Creative barcodes from the past 40 years

The barcode, as we know it today, turned 40 this week. On 3 April 1973 it was decided by leading grocers in the US that IBM’s Universal Product Code (UPC) design (that’s the real name for the black and white striped rectangle you see on just about every marketable product) would become the industry standard.

Chosen for its linear design, IBM’s UPC is printed in the same direction of the stripes so that any smeared or extra ink will only make the code longer and it will stay readable by a scanner.

In celebration of the fiddly striped rectangle that has to be fitted onto even the slickest of packaging design, here is our selection of some of the more inventive barcodes from the past four decades.

Vanity Barcodes

A full cup, by Miller Creative


A full cup, from Vanity Barcodes LLC

Making the most of the linear design, US branding consultancy Miller Creative has explored the parameters of barcode creativity by introducing colour and pictures to its custom-designed barcodes.

Amazon Kindle

Amazon Kindle barcode

Source: Leon Brocard

Amazon Kindle barcode

The Kindle has had a bit of fun with its barcode too. It’s the small details that count. The first very first UPC barcode was printed onto a ten-pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit chewing gum and was scanned in at 8.01am at Marsh’s supermarket in Troy, Ohio in 1974.

Little White Lies

Little White Lies cover
Little White Lies cover

Little White Lies fully embraces their need for a barcode on the front cover of itsmagazine and has incorporated it into their logo. Which they brazenly put slap bang in the middle of every one of its front covers…


The Shtrikh-Kod building

Source: Alexey Naroditskiy

The Shtrikh-Kod building

The barcode has become so synonymous with consumer culture that Russian architect Vitruvius & Sons made a shopping mall out of one. The bright red Shtrikh-kod (Russian for barcode) located in the residential Nevsky district of St Petersburg, is three floors high and was finished in 2008. 

The original circle barcode

The patent for N. Joseph Woodland's barcode
N. Joseph Woodland’s barcode design

The first barcode was invented by N.Joseph Woodland after he dropped out of engineering grad school in the late 1940s. Sitting in a deckchair in Miami beach, inspired by Morse code, which he had learned in Boy Scouts, he drew four lines in a circle in the sand. Patented in 1952 Woodland’s barcode was circular so that a checkout clerk could scan it from any direction, however, it depended on vast scanning equipment which was too expensive to be manufactured at the time. Woodland and his business partner Bernard Silver eventually sold their patent for $15 000 (£10 000 – all that they were paid for the invention), though Woodland moved to IBM and worked with George R Laurer on its UPC model, the striped barcode used today.

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  • Richard Silvester November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Here’s some interesting barcodes we discovered recently from an independent designer Steve Simpson..

  • Karl McKeever November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    An interesting news article.
    The barcode is used as a graphic device in our own company logo.
    We chose to incorporate a ‘redesigned version’ of the original bar code design as a clear and simple visual tool that like us has an instant and synonymous connection to retail. It’s an internationally recognised visual communication short code. See:

  • vladimir lagadinov November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Great article. It is always better to incorporate the barcode into the design, rather than just place it on a white rectangle.
    Here is a graphic solution we did for a yogurt package:

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