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Museum of brands, packaging and advertising


It's not often that you find yourself grinning inanely while walking round a museum (well, we assume you don't, but heck, we hardly know you), but that was what we found ourselves doing this weekend, when we visited the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising.

The museum is tucked away down a smart little mews in Notting Hill, and is a compact treasure-trove of delights. It documents over a hundred year's worth of history of the stuff that surrounds us on a daily basis, the stuff we consume. The collection begins in 1890, and moves forward in sections, a decade at a time.

It's an incredible chance to see the evolution of graphic design through the ages. From the early text-only packaging of the Victorian era, through to the present day, you get a tangible sense of the visual styles and trends that form part of our lives.

It's a really strange feeling when you get to the packaging and products that were around during your childhood. They're such evocative reminders of a particular time. (Which is why we found ourselves grinning inanely in the 1970s section, as we stumbled across the original Monster Munch packaging.)

We also particularly loved the 1950s - really strong yet simple graphics. And were equally disgusted by the hideous clutter that makes up most of today's designs, which are overloaded with photography, text, promotions and other junk. It certainly left us with the feeling that things hadn't improved with the passage of time.

Several brands have hardly changed their packaging across the decades though, much to their credit. We've photographed just a few of those above. Birds loses points for succumbing to the modern day trend of sticking highlights and shadows on everything. (Hey, packaging people, newsflash: 3D is not big, and it's not clever. Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should. Please stop.) There's a particularly wonderful display that comes after the chronological section, where the sponsors of the museum display the evolution of their individual products side by side, so that you can clearly see how they have changed year on year.

We were also struck by the section representing the second world war, where packaging design was dictated to by a cause other than marketing. Materials were in scarce supply, so manufacturers were forced to change their designs. In some cases a tin box was replaced with a cardboard box; for canned goods, labels were reduced to just one third of their normal height, so that they formed a strip around the can rather than covering it completely. You couldn't help but make a parallel with the current concerns over climate change, and wonder at how little we're really doing to change things.

The museum is at Colville Mews in Notting Hill, and currently has a show about the history of Which? magazine, running to 3 December. We highly recommend a visit.

posted: 11 November 2007
categories: Ephemera
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