Poster design—I would argue that it's one of the most diverse types of design. We can do so much with a poster, from visual exploration to personal expression, from advertising to celebration. It can make the definition of "good" poster design a little complex—and that's a wonderful thing.
So sit back and join me on this exploration of poster design—a survey of admirable works of art and design, and an analysis of what makes a wonderful poster design.
What Is Poster Design?
So, what is poster design? There are a lot of definitions out there. Some say that posters are designed for mass consumption, specifically to be displayed in a public place. Others have said that poster design is primarily meant for advertising—be it advertising a product, a message, or an event.
However, personally, I find the definition to be a complex one. A poster's purpose can be abstract or even a celebration of an aesthetic. If I create a composition, for the purpose of enjoyment and exploration, is it less a poster design than a poster that advertises a product? If an artist makes prints of an illustration, is that a poster design?
Where do we draw the line there, in terms of definition—and do we need to?
Looking earlier in design's history, perhaps this definition was a little less complex. If we look back into the late 1800s and early 1900s, for example, we see posters emerge for advertising shows, products, and even political movements.
That's not to say, however, that they weren't beautiful, expressive works of art. For example, take a look at the works of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec or Alphonse Mucha; their poster design works are exquisitely artful. Another designer that comes to mind is John Heartfield, a dadaist who employed photomontage in his politically charged work, far before our age of Photoshop.
We aren't all that different today—although poster design (and design in general) is arguably most accessible to a larger audience. Today, anyone can design a poster for any message, any purpose. It's easier than ever to access both the required tools and an audience.
And that's the beauty of poster design, in my opinion—it can include so many aspects of art and design.
So, then, how do we define "good" poster design. Is it entirely subjective then?
We can use the elements of art—aspects like line, shape, value, color, space, texture—as well as the principles of design—hierarchy, rhythm, variety, contrast, balance, proportion, emphasis, movement, and unity—as both our unit of measurement and our building blocks. They are, essentially, the artist and designer's primary tools. When we combine this with target audience, intention, and visual communication, we can evaluate a design in an informed way.
But, theory aside, there are simple answers too: does the intended audience like it? Does it meet its objectives—and what are those objectives or the purpose?
Example Analysis: The Work of Katerina Bot
I had the pleasure of viewing the work of Katerina Bot, and she granted me permission to share her work in this article. Let's take a look at some lovely poster design in action, from an analytical perspective, using what we discussed above.
In this first design, titled "Collages Self Portrait", Katerina described this work as a "poster collage [that] represents myself, my goals and what I admire".
I'd argue that the objective here is largely personal expression; we get a glimpse into the artist's thoughts and perceptions of herself. Since it's a personal message, I view it much like reading a biography. From a design perspective, there are complexities and variety that make sense from a communicative perspective—our sense of self tends to be complicated.
This work, titled "Posters Inspired By", is directly inspired by the works of historical graphic design great, Paul Rand (check out his work, if you're unfamiliar!). Rand was very much known for his bold and memorable identity design work—think of IBM, UPS, and ABC. Those iconic logos were originally conceived by Rand.
This poster is specifically a tribute to Rand's "The prepared professional", 1982. In order to pay tribute, however, Katerina had to analyze and understand the target aesthetic. Why? Otherwise, it wouldn't make sense for the subject. This sensitivity is arguably why this design works well and makes sense.
This poster design series, titled "Poster for Malpas Hotel & Casino", on the other hand, has a very different objective. Clearly, this series is designed for a brand to get the word out to the target audience. In this case, there is a need to follow branding guidelines, client objectives, and to communicate to the target audience successfully.
In the case of most business ventures, our goal is to attract and convince the audience to engage. However, this does not necessarily make this kind of poster design less artful or important. We can still use design theory to create work that is a successful marriage of form and function—something that looks great but also meets and exceeds the purpose.
You can check out more of Katerina's lovely work at the links below. Please consider supporting this wonderful designer and her works.
Artist Perspective and Interviews
Thank you for reading my analysis and insights on poster design. However, I also had the pleasure of speaking with a number of creative professionals for their thoughts too! Check out their wonderful insights—there is much we can learn from exploring and sharing our perspective with each other.
My name is Michael McAleer and I’m a graphic designer and illustrator in sunny Gainesville, Florida. I got my degree in the great studio program here at the University of Florida, then immediately began working as the university’s chief brand officer and senior designer. I get to work with creative people every day, telling honest stories to advance a brand that I really believe in.
In my spare time I’m either riding a bike or making anything I can get my hands on. I just really love creating, whether it’s design, illustration, painting, sculpting, woodworking, metal fabrication or whatever else. I can’t get enough of it.
