Introduction to Posters

The poster has been used throughout history, throughout the world and addresses a wide range of different topics. A poster is defined as a printed announcement of advertisement that is intended to be posted in a public place. Although printed advertisements can be traced back to the 15th century, posters, as we know them today, originated in the 1860s; they were printed using an early version of lithography.

So what is the power in the poster?

Well as it says in Margaret Timmers book, ‘The Power of the Poster’ the true power of the poster is shown in this photograph:

The poster shows an image of Stalin. It shows how the poster ‘was more than just an image; it was understood by Hungarians as an image of injustice…This brief episode illustrates the power of the poster, as a symbol of authority, sometimes to generate loyalty and, at other times, to provoke hatred.’



Early Posters

One of the first poster artists was Jules Cheret, he began his poster art career in 1867 with a theatrical poster announcing a performance by Sarah Bernhardt. He was born to a poor family of artisans this meant that he had a very limited education; at age 13 he began an apprenticeship as a lithographer. He had an interest in painting and this led him to study at École Nationale de Dessin. Here are a few examples of his work:

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He used poster art to promote entertainment in Paris, he did that by using an illustrated figure and then different fonts to inform. The colours he used were bright and attract the eye, I especially like how all the characters have energy, this makes the reader feel that the show will be energetic and entertaining.

Cheret’s modest illustration of women led him to be given the name of “father of the women’s liberation.” Previously, in art, women were portrayed as either prostitutes or puritans; the women Cheret drew were neither, they became known as Cherettes. This depiction of women actually led to a freedom amongst the women in Paris, they began to participate in activities that had previously been taboo such as smoking in public.

This, to me, shows the true power in the poster; that a piece of paper can actually change the way somebody acts or turn the traditional culture completely upside down.

Do posters have this same power today?

The next artist to make a significant contribution to poster was Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, he was prominent during the 1890’s and depicted Parisian personalities through his poster art.

Shown below are some examples of his work:

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Toulouse Lautrec tended to illustrate personalities that would appear in Parisian cabaret performances. As you can see his style is very different from that of Cheret; the posters aren’t as bright, he isn’t afraid to use a large amount of black of grey. The text on these posters is a lot less prominent that in Cheret’s, the main draw on these posters is the large image not the bold text.


The power of a poster isn’t always to be inclusive, although we want to attract more people to look at poster this can be done by appealing to an exclusive market. Sometimes companies can make the mistake of wanting everyone to buy their product, the issue with this is that by trying to include everyone you can in fact end up not reaching anyone! This same thing can happen in poster design.

In fact sometimes by aiming at an exclusive market people feel like they want to be part of it, they want to be included in that exclusive market so it encourages them to buy the product.

I looked a few examples of this, one of them being adverts that are aimed a certain gender, sometimes this can be because that is who the product is aimed at but equally sometimes it can be so that people who aren’t in the exclusive target market get to be part of it. It makes the target market feel special and so those that aren’t in the target market want to get involved.

Yorkie is a great example of this, they marketed their chocolate bar as ‘it’s not for girls’, not only does this mean that males are more likely to purchase a chocolate bar that is specifically made for them and their needs but it can also attract a female market…sounds strange I know…but I have proof! When I was in primary school I remember the Yorkie becoming popular, the girls in my school were desperate to be seen eating the ‘it’s not for girls’ chocolate bar because they felt it proved the boys wrong, that actually girls could be part of the Yorkie trend too! I know it’s a silly example but it does show how even when something is aimed at a group of exclusive people that others feel like they want to be part of it, they want to be part of the exclusive group. In my example the girls wanted to prove the advert wrong, they wanted to prove that girls can do whatever they like, they can eat a chocolate bar that isn’t supposed to be for them. In this respect I think hats of to Yorkie for coming up with something like this! They brought it a new type of chocolate that was specifically branded for men and managed to reach both genders!

stupid45 yorkie-1


Exclusivity at a whole new level! Another example of an exclusive poster design is the childline poster, it is probably one of the most exclusive designs you could ever find as the message cannot actually be seen by anyone except the target market!

Child Abuse

Some posters can be produced in a way that the true message can actually only be readable by the target market.




The best definition of Propaganda I can find is given in the site :

It says, ‘Propaganda is most well known in the form of war posters. But at its core, it is a mode of communication aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Although propaganda is often used to manipulate human emotions by displaying facts selectively, it can also be very effective at conveying messages and hence can be used in web design, too.’

The power of the poster is evident in Propaganda, the poster has always been and still continues to have a large impact in shaping attitudes towards wars and such like.

War recruitment is of course not the only use of a Propaganda poster, the book ‘The Power of the Poster’ refers to ‘the history of the propaganda poster has deep roots. The tradition of the impertinent political cartoon propped in a bookseller’s window or the typographic call to arms posted in town and village on the eve of war are often described as antecedents of the modern propaganda poster.’

This poster is a commemoration of the murdered hero of the French Revolution, the left – wing journalist Jean – Paul Marat, the National Convention requested that a number of engravings be made of his image in death for circulation throughout France to record his noble sacrifice. Marat was reinvented as a kind of secular saint: children were taught in school to make the sign of cross at his name. So we can assume that the aim of this poster was to promote the view of Marat in this light.


‘The Power of the Poster’ argues that ‘the propaganda poster as we recognise it today was the product of modern life.’ By this it means that the poster really took off due to the refinement of the chromo – lithographic printing in the 1840s, which allowed colourful posters combining vivid images and exhortatory text, to be printed in thousands of copies. The potential of the lithographic poster also relied on the increasing concentration of people in urban environments – viewers  who could consume the same images and, it was envisaged, might be come to hold the same views.’

