A brief one, but the history explains a lot about what we understand as a poster instead of a Public Service Announcement. If you are around NYC, you should check out the new Poster Museum in Chelsea.

If you know where the poster design came from, it might be better to predict which direction it’s going.


This is Stefan Sagmeister’s poster for the AIGA awards in 1999. He set out to captured the audience’s attention by having his assistant scratch the text into his skin. Stefan and his former studio partner Jessika Walsch love to get a lot of media attention. They call it by the shock value of breaking tabus, which they do, mostly, humorously or artistically. Mostly…

How did it come to that?

+ posters need to grab your attention fast.

Movable type

This poster from 1911 for the opera house in Frankfurt is still printed with wood or metal blocks. You can see how the letters are slightly shifting. The print shops had several typeface styles and sizes in a specimen book that the client could choose from. I believe that the printers regarded themselves as a service, more than a designer or artist at the time. Quite a few of these letters are still in the “Fraktur Schrift”, which was more common in Germany and reminiscent of the handwritten, clerical manuscripts. Some shapes are hard to read for us today. There are several “s”, one that looks almost like an f. And the german ‘ß’ (sharp s).
So many more exciting details are hidden in this print:
– the printer specified that additional prints are not allowed.
– There are so many dingbats and decorative borders used – All actresses have pronouns of Miss and Misses
– It starts at “half eight o’clock” (7.30 pm) and ends 10 1/4 (10.15)
– Frau Doenges is “Unpäßlich,” indisposed (subcontext: she had her period), and Herr Hutt was sick. So this poster must have been printed within days of the show.

Lithography and Paris

With the invention of lithography in 1798, it became possible to mass-produce poster prints. Before that, posters used large wood or metal letters. With Lithography, they could incorporate artistic techniques.
the picture on the right:|
Jules Chéret’s “3 stone lithographic process” made it possible to allow artists to archive every color, usually by registering red, yellow, and blue. He made over 1000 posters, mostly centered around pretty girls.
Around the beginning of the 19th century, Paris was the trendiest city in the world. The posters on the avenues became the stage of advertising new products, shows, promote various political parties. it was the “Belle Epoque.”
Alphonse Mucha, a Czech working in Paris, used styles of the Arts and Crafts movement and Byzantine art and created an art movement popular up to the 1st world war.
My clients would probably want their product featured a little more prominently than this girl selling bikes. In the middle: Spaces were often left open, and the picture of each factory was later printed in a different print run. And he made the singer “Gismonda” famous, I think she was his first client, and he used two sheets of paper to create the large vertical sizes:

Toulouse Lautrec

The advances in the quality of lithographic prints allowed for a much greater artistic expression. Fine artists became famous poster artists like Seurat, and Toulouse Lautrec, who I wish would have had more than the short 37 years he lived to create more posters (Chéret lived to a remarkable 97 years). Chéret’s style aimed to please, whereas Toulouse Lautrec’s style was criticized as “ugly,” “repelling,” and uncomfortable because they use caricatures. With the opening poster for the “Moulin Rouge,” he used posters in new ways and reached audiences that fine art could not have.

Distinctive national styles also became apparent – Dutch posters were marked by restraint and orderliness; Italian posters by their drama and grand scale; German posters for their directness and medieval influence.


was the main role of the posters during the first and second world wars. Besides recruiting soldiers, they meant to provoke outrage at enemy atrocities. After the wars, Art Nouveau’s organic inspiration became irrelevant in an increasingly industrialized society.

During the second world war, posters started to share the spotlight with radio and print. Photo offset printing techniques allowed the use of photographicac images.

Both Mucha and Cheret abandoned poster art and became fine artists. In this void, Leonetto Cappiello arrived in Paris and created advertising that was funny and bizarre. The German Plakatstil used Art Nouveau elements much more sparingly, less decorative, and more geometric and abstract.

Art Deco to Art Nouveau

A.M.Cassandre’s Posters are icons of the Art Deco style and demonstrate the admiration of machines in the Industrial Age.

In this machine age style, power and speed became the primary themes. Cassadre’s travel posters are icons of the industrial, streamlined age, and he popularized airbrush techniques that lent a machine-like surface to his images

International Style


The Swiss-style or international style was made famous by talented swiss designers, but it became a movement when it emerged in Russia, Germany, and the Netherlands in the 1920s. It’s the antithesis to the playful and dream-like art nouveau with a keen eye for detail, precision, a technical, logical system. It emerged from the modernist and constructivist ideals as a pursue of simplicity and beauty for the purpose in itself that “form follows function.”

They were thinking about “Usability” long before that became a buzzword. A love for strong geometric shapes, white space, grid systems, organization. Minimal design is about removing the unnecessary and emphasizing the necessary. One of the strongest characteristics of the Swiss-style typography is the use of sans-serif typefaces such as Akzidenz Grotesk and Neue Haas Grotesk (a.k.a Helvetica).


Graphis International – Wim Crouwel interview Graphis Diagrams 1 Waldi by Otl Aicher otl aicher visual communication – munich olympics – münchen olympia 1972 graphis Posters 86 International Typographic Style 7 Publicity and Graphic Design in the Chemical Industry / Chemie Werbung Und Grafik Famous Swiss-style typefaces are : Helvetica, Univers, Akzidentz Grotesque, Avenir, Famous Swiss designers are Jan Tschichold, Müller-Brockmann.


New York in the ’60s

The pendulum had to swing back: Psychodelic (you can see them having coffee in the coffee), humorous, heavily relying on illustration, Pushpin Studios was Cooper Union graduates Milton GlaserSeymour ChwastReynold Ruffins, and Edward Sorel. btw Chwast married Paula Scher, Milton worked with Louise Fili, So, this group really hung out with some cool crowd.

If you have a chance go and visit the Herb Lubalin Center at the Cooper Union (free with appointment). It’s eye-opening how He and Alan Peckolick and editor Ralph Ginzberg tried to break conventions and tabus of the 60s and into the 70s.

Post Modernism

How would the kids of the hippie generation revolt against the establishment? With Punk. They wanted to ridicule ideas of anything political in a neo-dadaist approach. If the parents hated the military, punks would wear combat boots and steel Mercedes stars from the cars.
Before that, though, Kurt Weingart, a student of Erik Ruder in Basel, experimented with the screens of photostats, weird grids, and type.

fyi, NY’ers: very cool Punk poster art exhibition at the MAD


The event of desktop publishing changed the tools. It made layouts possible such as Rudy VanderLans’ Emigré magazine, and Neville Brody and Jon Wozencroft’ Fuse typefaces, and also David Carson’s Raygun magazine,
And everyone can make layouts. Ian Anderson and Nick Phillips of The Designer’s Republic said in an interview that they had no formal design training. They were influenced by Japanese anime and wanted to subvert the corporate look.


This brief overview had to omit many influences and personalities. And it is written from the materials I have access to, of those most was recorded by western, and until recently, male, white historians. It would be great to do the same about African and Asian poster art. And for the future: We are tasked with the possibility to rewrite that.


50 posters that rocked the world
international poster website

+ “Looking Closer Three” ch3: Susan Sontag on Poster Design
+ Jessica Lupton: “How Posters work”
+ “Posters: a global history”, by Elizabeth Guffey