Posters are a dream, because you get to play with all of the elements of design at once. And whether you’re using illustration, type, photo or some other medium, you can be really playful and adventurous with a poster. I think the most powerful tool you have is composition. Play with different types of grids to start off, or look at the way fine art has historically used composition to great effect.
Second, think about the fact that a poster can often communicate to a single viewer twice: Once from a distance, to grab their attention, and again up-close when they approach it to get the details. It’s like designing two posters in one plane sometimes, and using things like texture and type thoughtfully will reward the viewer who steps up close.
Creativity is not the fickle beast that it’s sometimes made out to be. It’s a muscle, and the more you work it, the stronger it gets.
When you’re creating for a client, you’ll have plenty of time to get into the weeds and perfect your designs; but in your free time you don’t have to do all that. Just make stuff for the heck of it. And take time for other hobbies, people and things that make you happy. Stress is the only enemy of creativity, after all.
You can check out more of Michael's inspiring work right here:
I am Vesna and I am a freelance Graphic designer / Illustrator based in a small town called Mozirje, Slovenia. In 2016 I graduated from Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Ljubljana.
The greatest joy and challenge to me is creating theatre or festival posters, greeting cards or simply beautiful illustrated artworks that can embellish your home. I mainly create flat vector designs / illustrations, using clean lines and vibrant colours, which can sometimes be mixed with different media to create the best ending result. Besides commissioned work I also love creating self-initiated side-projects that mostly combine animals, florals and imaginary fairy tale creatures.
A good poster design has to attract your attention, it has to make you look twice and as a result trigger interest, curiosity, raise questions, doubts. In order to do that it must stand out and the way to achieve that is by creating a unique and big image (illustration, photo, typography, collage, etc.) that best translates the message you wish to send.
When adding text, make sure you don’t use too many fonts. The best way to achieve diversity and hierarchy is by using one or two fonts of different classification and change their sizes and weight. When designing a poster you should also consider a location and size of the poster. It will help you determine the first guidelines to design the poster accordingly.
[When it comes to creating a strong poster design] my advice would be to start making sketches, drawings on paper. We are all so eager to start working everything on a computer right away, that we skip the process of learning different techniques and materials that can be helpful to us on a long term. But before sketching, especially if you are working for a client, you have to do your research, make notes and mood boards for visual inspiration.
It helps you get a better sense of goal you wish to achieve. Play with different materials, media and techniques, because it will help you find your style. You can’t know which style works best for you if you don’t try it. On the other hand you also don’t have to be defined and limited by one style to achieve the best ending result. The most important thing is to never stop learning and experimenting, because there is always room for improvement.
You can check out more of Vesna's wonderful work here:
Ivaylo Dragnev: Status Designs
Hi! I am Ivaylo Dragnev, 22 years old self-taught freelance graphic designer from Sofia, Bulgaria. My relationship with graphic design started 4-5 years ago in Technical University - Sofia where I was studying for a Bachelor in Mechanical Engineering. It all started as a hobby, I was so impressed with logo creators back then. So naturally, I started learning how Illustrator works and fell in love with the creative process.
Did some work for family and friends. After landing my first super big clients, I've gained some confidence and started taking it more seriously. Now, after many taken classes, finished and unfinished projects and clients, graphic design is a big part of my every day life. Currently I am creating a poster a day for 366 days.
Posters are informative pieces of art. The main thing is that they hold a bit of information that should be easily accessible in order for the poster to do its job. And for the creative side, there’s pretty much no boundaries.
For me, a “good poster” should speak visually and make you want to explore it. It should grab your attention and make you look for something more. It’s like a game. You see a detail, you find another one and the longer you look, the more you will find and the more you find, the more sense it makes.
Know your tools!
Easily one of the most overlooked parts in graphic design. And by tools, I mean the programs/platforms you use. In the end, it makes all the difference.
You might feel a little down, lack of time or you’re out of ideas. Believe me, if you know Photoshop or Illustrator or whatever you use, a bit more than the next guy, you can create something amazing out of thin air for 5-10 minutes or less and it might be your best work thus far.
Self-explanatory. Create for friends, family, yourself. Create for free. Look for excuses to create. Make something every day. Practice makes perfect and still, don’t let perfect get in the way of good enough.
Make sure to check out more of Ivaylo's inspiring works here:
- Instagram | statusbydragnev
- Dribbble | ivaylodragnev
- Behance | StatusbyDragnev
- Facebook | StatusByDragnev
Hi, I’m a Visual Artist and Graphic Designer. I deal with creativity in all its most eclectic aspects and I always love to learn new things.
This is why I started to practice poster design, one of the best ways to improve yourself and learn how to communicate an idea.
Personally one of the things that catches my attention the most in a poster is its composition, that is how the creative has defined the organization of space and elements. Color and contrast have a strong value in capturing the eye of the observer and choosing the right color palette, for example, is very important. Typography also plays a fundamental role because it’s the element that directly communicates a message and the message should never be underestimated.
