USSR CCI, VNIITE, SADL, Sector of Scientific Research, Advertising Combines. The development of trademarks by design organisations of the Soviet Ukraine


En retraçant les changements des arts et design graphiques au cours des différentes périodes de l'URSS, Liya Bezsonova dresse une carte des influences culturelles, juridiques et économiques qui ont dicté à la fois la production et la conception de logotypes, par l’entremise des institutions et organismes d’États. L’auteur met en lumière certaines figures notables du graphisme ukrainien. Bezsonova suit l'agitation et les évolutions culturelles qui rythment l'histoire de l'URSS, ainsi que la création et les changements formels des marques. Elle s'intéresse la politique qui a modifié les processus de fabrication et de conception. En dépit de l'absence significative d'archives d'État, elle dresse une image de ce qu'aurait été le travail d'un concepteur institutionnel de marques dans un État secoué par de réguliers bouleversements. L’auteur aborde les thèmes de la culture, de l'identité nationale et du design, à travers les années importantes de l'histoire de l'URSS, notamment 1917, la seconde Guerre mondiale et la guerre froide. Ces événements contextualisent les changements dans la création de logos à cette époque et présentent à leur tour comment ce même design a été utilisé pour négocier et influencer l'idéologie d'une société en constante évolution.

Researchers working in the field of Ukrainian graphic design history, and particularly the development of the graphic mark face no easy task. Social turmoil throughout the period of the Soviet state led to a poor level of preservation of material culture. Amid the wars, repressions, and migrations (which were oftentimes sudden or enforced), and then the collapse of the USSR, paper archives were not perceived as a valuable acquisition, but rather a burden. State archives 1 also had little hope: materials from the advertising departments of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry did not have the status of permanent records, thus, over time an evil fate befell them: the overwhelming majority were either lost or destroyed. The majority of personal archives of designers dissolved through the years: sketches, draft projects, and photographic materials were either thrown away as waste by the designers or their descendants or lost in the chaos of move-outs or emigration. Thus, it is the catalogs of trademarks that were published in the Soviet times and preserved in libraries and private collections that serve as valuable sources of information. Fig. 1Fig. 2

However, these catalogs often do not list the names of the authors of graphic marks, or instead, they list names without the corresponding graphic marks. Attribution of graphic marks is also complicated by the anonymousness of Soviet graphic design in general: certificates of registered marks belonged to industrial enterprises, and on these certificates the authors went unmentioned. Thus, the activity of recovering the history of national graphic arts, searching for information about the authors has become very assiduous, painstaking and almost detective work. The 20th century saw the world in a rampant whirl of political and social turmoil alongside monumental transformations in industry, science, and technology. The graphic mark was sensitive enough to the social and economic changes, that it demonstrated the stages of those processes through its development, thus becoming a barometer for social evolution. In the territory of the Russian Empire, the moment of the Revolution had inaugurated not only the collapse of the regime but also a crisis in the established cultural traditions, as well as the quest for new artistic forms. From 1917 till the end of the civil war in the USSR, Ukrainians had been fighting for the creation of an independent State. The basis for a nationally oriented style in Ukrainian graphic art was laid by Heorhii Narbut 2, who integrated graphic folklore and traditional ornament with the experience of book engraving and designing lettering. Narbut’s work noticeably impacted the national model of graphic mark production, while his pedagogy gave birth to an entire group of professionals, who contributed their fruitful work to the development of applied graphics. Mark Kyrnarskyi, Robert Lisovskyi, Les Lisovskyi, Leonid Khyzhynskyi and many more considered themselves to be the followers of the Narbut school.

Seven decades of creation under Soviet rule

After the establishment of the Soviet regime, alongside the nationalization of enterprises and the radical transformation of economic conditions, it became necessary to reorganize the system of graphic identification for enterprises and organizations. The so-called New Economic Policy (NEP) 3 prompted the development of trade relations and the right for trademarking was cemented by Decree of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic on November 10, 1922 “On Trademarks.” Subsequently the decree had its substantiation in the Resolution of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR on February 12, 1926.

In the “roaring 1920s” graphic mark production had been following the ideas of Constructivism. Graphic marks were the elements linking the propaganda and the industrial art. The marks composition was ruled by strict geometric: sharp lines, right angles, regular-shaped circles, the dynamic diagonals. Their compositions now had a distinct center and periphery, while the previously exaggerated ornamentality was replaced by minimalist forms, a restrained color palette, and a true heyday of grotesque style lettering that had marked this period. Fig. 3Fig. 4


The 1930s were dark times for Ukrainian culture. At the end of 1932 Stalin ordered a halt to the Ukrainization policy4 marking the start of compulsory Russification. Artistic achievements of the post-Narbut current had been banished from the artistic scene and removed from the memory for long decades. “Aesthetic pluralism” had ended, as art was becoming one of the means to affirm the Soviet ideology while dismissing Constructivism and Rationalism by way of Socialist Realism. In that backdrop, the style of the graphic mark had been drawn closer to heraldic and emblematic style.

