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Poster designs: 53 inspirational examples

32. The Lure of the Underground

London Underground advertising reflects the changing face of art

The iconic branding of the London Underground began early in the 20th century when, with dwindling passenger numbers and a shaky public view of the dirty subterranean rail system, Frank Pick saw a need to step up the self-promotion of the tube. Pick totally overhauled the way the Underground marketed itself, even holding public exhibitions of the art produced for Underground advertisement. The result has been that tube posters offer a wonderful reflection of the changing face of graphic design and emerging artistic styles over the last century.

The Lure of the Underground was created by comic strip illustrator Alfred Leete in 1927.  We love this example for the individual characters and 1920s styling.

33. 1923 Bauhaus Exhibition in Weimar

Joost Schmidt’s 1923 Bauhaus Exhibition poster is a classic

Joost Schmidt’s now iconic poster for the 1923 Bauhaus Exhibition shows a cross comprised of circles and squares, and includes the Bauhaus logo designed by Oskar Schlemmer.

Produced for a competition, the poster had to incorporate the logo, exhibition information, venue details and the date. Schmidt was one of the pioneers of Bauhaus typography, and the original version of this poster was placed in 120 railway stations in Germany.

34. Mass Non-Violent Direct Action

This political poster from 2011 is bold and urgent

November 17 2011 was an international day of action organised two months after the first Occupy Wall Street demonstration. R. Black’s poster for the event includes a single protester coming forward from the massed ranks – a callback to the Chinese man who blocked the path of a tank in Tiananmen Square in 1989. 

“Like many effective protest posters, R. Black’s blocky, constructivist design for Occupy has the stridency and urgency of a brick lobbed through a window,” says Rick Poynor. This memorable poster is all over the internet and, as with many images of this kind, it is far more likely that it was viewed on a laptop or tablet than encountered as a print.”

35. Metropolis

One of the surviving copies of Metropolis sold for a record £398,000 in 2005

German graphic artist and painter Heinz Schulz-Neudamm designed this art-deco poster for the premiere of Fritz Lang's groundbreaking 1927 sci-fi film Metropolis. Only four known surviving copies of the poster exist, one of which took the record for being the most expensive ever sold, after reaching a record price of £398,000 in London in 2005.

36. Lord Kitchener Wants You 

Widely known as Britons Wants You, this poster has iconic status

This hugely influential 1914 advertisement by Alfred Leete – often referred to as 'Britons Wants You' – became an icon of the enlistment frenzy in Britain during WWI. The poster features Lord Kitchener, the British secretary of state for war, above the words “wants you”, and set the tone for hundreds of copycat posters the world over.

37. Books

Influential designers like Paula Scher have been inspired by the constructivist movement

Russian constructivist Alexander Rodchenko experimented with graphic design after retiring from painting. Books combines photography and graphic design, and Rodchenko’s depiction of immediate communication is characteristic of official Soviet art of the period, which sought the best method of conveying the messages of the Communist state to the masses.

38. Barack Obama 'Hope' poster

The Hope' poster was created in one day

With his roots in the skateboarding scene, South Carolina-born graphic designer and illustrator Shepard Fairey built a name for himself with his 'Andre the Giant' guerrilla sticker campaigns – but it was his involvement in the 2008 US Presidential election that really catapulted him towards global recognition.

Fairey's now-iconic Barack Obama 'Hope' poster, featuring a four-colour portrait of the then-Senator in red, beige, light and dark blue, also came in 'Change' and 'Progress' versions, and was created in a day. Having started life as a screen-printed poster (which sold out almost immediately), the design spread virally across the United States and the rest of the world as a symbol of what American politics could become.

The revelation the following year that Fairey had based the design on a photograph by Associated Press photographer Mannie Garcia without permission – and later admitted to destroying evidence in the ensuing legal battle with AP – led to community service and a hefty fine. Amongst designers, it's now as much a symbol of copyright infringement as it is a piece of political iconography. But whatever the circumstances of its creation, its influence during the election campaign was enormous.

39. Le Chat Noir

Le Chat Noir's iconic poster design has inspired over 100 years of poster design

Perhaps one of the most well known posters of all time, this iconic advertisement for the Parisian entertainment establishment, Le Chat Noir, was created by Swiss-born French Art Nouveau painter and printmaker, Théophile Steinlen.

It epitimises the Bohemian, Art Nouveau style and Cabaret culture of late nineteenth century Paris that stemmed from the legendary venue, which, in its heyday, served as an artist salon, music hall and busy nightclub.

40. Dubonnet

A.M. Cassandre is best know for his work with wine company Dubonnet

French artist and typographer A.M. Cassandre became famous for his commercial poster designs in the 1920s and 30s. Notably, he was one of the first to create posters designed for those passing by in vehicles. Perhaps his most well-known work was for wine company Dubonnet. 

