The Enterprise of Culture

Carma Gorman

Associate Professor and Assistant Chair
Department of Art and Art History
The University of Texas at Austin

Carma Gorman is head of the design program in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas at Austin. She edited The Industrial Design Reader (Allworth, 2003); has published essays in American Quarterly, Design and Culture, Design Issues, Journal of Design History, Studies in the Decorative Arts, and Winterthur Portfolio; and is currently writing a book that examines the ways in which the USA’s legal system, and particularly its unique configuration of intellectual property law, has shaped American design in the long twentieth century. She is a past president of the Design Studies Forum and serves as an associate editor of the journal Design and Culture.

Abstract

Why postwar American businesses embraced corporate identity design

Authors of graphic design history textbooks unanimously agree: after World War II, the field of corporate identity design suddenly and dramatically burgeoned in the USA. But contrary to what these standard narratives suggest, neither the need for consistent branding nor the existence of multinational companies was new in the postwar period. What did change in the postwar era was US trademark law. In 1946, Congress passed the Lanham Act, which overhauled and modernized the USA’s federal trademark laws. In this talk, I argue that the Lanham Act spurred postwar American businesses to invest significantly in trademark development and corporate identity design. Furthermore, I argue that US trademark law had implications not only for graphic design, but also for industrial design: “borax” or “Populuxe” design of the 1950s and 1960s can be understood not only as a nod to popular tastes, but also as a response to the new possibilities of mid-century US trademark law.

 

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