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Understated is Outdated—This Year’s Best Poster Designs Were Maximalist to the Hilt

Poster design would like to emphatically remind you that it’s still here

The changing role of poster design in the age of the screen is a topic well tread. But it’s also one we never really get tired of—if only because designers keep finding new and unexpected ways to keep the form relevant and fresh.

This year, they did it with loud colors, tactile qualities, satirical messaging, and LOTS of type. Yes, moving posters are still a thing, but they’ve reached a new level of maturation that we’re pretty psyched about. Where poster design might have gone minimal for impact in the past, this year’s posters went maximalist and exaggerated, packed and playful. And they seem primed to add yet another layer in the near future, with new technology such as augmented reality entering the space.

This has been the year where “more is more” (sorry, Dieter) in the realm of posters. In homage to our regular “Poster Picks” series, we’re bringing you our top five rules of poster design, courtesy of 2018.

There’s power in humor

At a time when memes have proven themselves to be pretty powerful—in ways both delightful and deplorable—it’s perhaps no surprise that poster design has become a prime place for satire, humor, and irony. Image and text employed in just the right way can yield some pretty brilliant results.

Take, for example, South Korean designer Soojin Lee, who creates posters with dense compositions, wild colors, exaggerated imagery, and often satirical, anti-capitalist messages. When we spoke to her earlier this year, she said, “You always see certain trends emerging: loud colors or scribbled lines. I like absorbing those trends and mingling them with my own loud style, which is playful, with strong typography.”

At this year’s Weltformat Festival, in an poster exhibition focusing on the Middle East and North Africa region, many of the participating designers chose to reflect on the region’s political and social situation through playfulness and humor. Turkish designer Mahmud Şahan, for example, played with the image of a life jacket—overlaid with cheerful phrases promising a “new life!” “new name!” “new nails!”—to satirize the resistance immigrants encounter in new countries.

Mahmud Şahan

There's no such thing as too much type

Soojin Lee also noted the prevalence of Blackletter style fonts in poster design, often paired with another sans serif, or a sans serif and serif together. When we interviewed  Ted Hyunhak Yoon, we made note of his use of “fleshy, bulbous” letterforms in one poster, and layered Japanese characters over Latin type in another. Of course, stretched type made an appearance on many a poster this year, and custom type galore.

Appealing to just one sense is no longer enough

When we covered Swiss design studio Balmer Hählen over the summer, the designers reminded us that, as screen-based as our lives may be, there’s still plenty of opportunity to make posters that will be plastered across city walls and pinned up at exhibition spaces. To make posters truly compelling in the physical world, many designers have been playing with a sense of touch or tactility. In Balmer Hählen’s case, that meant adding a metallic element to a poster series to give off a glint in the light, or giving a poster a fiber element that makes you want to touch it.

We also looked back to the work of Czech surrealist Eva Švankmajerová, who made mid-century Czech New Wave film posters that evoked the sense of touch. “When you look at a film’s title, it’s as if you can feel each letter writhe in your hands, slippy like a tongue or bristling like wood,” wrote our associate editor, Madeleine Morley.

Make it move—but with intention

While animated poster design is certainly not new this year, it has continued to mature in a way that’s been exciting to watch. Moving posters may saturate our social media feeds and inboxes, but they are notably different than gifs or videos—at least the good ones are. This distinction has only gotten clearer, with animated posters that retain the formal elements of a poster, but add a new dimensionality with a bit of movement. The most effective ones we’ve seen don’t try to tell a story or be too wild in their approach. The keep a bold, graphic form in place, and add a subtle, natural sense of movement.


Start learning how to design with augmented reality

As the art of moving posters continues to get refined, and type-driven posters play with layering, loudness, and humor, it seems like only a matter of time before augmented reality adds yet another element to the maximalist poster designs now so in vogue. While they are certainly out there, we haven’t seen too many posters combining print and app that have warranted our attention or praise. But 2019 is a new year…

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