In 1936, the Central Executive Committee and the USSR Council of People’s Commissars issued a resolution “On Production Marks and Trademarks,” which stipulated that enterprises were supposed to place “production marks” on their labels, packaging or their goods with details about the kind of product, its corresponding standard number, and the enterprise itself. Apart from the production mark, enterprises were allowed to mark their goods with “originally formed distinctive marks” (trademarks), such as a graphic image, an original title, a specific combination of numbers, letters or words, original packaging, etc.” The Chamber of Trade and Industry had played a remarkable role in the development of Ukrainian graphic design, namely that of the graphic mark. World War II was still underway when in August 1944, the USSR Trade Chamber opened its branch in the Ukrainian Republic. Within its structure, Trade Propaganda Bureau was founded to “create committed Soviet advertising, national by form and Socialist by content.” By the end of the same year, according to documents from the Central State Archive of Higher State and Executive Authorities of Ukraine, an artistic unit was organized in the premises of the Trade Chamber with the help of the Artists Union chairman, professor Vasyl Kasiian, that had 15 permanent employees. Many of professionals from Kyiv had been working on the creation of “factory marks” for the Ukrainian garment production and the local industries – Adolf Bukovskyi, Volodymyr Hlyvenko, Ivan Yizhakevych, Volodymyr Fatalchuk, Anatolii Shyrokov were among them.

Since then, the respective state institution has seen its name changed twice. In 1957, its title was the Kyiv Branch of the USSR Trade Chamber; in 1960, it was renamed to Ukrainian Republican branch of the USSR Trade Chamber; in 1973, it was called the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of USSR (Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic). The Chamber of Commerce and Industry had a monopoly in “executing orders by enterprises and organizations for projecting and creating trademarks,” as well as the trademarks in the run-up to registration, which was centralized and executed by the State Committee of the USSR Council of Ministers on the Issues of Invention and Discoveries, located in Moscow. After the end of the war, reconstruction of the country’s destroyed economy was the primary task. The enthusiasm of the post-war period had given a strong impetus to mass industrial production, technical and technological rearmament, and science development. During the Cold War of the two systems of political economy, the new priority task was to prove the viability and efficiency of the Socialist order to the international community and to display its advantages. Culture and arts were also subject to that task and were to fulfill the important role of ideological leverage.

Thaw and design

At the turn of the 1960s, the period of Thaw provided a starting point to the democratization of social life and liberation from the ideological legacy of Stalinism. The Soviet country was undergoing an explosion of industrial advancement under the slogan: “to catch up and surpass America.” Adopting the project-based attitude with its systemic approach had been at last recognized as an invaluable tool in that competition.

Design had been included in the countrywide planning process. However, this “bourgeois” term for the projecting and art activity had not been officially endorsed and was thus replaced by a more generalized collocation of “industrial arts.” The field of object design was now named “artistic construction,” graphic design was called “industrial graphics,” while the theoretical basics of design had seen their development as “technical aesthetics.”

Art historians consider the 1960s to be the anchor point for the graphic design era in the Soviet Union. On May 15, 1962, the USSR Council of Ministers issued a special resolution N°442 “On Trademarks,” which had digested and amplified the previous state decisions on the sphere. All enterprises were obligated to mark their goods and packaging. Based on the resolution, USSR Council of Ministers demanded “enterprises and organizations that did not yet employing registered trademarks, where required to develop them within the 6 months of the law coming into place.” Fig. 5 Historian and theoretician of design Serhii Serov talked about a “graphic mark boom” in the 1960s to early 1970s period. According to him, the graphic marks created in that period were “the designers’ classics.”

An important moment for the development of the design industry was the creation of the All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Technical Aesthetics (VNIITE), founded by the USSR State Committee on Coordination of Scientific Research in 1962. Five years later, VNIITE system included the central office and nine republican and regional branches, among them were the Kyiv and Kharkiv offices. Methodic guidance of the specialized art and development laboratories (SADL) was one of the major strands in its activity. Their function was projecting, being adjacent to the production itself. The number of departmental SAD laboratories had been growing while developing graphic marks was also part of their responsibility. The art and development branch of VNIITE was namely in charge of designing trademarks.

At the turn of the 1960s–1970s, the understanding of a corporate identity as a holistic system of visual identification took shape and VNIITE became the foundation for the development of such projects. One of the first graphic systems was developed at the Kyiv office of VNIITE in 1968-1971 for the All-Union Association Soyuzselhosttekhnika carried out by the working group of Leonid Rabinovych, Anatolii Sumar, Borys Kharyk, and some of their colleagues. Fig. 6Worked on at great lengths: here and there one can still encounter the recognizable motif of the wrench. Development of the graphic mark was also a key element in the large-scale projects of the so-called “design programs” introduced at VNIITE in the 1970s. Among other institutions that were responsible for developing graphic marks were the specialized branches of the Artists Union of Soviet Ukraine and its subordinate art fund, as well as advertising companies at regional centers and several other specialised organizations. A considerable number of graphic mark developers had been simultaneously employed on a freelance basis by several organizations.

