Poetry in motion: on successful poster design

The key to making a successful poster? A strong idea applied with care and a rigorous attention to detail will always pay off. Sadly, it’s too much for some


The ironic title of ‘Motion’ is not coincidental. The taxi meter was most certainly and alarmingly in motion but I was not. For a good 20 minutes or so. And as I happened to find myself opposite Somerset House, my gaze naturally fell upon a number of posters for various events at the venue, attached to the railings.

They were, without exception, awful. So bad in fact that had I not been trapped directly in front of them, I, like all the other passers-by, wouldn’t have paid any attention whatsoever.

Shouldn’t posters grab the eyeballs? Shouldn’t they have an idea in them? Shouldn’t they be simple? And shouldn’t they be, dare I suggest, aesthetically pleasing?

The work on this page is of course all of those things. It’s actually a book cover. But book covers are really just mini posters aren’t they? It’s from one of my favourite series of covers. For Penguin Education, created in 1973, by Omnific Design. The superlative Derek Birdsall made some absolute corkers in this series but this particular one is by Martin Causer.

The designs for many of them are based on a keyword from the book’s title, blown up huge in the wonderfully ballsy Railroad Gothic typeface. Typography is then often used to create a relevant graphic trick. In this case, since it’s a book about the physics of motion, we have a reference to gravity and Sir Isaac Newton. So we see a beautiful illustration of an apple, in green to make it really stand out, replacing the ‘o’ in ‘Motion’. And the designer has placed it falling below the other characters in the word, thereby further increasing the graphic impact and dramatising the notion of motion. Lovely. Job done.

Shouldn’t posters grab the eyeballs? Shouldn’t they have an idea in them? Shouldn’t they be simple? And shouldn’t they be, dare I suggest, aesthetically pleasing?

But hang on, further nice touches include the continuation of the title with the words ‘& Units’ in much smaller type (so we don’t dilute the power of a single huge word on the page). It sits below the word ‘Motion’, perfectly filling a gap left by the authors’ names, which are set in the same typeface and at the same size above it.

It’s the subtle little details like this that can often lift a really good design to greatness. It shows that the designer gives a damn and has really thought about the execution, not just blindly following some crappy brand guidelines for an easy life. And because it’s clear that the designer really cares, it subliminally suggests to the viewer that this is an interesting and important subject, worthy of attention. Which is kind of the whole point isn’t it?

The Penguin logo has also been handled well here, rendered in grey rather than black, and expertly positioned at just the right size in the lower right corner. Thus maintaining the best visual balance for the design and the correct hierarchy of information.

These considerations were clearly not on the agenda of those responsible for the Somerset House work. Isn’t it enough to be subjected to London’s toxic traffic fumes day in day out? I could really do without the visual pollution as well.

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