Some people collect stamps or postcards. The Lithuanian graphic designer Rokas Sutkaitis collects logos from the Soviet Union–and then posts them on Instagram.
Sutkaitis began hunting for Soviet-era logos several years ago, digging through trademark exhibition catalogs and rare publications to find these little emblems from decades ago, most of which have already been forgotten. Many date from the period between 1960 to 1991; most Soviet-produced goods were not branded until the early ’60s, when old plants were reorganized and trademarks became part of how factories ensured the quality of the goods they produced. In the ’60s and ’70s, state-owned design agencies began to emerge–and became responsible for every graphic design job, including packaging, advertising, and trademarks for the state. Larger republics like Russia had several institutions, while Sutkaitis’s native Lithuania had only one–the Experimental Design Bureau, which designed the majority of trademarks in the area between 1964 and 1991.
The logos in Sutkaitis’s collection mostly come from factories, publishing houses, and cooperative organizations, and he says they were mostly designed by professionals. He found one, from a light engineering factory in Orsha–present-day Belarus–on his grandfather’s sewing machine. A logo for a now-defunct Lithuanian publishing house was designed by one of the most famous graphic designers in the country, Kęstutis Ramonas, and can be found on hundreds of books today. Sutkaitis discovered the designer, Gediminas Pempė, but couldn’t find the date it was created. Likewise, he knows little about the trademark for the My Soviet Homeland book series, published out of Moscow, but the image itself cleverly features the hammer and sickle while forming the Cyrillic letter “P.”
“These simple graphical devices remind people of the older times–their workplaces, iconic childhood shoes or favorite candy packaging,” he tells Co.Design in an email.
Besides looking for trademarks in catalogs and rare publications, Sutkaitis stumbles upon them in unexpected places. He discovered a logo from the Kapsukas Sugar Factory in Lithuania while visiting a local museum, which was having an exhibition of photos from the Soviet era and included a photograph of a truck emblazoned with the mark. In another case, he discovered a logo for a factory named after Lenin located in present day Ukraine on a small scrap of paper.
“One of the purposes of the project is to gather additional info about the already found trademarks,” he says. “The goal at this point is to collect, archive, and preserve the long forgotten trademarks of the Soviet era as well as spread word about USSR design traditions.”
Surprisingly, Sutkaitis says that in some ways it was easier to be a professional designer during this latter half of the Soviet era than it is today, due to the steady stream of government commissions. “On the other hand you had to satisfy needs of the propaganda machine,” he says. “Even if graphic design was somehow freer than arts in general, it still had to follow the tone set by the government.”
Ultimately Sutkaitis, who is currently doing freelance work while studying art history and criticism, hopes to compile these forgotten logos into a compendium of Soviet trademark design. Perhaps there they will be safe from the ravages of time.
[All Images: via Rokas Sutkaitis]