Two forces have combined to cause the dawning of a new era for poster designers; digital screens have infiltrated our train stations and airports, posing a welcome new challenge, meanwhile social media platforms have embraced video content and the animated gif. Rather than spelling the end for the poster as we know it, a generation of designers are embracing these technologies. Graphic artists from around the world are teaming up with animators and bringing their combined experiences together to create a seductive new form of communication—the moving poster.

josh-schaub-erich-brechbuhl-welcome-to-lucerne
Josh Schaub + Erich Brechbuhl, Welcome to Lucerne

As part of Lucerne’s Weltformat poster festival, a new exhibition celebrates these moving posters, signalling the start of a global conversation about what constitutes a ‘moving poster,’ and how we identify excellence in this emerging medium. Originally the brainchild of acclaimed Swiss designer Felix Pfaelli, at the time of conception there were not enough good examples to warrant an exhibition. Fast-forward a couple of years and designer Josh Schaub has resurrected the idea, and worked with Weltformat curator Erich Brechbühl to bring designs from locations as diverse as Finland and South Korea to the Swiss festival.  Simultaneously, globally, it feels like a movement is forming.

To research the exhibition, Schaub scoured the internet for moving posters, collecting a huge database of work. For the exhibition to be coherent he had to narrow down the field, and so set two initial criteria: the posters must all fit a standard portrait format, and have a single idea to communicate. He then looked for posters that used animation to enhance their message—posters, after all, have to be noticed. As co-curator Brechbühl puts it, “It is still a poster, but the animation part is more like a fifth colour, or a special print technique.”

Schaub spent time creating a taxonomy for the work he had collated, and observed that moving posters can be divided into a spectrum, ranging from those grounded in pure poster design, to those with a more cinematic approach. For example Johnson / Kingston’s monochrome Rock Woche poster merely flashes, inverting colors. It’s striking, but there is no structural alteration. In contrast their Pamela Mendez poster is almost a film, with an ongoing moving background, overwritten with neon text.

In the middle of the spectrum are works which feature some moving parts—Schaub points to Simon Wahler’s charming album artwork. “With the animation you can feel that it’s hand-crafted. Otherwise, with just the one layer, you could see it but not really feel it.” A slight wobble in the poster reveals technique, materials and imperfections; it feels grown up, yet playful. Schaub has also identified pieces that have a linear development in their content, building up to only reveal their final form for a brief moment. These posters border on storytelling, but still only try to convey one item of information.

Inevitably, a collection of work such as this begs the question of what’s next. For Josh, that’s very clear; the future for animated posters will be dictated by technological advancements. As posters begin to respond to their environment, designers will be expected to create work that integrates information gathered by cameras, RFID tags, or audio devices. Advertising agencies are already employing these technologies at big, hero poster sites. These locations will become more common.

One positive benefit of this trend is that designers can look forward to a less lonely future; moving posters require collaboration. It’s still unusual to find a designer with the animation skills and technical know-how to build and implement a moving poster, so working in teams will be far more common. Schaub is typical of a generation of designers who know their craft, but lack the technical ability required for interaction design. “I’m not an informatics guy,” he tells me, “you’ll need to work in groups, you can’t just learn this stuff at the weekend. So it’s good news for people with technical skills.”

Back in the present day Schaub has different technical issues, such as how to display 40 moving posters with only three projectors. Perhaps for now, online is the best format for enjoying these pioneering works. The designers on show at Weltformat may well be the stars of the future, but this is just the beginning. Poster design is moving, and we had all better keep up.