In choosing the right type you need to have some basic knowledge, especially when you have to mix different styles. A “good” poster (in essence) is therefore the one that manages to build a relationship between the different elements that make it up.
This is why it is very important to have knowledge and skills, to observe and deeply study the work of those who made the history of design, art, graphics and illustration, but above all to practice a lot.
Personally, I love experimentation in poster design. My posters have a different style because I like to discover new techniques, new tools and to be inspired by great artists. This is why the series is called "The Playground" because I think that creating a poster is like playing a game.
Playing is an active experience that people live. The amazing thing is that you can really express yourself in any way you choose to.
For me the most important thing of all is to start creating. It is useless to learn many things without having the chance to put them into practice, and until a few years ago I didn't understand it either. At the beginning having many ideas may slow you down, you cannot understand which idea can be successful and which one can make you slip away. Last year I decided to start creating posters after seeing so many people doing challenges on social networks and I thought "why not trying to do the same?" So I started experimenting.
Believe in what you do!
You’ll make mistakes everytime, and that’s perfect, because it is the best way to learn. But you must always believe in what you do, and setting even simple goals at the beginning can really help you improve.
Organize your time!
Thanks to the social networks and the various creatives platforms, I discovered a very active community for the creation of posters, but that's not all. I noticed that posting contents always at a fixed time or on a certain day allows you to learn how to manage your time, which is very important for a creative person, both professionally and personally.
You can check out more of Martina's inspiring work here:
- MartinaCeravoloVisually.com | Portfolio
- Instagram | mc_visually
- Dribbble | Ceravolo
- Behance | martinaceravolo
- Facebook | martinaceravolovisually
Wout Vromans: styleWish
My name is Wout Vromans known as styleWish on Envato. I’m living in Beringen, Belgium and I studied Graphic Design / Advertising on PXL MAD In Hasselt. After working in the advertising industry as a creative I wanted to pursue my biggest passion to create beautiful designs. So I started uploading flyer designs on GraphicRiver. I could have never imagined my designs would catch on so well and in such a short time. So thanks to Envato I’m now able to earn a living with my biggest passion.
I mainly design in Photoshop because of the endless possibilities. And unlike illustrator, Photoshop is great to create more atmospheric designs by blending colors, light effects, and textures. Furthermore I also like to make paintings with acrylic. I see this as an extension from my Graphic Design.
For me the most important thing about a poster is that it attracts the attention and it stays in the head of the beholder. You can get noticed in different ways. But I think it’s especially important to stand out with an attractive design. A beautiful design has the additional effect of transferring the attractive atmosphere of the poster to the advertised event.
Every designer has their own style and way of working. It’s important for every designer to find their own style.
Now what makes a “good poster”? For me a good poster design breathes a unique atmosphere and feeling. Color and tone are very important to achieve this. They can transform a flat boring design into a lively atmospheric design. I also try to make the design interesting and surprising by combining different shapes, images and textures. This is why I love Photoshop. You can blend the layers in so many ways to add more depth to the design.
It’s important to never give up or to be quickly satisfied. My biggest weakness is that I’m sometimes too quickly satisfied. I learned to deal with this by always being critical, watch the design from all angles, let it rest for a while and overthrow the design completely. This will make the difference between an ok design and a very good design. You must strive for the best.
Anyone can become an excellent designer or professional in any field. It only requires perseverance. You have to keep going no matter what. The road is bumpy. It took many years for me to get to where I am now. Just start designing now. The first designs will be awful. But you will get better.
Check out more of Wout's lovely work here:
- studio.stylewish.org | Graphic Design Portfolio
WoutVromans.com | Acrylic Paintings
- GraphicRiver | styleWish
- Envato Elements | styleWish
What Do You Think?
What makes a great poster design, in your opinion? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. What are some of your favorite poster designs—be they your own favorite creations or a poster designer that you admire?
A very special thanks to Katerina, Michael, Vesna, Ivaylo, Martina, and Wout, for sharing their work and their thoughts with us today. You are all wonderful, inspiring designers!
Again, please check out more of their wonderful work, and support these talented, inspiring designers:
- Katerina Bot
Ivaylo Dragnev (Status Designs)
Wout Vromans (styleWish)
If you enjoyed this article, here are some more in this Analysis and Interview series.
- Photo ManipulationExploring Photo Manipulation: Analysis and InterviewsDaisy Ein
- ProcreateCustom Brushes in Photoshop and Procreate: Analysis and InterviewsDaisy Ein
- InfographicsExploring Infographic Design: Analysis and InterviewsDaisy Ein
- IsometricExploring Isometric Design and Illustration: Analysis and InterviewsDaisy Ein
- InterviewsExploring Text Effects: Analysis and InterviewsDaisy Ein
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