08 November 2006
An ever contemporary visual support
An ever contemporary visual support

The sixth edition of the International Poster Biennial Poster (Mexico) has shown that, even though its survival may be in question, the poster is an active medium for the expression and communication of ideas. The International Poster Biennial (Mexico) is an event which contributes to the education of the new generations committed to the production of posters, and stimulates thought and opinions among graphic designers worldwide.

Within the framework of the visual disciplines, the poster falls within the sphere of design. As a public expression, it is part of our daily aesthetics. Nevertheless, the explosion of new technologies has unleashed the widespread belief that there is not much hope of survival for the poster in our day and age. Notwithstanding this, although the new media technologies and reproduction techniques represent important advances, the poster has always outlived them. Possibly in order to prove to us that we must allow traditions and the trades to live alongside digital technology and the new techniques. We are still in time to think about what the new expressions of the poster will be in our era, that will define it within contemporary visual culture, and justify its continuity and development.

The function of the poster varies according to its objectives: it informs, stimulates, postulates, explains, provokes, motivates, convinces, in accordance with the content of the message it transmits and, at the same time, it develops the aesthetic senses of the spectator, contributing to the definition of a visual-cultural awareness among its public. As a medium of visual expression, the poster reflects the evolution of aesthetic tastes since the days of Modernism which gave rise to it as a means of mass communication. Since then it has evolved through the major avant garde movements of the century, which have adopted it as an efficient tool for the representation and transmission of messages.

The sixth Poster Biennial held last August in Mexico, is an event in which the most important exponents of international contemporary graphic design participate. The series of exhibitions, courses and lectures provided an occasion for observing the current technical and artistic development of graphic design production. The eleven reflections contained in this article represent the thinking of the most prestigious exponents of contemporary design who acted as judges at the Biennial, and may help us to define the current situation of the poster and its capability for survival.

1. Ivan Chermayeff / United States
Designer, illustrator and painter. Former director of the MoMA of New York.
Posters will become progressively rarer and will represent no more than a distant and weak voice. In the long term, the future of this graphic category is gloomy. Nevertheless, graphic excellence will always prevail in the poster and this will be sufficient for it to continue as a genre in the foreseeable future.

2. Mieczyslaw Wasilewski / Poland
Prominent poster designer, acknowledged by the International Poster Biennial of Warsaw.
The creative and artistic Polish posters are not to be seen on the streets these days; however, they are frequently found in galleries and museums. Posters not designed for commercial purposes are a novel medium for developing social issues and appear alongside advertising which is often in bad taste. This is why, if the poster reflects meaningful situations, which the author succeeds in endowing with identity, it will continue to live, to be ever present.

3. Tadanori Yokoo / Japan
Graphic designer, renowned for his international exhibitions.
The poster may possibly prevail over and above all mass communication media. We do not know in what way its role will change within a society which is entering the era of Internet. The poster, as a mass medium, may broaden its field even further, thanks to the development and constant change of cities, and subsequently burgeon in people=s minds.

4. Aldo Colonetti / Italy
Philosopher and historian, theoretical exponent of the arts, design and architecture.
The poster will prove efficient for certain types of information in the future. Depending on the communication idea that interests us, it can still be a very useful medium. This will hinge on the language used. If it does not recover its identity, based on recognizable times and spaces, it will fade as a language and become just an additional and secondary element which will only serve for another type of communication...

5. Luis Almeida / Mexico
Member of the Council of Graphic Designers of Mexico.
Since his beginnings, man has sought to communicate by means of images. Rock art is a clear example of this search, a language by means of which knowledge was transmitted, rituals were effected or the forces of nature were invoked.

Images are a reading process which responds to the interpretation of the viewer, who de-codifies their meaning. Thus, international signage systems which need to be interpreted by different cultures are proof that humanity, of whatever race or creed, is capable of communicating iconically.

We also have universal images, such as Marilyn Monroe, Mao Tse-tung, Che Guevara, the Hiroshima atomic explosion, a closed fist, a dove, etc., which reach us unleashing social or cultural information associations which are received differently by each viewer, since it is he who makes his personal interpretation of the image.

An image is a quick and easy way of communicating, creating emotion or attracting attention; it is the basic language of the poster. The conscious handling of an image defines its author, essentially a narrator, be he a designer, photographer or illustrator, who will seek to elicit different responses. This search will justify the efforts of the visual poets who, thanks to this medium, revert to the caveman to design for new stages of communication in cyberspace.

