Fascinating new book explores history and artistry behind one of Poland’s most iconic communist-era logos
A new publication dives deep into the history, design and artistry of a brand which became eponymous to petrol stations in Communist Poland – CPN.
For years, rather than saying ‘I’m going to the petrol station’ Poles would say ‘I’m going to CPN’.
Standing for Centrala Produktów Naftowych (Head Office for Petroleum Products) the abbreviation, as well as the company it represented were the everyday language equivalents of the entire type of business.
What remains virtually unknown is the forward thinking of Ryszard Bojar, Jerzy Słowikowski and Stefan Solik, the creative team who in the mid-60s designed an entirely new image and visual identification for this state monopoly and only network of gas stations.
The company was established in 1944 with the war still raging on to protect the remnants of petroleum infrastructure in the country.
Patryk Hardziej, author of the new book ‘CPN: Logo, Identity, History’ and the founder of Hardziej Studio, told TFN: “Other companies didn’t have their own visual identification. CPN was a pioneer.
“In 1945 the first logo appeared - three letters written diagonally and inscribed in a circle - it functioned until 1967, when it was replaced by the cult logotype with ‘N’ written in the negative space.”
The logo was accompanied by colour standards and re-formatting – the same way corporate identification manuals are prepared today.
Soon other state-controlled companies, such as LOT and Predom followed. Still, the approach was something completely new at that time.
“Once a company (or an institution representing it) ordered a logo from a graphic designer, when the project was completed, the cooperation ended. Very often this logo was a small work of art, combining various types of symbolism in one concise graphic form. They were nice signs, but they ignored market mechanisms,” Hardziej said.
The trio of designers behind CPN combined logic and artistry, design and industry, creating a true brand.
Hardziej worked on the publication, which includes a reprint of the original visual identity manual of the CPN and extensive commentary after meeting Ryszard Bojar in 2014.
Together with Jerzy Słowikowski they spent long hours poring over the old sketches and drawings, until Bojar’s death in 2017.
Hardziej continued the project to prepare a publication similar to reprints of cult visual identification books such as NASA’s or IBM’s. With retro and mid-century designs in fashion, the logos from that time once again attract attention as an illustration of those time and an answer to the longing for reliable, analogue graphic design.
In Poland PRL’s design is still divisive, for some representing the repressive conditions and hateful times of bleak, grey existence ,while for others it is an example of artistic ingenuity and ability to circumvent restrictions.
“I think it took several years for a new generation of young designers to become interested in history but without prejudice,” said Hardziej, who being born in 1989 belongs to this new generation.
“Of course, we all know what the previous system was and we know its dark sides, but that was politics.
“One cannot forget that ordinary people also had to function in these conditions.
“Among them were painters, visual artists and designers who did their job well.
“The project for CPN is an outstanding example of the use of world standards in a very limited reality.”