The poster thrived because it became a popular and successful way of reaching people, the improved printing techniques meant that the poster was a lot better at visually communicating a message in an eye catching way. The book continues to mention how the modern propaganda oyster was the product of changing political conditions in much of Europe and the United States of America, the last decades of the nineteenth century saw the transformation of the political constitution, a new relationship formed between those who ruled and those who were being ruled over, they became more dependent on each other, the rulers seeked the approval of those who were ruled over. The book explains this view by saying, ‘Extending the suffrage for most males in many states, including the United Kingdom in 1867 and 1884, the USA in 1867 and France in 1875, for example, meant that the authority had increasingly to take into account the views of the people and, when it could, shape those opinions to its requirements to secure loyalty and even obedience.’ Propaganda posters became important because there became a reason for them, previously society was ruled by one person and other people’s opinions didn’t make any contribution or have any significance in running the country or state, therefore this change in politics meant that now people’s opinions mattered, the government now needed to control the opinion of their subjects or else they could face revolt of some sort and be forced to change the way they rule. It is as this time that we also see the emergence of flyers being used to promote political opinion.

Examples of these political posters are shown below:

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Probably some of the most famous Propaganda poster are war recruitment posters.

Take for example the iconic ‘Your Country Needs You’, this is probably one of the most well-known propaganda posters ever to be produced, even now you still see posters inspired by the same theme, someone pointing with the caption, ‘We Need You’. The original poster (shown below) is Alfred Leete’s characterization of Lord Kitchener, it was produced for WW1 in 1914 in order to encourage people to enlist. I actually read an article that says that actually this poster had very little impact in helping the war effort, it’s funny how despite this having a wide impact it has become the most well known propaganda poster related to WW1!

The impact of this propaganda poster could be argued was not actually at the time it was released but after that. The influence of this poster was that it inspired so many other propaganda campaigns in the future.




This poster is said to have influenced the American recruitment poster featuring Uncle Sam in the same pose produced in 1917 with a similar caption of ‘I Want You.’


This site : remarks that the poster above was the “Most Famous Poster in the World.” It is said to have had 4 million copies produced and therefore we can assume that it in face had a much greater influence than that of the ‘Your Country Needs You’ poster.

The Future of the Poster

So to conclude, I wanted to research the question ‘Is their any future in the poster?’ due to modern technology we are moving further and further away from a piece of paper stuck on a wall reaching the target audience we require and having the impact we desire. Is the digital age working to eradicate the use of the poster?

The V & A had an exhibition called  the ‘Future of the Poster’

It was designed to show how the poster has been present in the past, present and future. The idea of the poster is that ‘the viewer interacts with the piece and understands the nature of the poster: it’s something that gives you information (the sheet of paper that stays in your hands) and something that has an expiry date (poster being thrown on the floor).’

Maybe this is the fault of the poster that after the information is received the poster expires…it no longer has a use. However this could be seen as something that all design has an issue of, once the information has been taken in we tend to become immune to the design, we don’t want to look at it any more. Is the future of poster design a design that keeps on challenges us…something that we always see something different on?

I understand that the power in a poster is sometimes with repetition, we don’t get the complete message until we have seen a poster several times but that’s not what I’m talking about, I mean the point at which we no longer even think about the poster…this seems to have happened with a lot of charity designs, we’ve seen so many images of a child suffering from famine that no we manage to look past that striking photo. How can we keep the viewer involved?

One idea is to introduce interactive posters, like I said maybe the poster can change every minute, maybe the same poster is never shown more than once.

Another article I found, talks about the future of the printed poster:

Michael Johnson states that he feels the future of poster design is in the interactive, ‘What will start to happen soon is that designers and agency creatives will start to realise that having a ‘moving’ idea is just as important as the static idea.’

Johnson mentions a campaign for Obama by which poster designs were uploaded onto the internet and people could get them printed themselves, this counteracts the issue he spoke about earlier with poster design, that’s it’s increasing expense compared with cheaper methods such as web advertising.

These can be viewed at

Johnson concludes by saying that there will always be a place for the poster ‘all of the huge identity schemes we do now are almost always applied out onto posters in the early iterations – it remains one of the quickest ways to see if a headline, a picture and a logo can co-exist in an intriguing and memorable way.’

Perhaps the future of the poster is for it to go digital…perhaps there will always be throw away printed posters however digital poster design takes over completely. Perhaps poster design will adapt to posters that are specifically aimed at you. By this I mean they work in a similar way that we see on Google or Facebook. For example what if a billboard at the side of a road could read the history on the internet on your phone, or possibly the apps that you’ve downloaded, what if the design on the billboard could change to become an advert that is appropriate for you. The same thing could work for adshels or posters.

In conclusion, I think that the art of the poster will never die out, I agree with the opinion stated in the early article I looked at, it says, ‘as long as there are walls, there will be people producing posters to stick on them, and that there will always be a need for such a ‘throwaway’ yet eye-catching marketing and propaganda tool.’ There will always be a place for the poster even if it is just a temporary sign outside a gig or in a pub advertising the price of drinks on that night, in these places it would be too expensive to install a screen and so would be more cost effective to just print out a poster. Obviously for adshels and street signs it’s a completely different story, in these places it is likely that a screen is already installed and so you would have to pay to use the screen, this would be much cheaper than printing these on a mass scale.  I think that in the years to come posters will go digital, we have seen this theme gradually emerge, however I’m not sure how far in the future it will be until a sign could pick up your phone history, this would be extremely costly so until more cost effective technology comes along I don’t thing we’ll be seeing this sort of thing for a while.