childhood sickness growing up, all through vivid colours and familiar typography. Now with both her parents diagnosed with dementia and the roles reversed she captures the brands that still play a part in their relationship.

Dementia and branding is something the charity have also explored in the past with their programme called ‘Living Brands’. A multi-sensory approach designed for people living with the memory disease and their carers to encourage reminiscing and building connections.

It is amazing how these empty wrappers and cardboard boxes really do take you back. Being a child of the 80s everything seemed yellow and red and blue. Bright, stimulating and fun.

Hand illustrated brands from history

We at Pickle have delved into branding history for one of our calendars. Back in 2019 I had the pleasure of illustrating the original form of some much loved brands. Lyle’s Golden Syrup, Marmite, Colman’s Mustard and Cadbury’s chocolate to name a few. All still quite recognisable, although altered over the years.

Brands who have gone retro

Next time I’m in London I must saunter around this fab place to get those creative juices flowing. Our fascination with retro often feeds into new designs. You see it time and time again with big brands revisiting their heritage. Recently you have Burger King with their logo more reminiscent of their 1969 design. Burberry have gone even further back, borrowing their original 1901 typography. The Co-op too definitely went all nostalgic with their latest branding update. It seems we still yearn for the past, the familiar. Making those connections in our brains those clever brands are reminding us they are a real part of our lives, a constant friend. With the future feeling very much in our midst as AI emerges into the world of design, I think looking back to simpler times gives us comfort. There is always something we can learn from the past when looking to the future of brand design.

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