6. Alain Weill / France
Art and literature semiologist and sociologist. Curator of a number of exhibitions.
It is impossible to predict the future of the poster with any degree of certainty. We may assume that, if our societies evolve as they intend to, visual communication will become progressively more important.
It is like the case of a graphic piece produced using either pencil or computer, or of a poster printed on paper or on plastic. The point is the same in both cases, that is, to turn an idea into a graphic expression. What is important in the case of the poster is that there should be persons to consume it and spaces for it to be placed; whether an image is printed or projected on a screen (which increases its size considerably) is irrelevant.

The process of globalization, which inevitably involves mass diffusion, gives rise to a number of problems. Certain multinational companies press for the consumption of the same product (a fact which increases yearly) developed on the basis of a sole idea which will encompass different regions. The real uncertainty in the face of this fact is the continuity of the graphic art of the author, which will only survive if his audience endures, if he achieves a form which manages to avoid the stereotype.

The future of the poster is related to freedom, to the individual=s place in society. Access to new tools creates less problems for the production media, which constitute the basic elements which the producers and consumers of images need to take into account in order to protect the identity of the poster.

7. Kari Piipo / Finland
Specialist in poster design, member of the Alliance Graphique Internationale of Paris.
While it is easy to explain a good poster in words, it is far more complex to make one. Posters are individual symbols that communicate directly or through metaphors.

A successful poster is interesting, eye-catching and comprehensible when some part of the image is transmitted instantaneously to the public. At that moment, and even though this may only occur to a few persons, new dimensions are opened to the viewer. As a poster designer, I believe there exists the danger of becoming excessively specialized. For example, when Einstein thought: Heavens, this Universe with all its marvels may be summarized as E = mc2, he did not stop to wonder if the concept would look better in Futura or Antiqua. Although our ideas are simpler than his, we pause at the nuances to find answers throughout all the process of design. The typeface we choose will be irrelevant if our idea is really original, ingenious and apt.

At all events, a good poster respects the intelligence of the spectator and offers a visual experience. The poster expresses itself briefly and freely, in its own voice. It forms part of a visual culture and, as a highly visible sign, it shapes our environment and manifests something about its period. Even so, posters are international in expression and may be understood by the whole world. A poster always receives the attention it deserves.

8. Felix Beltran / Cuba-Mexico
Member of the American Institute of Graphic Arts and of the Type Directors Club of New York.
Throughout its history, the poster has been characterized by a distinctive feature: persuasion. It has faced the increasing emergence of many media, which reflect the existence of countless influences.

One of the richest periods of this graphic genre was the decade of the twenties, when the poster in Central Europe had immense ascendancy over other media and, as a result of its properties and simplicity, constituted almost a scandal in the streets, an art exhibition for all passersby.

In recent years, as in no other period of history, new media have developed as a result of the accelerated increase in communications, as well as of the need for expansion in order to reach the farthest corners of the world. In the face of this challenge, the poster is struggling to survive and occupy interior spaces. It will also attempt to make greater use of special effects, taking advantage of the various possibilities and options the printing processes offer.

Under these conditions of competition among print media, the future of the poster should, in terms of its special effects, become more attractive, in addition to increasing in size, to awaken the interest of a public which may prove indifferent to it under the barrage of so much contamination created by the competition itself. Such development will prove inadequate should the poster of the future fail to establish a precise communication that would persuade this indifferent public of the value of the concepts it expresses.

9. Niklaus Troxler / Switzerland
Renowned poster designer. A member, among others, of the Type Directors Club of New York.
Inexhaustible vitality flows from my coloured pencils. In the same way as musicians play their wind instruments through reeds, beat the skin of a drum, or make the catgut sing. As do logotypes, human figures or musical keys serve to stimulate and generate new melodies, colours and sounds.

The white and black colours of the piano keys, the shining saxophone with its broad registers, are standards that heighten the imagination and represent a means of constant stimulation for my designs; thus I became a poster designer.

10. Ken Cato / Australia
Director of Cato Design Inc. Head of the Alliance Graphique Internationale.
Digital space has redefined the role of the poster. The posters of the future will be electronic.

About this article
The above article is reprinted from TipoGrafica magazine, with permission.

The information for this article was provided by Xavier Bermudez, of Trama Visual AC, Mexico.