The Trade and Industry Chamber had not been losing traction either. By January 1, 1985, 10 regional branches were functioning within the Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce and Industry: Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Zakarpattia, Zaporizhzhia, Kyiv, Crimea, Lviv, Odesa, Kharkiv, and Khmelnytskyi offices. Fig. 7Each of them had advertising departments, but not all were actively developing trademarks. The main centers for the development of the graphic mark were the Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odesa offices of Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

During the 1960s–1980s period, the advertising department’s collective at the Kyiv Chamber of Commerce and Industry branch included Solomon Brodskyi, Vasyl Artemenko, Lev Kantorovych, Valentyn Lytvynenko, Henrich Khabіnskyi, Isak Khotynok; the Kharkiv branch included Mark Narodytskyi, Yevhen Nadiezhdin Fig. 8, Volodymyr Pobiedin Fig. 9, Mykola Kamennyi, Volodymyr Lesniak, Oleksandr Bliakher, Yevhen Sverchkov; the Odesa branch: Volodymyr Soloviov, Yevhen Sokolskyi, Anatolii Sinishyn, Yevhen Tykhomyrov, Borys Shynchuk, Volodymyr Minenko, Oleksandr Karpushkin, Veniamin Vershynin and Nadiia Vershynina, Viktor Rieznikov.

Work Process

The system of graphic mark production commissioned by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry had been arranged in such a way that designers who wanted to work freelance had to apply to the department of advertising and provide something one would today refer to as a portfolio. In case the professional quality of the provided material was satisfactory, the designer had been approved for the job. Orders received by Chamber of Commerce and Industry were processed by a respective official (usually the head of the advertising department), who would make a proposal to one of the designers based on the features of their creative style. Normally, the timespan to fulfill the order was four to six weeks. The author was to provide the original mark for consideration by the artistic council of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The project’s approval had been registered in a special protocol with an added photocopy, while the original layout was to be sent to the client for implementation. Sometimes the art council would reject a project or remit it for improvement, providing a set of critical remarks. The developing of the graphic marks was among the types of contractual work. Fee rates for graphic projects diverged substantially, depending on many factors, that were outlined in the official pricing categories. Still, their payment was assumed to be considerable, yet unstable additional earnings.

One can discern the inner tension and dynamics in the graphic mark of the 1960s to the 1980s, which is the result of a rhythmic alternation of sharp and rounded elements, a visual conflict between the form and the line. A shift takes place, from an immutable, static and stably grounded composition to an asymmetrical and dynamic one, corresponding more to that period’s character. Illustrational and realistic traits had been replaced by laconic stylized semi-abstract graphics, while the intelligible symbol semantics had given way to the intuitive grasping of a graphic form. The graphic marks of that period can be characterized by solid silhouettes and simplified plastics, often they may be easily scaled up, while their printed realization would not require any subtle technology. Fig. 10 It’s worth noting that in general the state would not prompt attempts of highlighting the national character in industrial graphics. For example, there was an unofficial guideline to omit the combination of yellow and light blue, as it could have dredged up unwanted ideological connotations in Ukrainian territory. And yet, the layer of graphic marks of a national culture-bent is outstanding among those produced in the era of “Developed Socialism.” Those were inspired for their larger part by the patterns of decorative and applied arts, and the work by renowned professionals in the national graphic art.

By the end of the 1980s, with the economic liberalization, artistic activity of graphic designers also got liberalized: they’d finally had the opportunity to create their studios, and their client was now free to choose the right person for their advertising orders. Later, by the early 1990s, when state monopoly on trademark registration was gone, that function had shifted to private patent attorneys. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry had lost its role as the arterial mediator between designers and enterprises that had to represent the state. In those new conditions, the branches of VNIITE had also stopped their activity.

The shrinking of the Soviet project, together with its ideology and its system of political economy, had laid the ground for a new stage in Ukraine’s history, including the field of graphic design.

  1. The Central State Archive of Higher State and Executive Authorities of Ukraine is established in 1921. The institution preserves documentary evidence of the activities of all power structures that operated on the territory of Ukraine during the twentieth century. (Ed. Note)↩︎

  2. Heorhii Narbut (1886-1920). This important Ukrainian graphic designers of the first part of the twentieth century is known for designing the Coat of arms of Ukraine, banknotes, postage stamps, charters, as well as many illustrations in books and magazines. (Ed. Note)↩︎

  3. Introduced by Lenin in March of 1921, it eased the harsh restrictions of war communism during the Civil War and allowed the return of markets and petty trade. Changes from the previous policies included allowing peasants to sell their surplus on the free market, denationalization of small-scale businesses and a purge of Party membership. This was primarily seen as a temporary policy to allow the post war economy to recover. (Ed. Note)↩︎

  4. Ukrainization is policy of promoting Ukrainian culture, in the 1920s. The new economical and political context in the early 1930s led to take a multitude of terrifying policies, enforced by Stalin’s aims to destroy the Ukrainian identity and strengthen the USSR. Alongside different policies Russification, was the Holodomor, running from 1932 to 1933, often referred to as Terror-Famine. A man-made famine in Soviet Ukraine that killed between 7–10 million. (Ed. Note)↩︎