Film poster design, much like book cover design, is the art of distillation. It’s about translating the themes and moods of lengthy narratives into a single, emphatic sign. Pouya Ahmadi, a Chicago-based designer who works at Studio/lab (founded by AIGA Medalist Marcia Lausen), takes a particularly considered approach with typographic and graphic interpretations of experimental films that are as sharp and arresting as the snap of a clapperboard.

After devising the identity for Ireland’s Experimental Film Society in 2010, Ahmadi has continued to create the promotional material for the group’s film screenings. The design process is always a balancing act: each poster has to retain the distinct visual language of the EFS while still speaking to the individual films. As many of the screened movies are by the society’s founder, Rouzbeh Rashidi, the identity and posters draw from the bold, poetic, and deconstructive aesthetic that’s become the director’s trademark.

For a film called He, a portrait of a suicidal man that brings together a combination of revealing monologues and ambiguous, fleeting imagery, Ahmadi illustrated the film’s juxtaposition of honesty and mystery by filling the poster with a giant rectangular shape. The blank shroud alludes to the film’s sense of nihilism and evokes its mysterious use of seemingly random images.

Ahmadi’s poster for Only Human is similarly fragmented, a trope that’s essential to the EFS brand. It conveys the film’s unique themes with uneven spacing between letterforms, which reflects the solitude felt by the film’s characters. The vague, white triangles that cascade across the composition also hint to psychological voids.

Abstraction and symbolism are both key to Ahmadi’s approach. For a poster promoting Immanence Deconstruction of Us, a movie that’s shot from the point of view of the audience, she uses upward and downward pointing arrows to represent the tension between spectator and actor.

Evocative use of typography for a title called Filmore is also richly metaphorical (above). The movie records a couple in a garden for an hour, and although we can’t hear them, subtle shifts in body language convey building erotic tension. Ahmadi’s custom type does the same: it subtly morphing from san-serif to serif, visually capturing a change in mood.