Friday, November 15, 2013

Penneys, 1963

The classic American department store chain JCPenney has had a dithering visual identity in the last few years. In October it decided to revert back to its 1971 wordmark, after introducing new logos in both 2011 and 2012. Incidentally, this month it will be exactly fifty years since the company introduced its first proper corporate identity.

Before November 1963, the stores didn't really have a consistent identity. They could be called "J. C. Penney" or "Penney's", and there were lots of different wordmarks in use. The new "signature", as it was called, was introduced as part of an extensive design programme to bring Penneys into the 1960s. The logo was described as "up-swept, modern and dynamic" and was designed to work in every form, from storefronts to the growing range of private label products. The oddly shaped P has earned it the nickname "the funky P logo".

The design programme was created by a New York firm called Peter Schladermundt Associates, lead by industrial designer Pete Schladermundt. He was once an associate of Norman Bel Geddes and quite prominent in his time, but almost forgotten today. Quite active in trademark design, he also redesigned the "Pegasus" shield for Mobil Oil in the 50s.

The timing of the logo launch proved unfortunate. The official launch was set for Sunday, November 24 when the new signature was used in advertisements around the country and several news articles about the launch were published. However, it had already been introduced in some markets a few days prior to that. In the days in between, president John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

The 1963 logo survived until 1971 when the company reverted back to the JCPenney name. It was replaced by a simple Helvetica wordmark, created by the legendary firm Unimark. The company was aiming to become a slightly higher class store, and the people behind Unimark argued that the nickname and the "cartoon" typeface didn't reflect that positioning.

For more on this project, I recommend a lovely post on blog called Pleasant Family Shopping. Here you'll also find an image with preliminary sketches from the project and an explanation of the final logo. The logo also has a dedicated Flickr group called "Funky P" JCPenney. Many of the photos show how the P was turned into a pattern that can still be seen on concrete storefronts today.

This logo was used in Penney's ads during 1962 and 1963.

The current JCPenney logo, first introduced in 1971.

1 comment:

  1. Outside the USA, the FX channel has got a new on-air look.