Design Without Design
One of the most fascinating aspects about building a design history (especially graphic design history) is finding and tracing an artifact from the past to present. So many large and small companies and firms that practiced in some way or another design, typography and printing no longer exist, while others have surprisingly bridged generations and survived shifts in technology and demographics. When I found the catalog below for Kaeser & Blair, suppliers of all manner of business paper and graphics, I was taken by its demonstrative un-designed design. The material is quaint in a nostalgic sense but historically significant as a marker in that the design is routine, conventional yet visually tied to its context in the 1930s. As an artifact of its time, the catalog (and pages shown here) tells a story.
What makes the story even more interesting is that Kaeser & Blair are still functioning as a programmatic service that helps “companies generate brand awareness through creative advertising and promotional products and services.” Not too far from what you see below, but nonetheless strategically different models.
The Company was founded in 1894 as the Cincinnati Printing and Paper Products Co., in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1923, Dutch Kaeser and Bill Blair purchased Cincinnati Printing and Paper Products Co. and incorporated the Company into what is now known as Kaeser & Blair, Inc. Kaeser & Blair revolutionized the industry by selling advertising, branding and promotional products that were marketed through independent sales professionals. This new approach produced an exclusive national network of independent sales professionals and Kaeser & Blair experienced significant growth prospering through The Great Depression. The Company eventually expanded its offerings to include more than just paper products; adding items such as imprinted pencils, matchbooks, calendars and more. In 1951, Bill Blair retired and Dutch Kaeser forged an agreement with his entrepreneurial sons Dick Kaeser and John Kaeser to merge and acquire their successful printing business, Kaeser Incorporated. Together, the Kaesers continued to build their business through solid strategy, purposeful leadership and sound business practices focused on marketing through independent sales professionals. Dutch Kaeser passed away in 1970 and Dick and John Kaeser each held a term as President of the Company between 1966 and 1983. During this time together, the brothers continued to grow Kaeser and Blair, Inc. and built upon the success and legacy of their father. This continued growth and success eventually lead the Kaesers to pursue advertising and marketing products that were not manufactured in Kaeser & Blair’s manufacturing facilities. These products were called “advertising specialties” and provided Kaeser and Blair’s independent network of sales professionals access to thousands of new products and opportunities from leading brands.