Media increasingly competes for our attention. The daily deluge of messages we receive is mind-boggling: TV, radio, print, e-mail, etc. Visual noise is an apt description. It's more than a challenge for designers to break through and make an impact. One medium with a knack for delivering effective messages with immediate strength is the poster. Its survival amidst the advent of the Web and its subsequent media dominance is truly a testament to the power of graphic design. The poster is pure design. No sound or motion, bells or whistles.
Its simplicity is its strength.
Oil Kills Peace epitomizes this; created by Mark Gowing of Australia, the poster speaks volumes, without words, for all to understand. It won a Gold Medal—unanimously—in the Ideological category of the21st International Poster Biennale in Warsaw, Poland. Uwe Loesch, chairman of the jury, said, "The black dot of oil in a form of a bird is impressive...It works in any direction, upside down, horizontally or vertically, in any size. The minimalism of expression in the space of the poster is exceptional.The poster is not fancy. It is classic and instantly contemporary. And it is human."
His final comment resonates and symbolizes one of the great strengths of international poster exhibitions. These events comment on the state of our world—the environment, human rights, consumerism, health, the arts. Poster designers offer snapshots, messages pared down to their most essential, imperative elements.
Launched in 1966, the Warsaw Biennale was the earliest exhibition of its kind. Professor Józef Mroszczak, the Biennale's founder, wrote in the first catalog: "Great competition. Grand test to see how life is mirrored in the poster and whether the reflection of human needs is true to life. Splendid manifestation of the best in this field of the graphic arts.Indeed, a review of creative thought, artistic experiment and inventiveness. This is what the Warsaw Biennale can and should become. " Mroszczak led the way, and now the world is host to numerous poster exhibitions, from Tehran to Mexico City and Brno to Fort Collins.
Last summer, the jury for the 21st International Poster Biennale in Warsaw, convened at the Wilano Poster Museum, home to the exhibition since 1994. Chairman Loesch (Germany) was joined by jurors Xavier Bemúdez (Mexico), Tomasz Boguslawski (Poland), Jianping He (Germany), Anette Lenz (France) and Marcin Wladyka (Poland) for two days of judging, poring over 3,068 entries from 57 countries, in three categories: Ideological, Culture and Advertising.
Before undertaking this enormous task, according to Loesch, the jury discussed the criteria they would use: Is this piece of paper a poster or is it something else? What is its message? Is the message (image) clearly understandable, or must the content be explained? Is the quality of communication, the message, impressive? Is there any intelligent relationship between image and text, or is the headline only a translation of the image? Is the poster's design innovative, or is it trendy? Is the typography of the poster extraordinary, or merely decorative? Who is the poster's target audience?
Juror Jianping He echoed the consensus of the group, "In the process of selecting, the jurors had created a mutual understanding, so we were consistently choosing the greatest work."
Further commenting on the poster as a viable means of communication, Jianping questioned, "While facing the influence of television and Internet today, is the existing space for posters, a traditional medium over 300 years old, getting smaller and smaller? At the speedy pace of new communication, which indicates a shorter production period, does the compression of time reduce designers' time for conceiving? Due to the spread of design education, and the increasing number of so-called designers it produces, and subsequent competition, is poor design increasing?"
His thoughts raised interesting points, and much fodder for future debate among poster practitioners and design educators, but in a peaceful suburb of Warsaw, amidst rich history that includes the Golden Age of Polish posters, any doubts Jianping and the other jurors had disappeared. They chose 523 posters for inclusion in the Biennale; 15 were selected for medals and awards [included in this article]. "There is no doubt that the elected works represent some of the finest poster masterpieces in the contemporary world," Jianping continued. "And the great works seem to erase all discontent with designers and the world. Poland is a paradise for international designers." ca