Yes, I am a huge Polaroid geek. And I am also a typography geek, so I need no excuse to offer up a little celebration of Polaroid’s longtime logo typeface: News Gothic.
It was created by the great type designer Morris Fuller Benton in 1908 for ATF, and its clean crisp lines were probably most popular in the mid-century modern era, before Helvetica swamped the design world. I happen to like it better than Helvetica: the lowercase, especially, looks more graceful to me, and the slightly narrowed letters mean you can fit more text on a line. Here’s the sample provided by Wikipedia:
When Paul Giambarba used it for Polaroid’s new logo in 1957, he chose it, he says, because it was “the only decent sans-serif face available to us at the time.” (In that predigital era, a font was a big expensive pile of steel matrices and lead slugs, and designers had far fewer faces available than your average Macintosh now offers.) It was a vast improvement on the messed-up Memphis logo that preceded it, that’s for sure. Bill Field, the master of Polaroid’s design work in the 1960s and early 1970s, used News Gothic in a thousand ways, and, with help from Giambarba, made it a central part of the SX-70 product identity.
For some reason, though, the lettering that’s front-and-center on the SX-70 camera itself is Helvetica. That’s weird choice, since it was so prominent, and I think I know why. Field often battled small fiefdoms within Polaroid that didn’t want to give up nonstandard letterheads and the like, and I suspect that’s what happened here.
News Gothic is once again somewhat fashionable, after a couple of decades under the radar. It’s in the logotype of Morgan Stanley, seen here in Times Square:
And in Michael Bierut’s visual identity for the Brooklyn Academy of Music, seen here on BAM’s Website:
And it lingers on the façade of St. Vincent’s Hospital, recently closed, in Greenwich Village:
And shows up on the covers of two albums by Patti Smith, one of which has a title that I suspect is no coincidence:
And let us not forget maybe the most visible moment News Gothic ever had, when it appeared on movie screens in 1977 (and forever after):
Plus, of course, it appears in the logotype at the top of this very Web page. It has a significant presence in my book, too (visuals to be revealed shortly).
Polaroid’s designers slowly evolved away from News Gothic in the late seventies, first for more Helvetica and eventually for a new custom logo whose typeface is unclear. It’s custom-drawn, maybe (according to some online speculation) based on a typeface called Frutiger.
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