The Logo King: Karol Śliwka's Greatest Works
#photography & visual arts
default, The Logo King: Karol Śliwka's Greatest Works, Karol Śliwka, Skoczów, 2015; photo: Daniel Dmitriew/Forum, center, karol_sliwka_portret_forum.jpg
10th September 2019 marked a year since the death of Karol Śliwka, the world-renowned Polish graphic designer. Śliwka was most well-known for his easily recognisable logos, but he also had extraordinarily creative and beautiful poster and packaging design under his belt. Join us on a stroll through some of his best works!
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Karol Śliwka, chocolate wrappers, presentation of the artist's work at The Institute of Industrial Design, Warsaw, 2019; photo: Jan Bielecki/East News
Karol Śliwka was born on 16th October 1932, in Harbutowice, and passed away on 10th September 2018 in Warsaw. His childhood passion for drawing led him to schooling that would shape his talents – first at the Wieczorowa Szkoła Malarstwa, Rzeźby i Grafiki (editor’s translation: Painting, Sculpture and Graphic Night School) in Bielsko-Biała, and later at Państwowe Liceum Technik Plastycznych (National High School of the Arts) in Warsaw.
In 1959, Karol Śliwka completed his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts, although he had already debuted as a graphic designer two years earlier: in 1957, he won a design contest for a cigarette packaging. From that time on, he devoted his life to design, and quickly reached a point in his career where, when he applied to design contests, he won… every single prize. Here are but a few of his best-known works.
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PKO Bank Polski
This is not only his most famous design, but it is also one of the most easily recognisable logos in Poland. Though it was created over half a century ago, the bank still uses the logo (albeit with the occasional ‘upgrade’).
As legend has it, apparently the bankers first rejected the logo when it came across their desks in 1969. That same year, however, a poster by Śliwka won first prize at the poster biennial in Katowice. The bankers quickly came around. From then on, the iconic logo was cemented into Polish history.
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‘Kobra’ Shoe Company
In the circle of Polish shoemakers, the Pomeranian Leather Company ‘Kobra’ was considered to be among the best. Shoes ‘from Kobra’ were prized for their craftsmanship and high quality. The factory was founded in Bydgoszcz in the second half of the 19th century and made shoes up until 1992. In its heyday, the company even built its own trade school to train future employees. Today, all that is left of the factory is Śliwka’s elegantly simple logo.
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Wydawnictwa Szkolne i Pedagogiczne
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Karol Śliwka, 'Wydawnictwa Szkolne i Pedagogiczne' (The School & Pedagogical Publishing House), photo: promotional materials
At the sight of this logo, some people may shudder in fear. At one time it graced the cover of nearly every Polish student’s textbook. The Wydawnictwa Szkolne i Pedagogiczne (The School & Pedagogical Publishing House) was established in 1945 and still functions today, although Karol Śliwka’s logo only came to define the company in 1974. It has been in use since, with a few modern tweaks (in 1992, for instance, the eagle was outfitted with a crown).
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National Library in Warsaw
Śliwka designed the distinctive crown hovering over an open book in 1990. That was the year Warsaw’s National Library went through many important changes, such as moving its headquarters for the first time in twenty years (the first building had been around since the 1970s).
Since that time, the logo, which carries with it the weight and importance of the institution it is attached to, has been stamped into every single library book in their incredible collection.
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International Chopin Piano Competition
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Karol Śliwka, poster for 6th International Chopin Piano Competition in1985; photo: promotional materials
During his lifetime, Śliwka designed many posters, although they were never as popular as his unforgettable logos. In his posters – as in this one for the 1985 International Chopin Piano Competition – Śliwka’s philosophy remained consistent to that of his logos: a maximalist minimalism – conciseness combined with an attractive and easy to read design.
To use such a style fluently is a true sign of great talent.
Protect Your Hands
Publicly crowd-sourced poster designs are common practice to this day – designers often take part because they provide more leeway than commissioned projects.
Karol Śliwka created his poster Chroń Ręce (Protect Your Hands) for a competition about work safety. The poster has a clear, distinguishable message and… a surprising sense of humour. The design just recently found its place on a t-shirt after a popular clothing brand took interest in it.
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Karol Śliwka, 'Giewont' cigarette package; photo: http://www.karolsliwka.pl
During the brand’s inception in the 1960s, the front of the cigarette package featured the likeness of a highlander, but it was soon replaced by Karol Śliwka’s design of a ‘star’, or, rather, a single snowflake. This wildly popular cigarette brand is a fixture in Polish pop culture – it’s still featured in books, films and even songs.
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The male toiletry line Wars landed in stores in 1972. It emulated a certain masculinity in the simplicity of the packaging, be it cologne or aftershave, all thanks to Śliwka.
It’s worth mentioning that the company that produces Wars is named Miraculum, responsible for other famous Polish brands such as Pani Walewska (Mrs. Walewska) and Być może... (Maybe…). In other words, these are brands that older generations remember fondly and keep buying. They still retain a foothold in the market despite free markets and the radical changes in the makeup world in the past few years.
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Karol Szymanowski’s Album Cover
Album covers – yet another branch of design that Karol Śliwka dabbled in. Other than his famed logos, he also designed postage stamps, packages (like those of Wedel chocolates), book covers and of course, vinyl album covers.
Despite the fact that he trended toward minimalism and created simple, comprehensible designs, he was still regarded as a ‘lyrical designer’ thanks to the great sensitivity and emotion one could feel in his creations.
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The Collected Poems of Juliusz Słowacki
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A few lines and everything is crystal clear. Karol Śliwka was a master in creating legible drawings out of minimal resources. On this cover of Słowacki’s collected poems, the poet’s recognisable face is drawn in a way that also gives a sense of what can be found inside – the style and tone of the poetry itself.