The poster shown here is a particular favourite of Turner Duckworth founder Bruce Duckworth, and the one that began his poster collection when he purchased a super-sized 1952 second edition version in New York in the late 1990s. 

“I’d hankered after the poster since I was a student at Kingston Polytechnic,” he says. “You can’t beat the graphic impact of a massive poster! I have breakfast sitting under it every day, and I’ll never tire of it – every element of it is beautifully crafted and fully considered. Of all my possessions, I’d grab this on the way out if my house caught fire.”

41. We Can Do It!

Feminists and others have seized upon the uplifting attitude to remake the image into many different forms

Perhaps one of the most iconic images of the 20th Century, American graphic designer, J. Howard Miller's beloved Rosie the Riveter was designed to boost morale in during WW2. This poster is still used today and re-modelled on everything from modern feminist texts to tattoos as well as spawning numerous parodies. His bold, modern illustrative style, mirrors the comic books popular at the time and defined an era of advertising.

42. Moulin Rouge

French artist Toulouse-Lautrec captured Moulin Rouge characters perfectly in this poster design

This poster design for the Moulin Rouge is another by French artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. When the cabaret opened, Lautrec was commissioned to create a series of posters, with this design being one of his most well known. The piece features images of Moulin Rouge dancer La Goulue and her partner Valentin le Desosse. Lautrec captured La Goulue's provocative kicks and Valentin's lanky frame perfectly in this design.

43. TWA

Artist David Klein used bright colours and abstract styles in many of his poster designs for TWA

American artist David Klein designed and illustrated dozens of posters for Howard Hughes’ Trans World Airlines (TWA) during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1957, this stunning TWA poster of New York City became part of the permanent collection of the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in NYC.

In many of Klein's designs, he used bright colours and shapes in an abstract style to depict famous landmarks and scenes of cities around the world. Best known for his influential work in the field of travel advertising, Klein's iconic images are much imitated.

44. Drive

Poster design: Drive

In illustrator Peter Stults' Drive poster, James Dean takes the lead role, replacing Ryan Gosling

Illustrator and designer Peter Stults published a set of retro poster designs with a twist. His awesome 'What if' series explores what if movies we're all familiar with were made with a different slice of time? Who would be in it and direct it?

Our favourite was this Drive poster, with James Dean as the lead male role. Other designs include alternate posters for Pulp Fiction, Groundhog Day, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

45. Harper's

Poster design: Harper's

This is just one of 75 poster designs Edward Penfield illustrated for Harper's Magazine during the late 1800s

It's impossible to talk about American poster design without mentioning graphic artist Edward Penfield. Often referred to as a master of graphic design, it was during a school exhibition that Penfield's work was first noticed by the art editor of Harper's Magazine, the company that he went go on to create no less than 75 poster designs for.

46. Berlin 1936 Olympic Games

The imposing nature of the poster is heightened by the historical context

The 1936 Games was dominated by propaganda, as Hitler grasped the opportunity to promote the Nazi line of Aryan racial superiority. Thankfully, the black athlete Jesse Owens won four gold medals and made Hitler look pretty stupid.

But one thing's for sure: the poster for the event, designed by Franz Würbel, managed to promote the event brilliantly; showcasing one of Berlin's most iconic landmarks and keeping the Führer happy in the process - something 44 of Germany's finest artists had failed before him.

47. Absinthe Robette

Belgian posterist Henri Privat-Livemont created this beautiful Art Nouveau print for Absinthe in 1896

In the late 19th Century, the popularity of Absinthe coincided with the increase of large lithographic advertising posters as a commercial and artistic medium. Some of the greatest artists of that period created posters for the alcoholic beverage, including Belgian posterist Henri Privat-Livemont, who illustrated this iconic Art Nouveau Absinthe Robette image in 1895.

48. Monaco 75

This beautiful design was created by artist Michael Turner for the 1975 Monaco Grand Prix

This striking design for the 1975 Monaco Grand Prix was created by talented artist Michael Turner. With minimal type, Turner let his illustration do all the talking, using a vibrant and eye-catching colour palette, the car takes centre stage with the beautiful destination of Monaco in the background.

49. Die Gute Form

poster designs: Die Gute Form

The International Typographic Style became dominant after World War II (Image credit: Armin Hofmann)

The Swiss graphic designer Armin Hofmann was one of the leading figures in the International Typographic Style, also known as the Swiss style, which emerged as the dominant style in poster design after World War II. The use of bold sans serif typefaces and monochrome in this poster is typical of the movement's philosophy of creating striking but clear communication in what was becoming a globalised world.

50. The NeverEnding Story

Renato Casaro’s poster for The NeverEnding Story captured the film’s magic using tempera and a bit of airbrushing on cardboard

Today, it's easy to see photos of the characters being montaged together, much like the posters for The Lord of the Rings films. But where would be the fun in that? Renato Casaro, who painted over 1,500 posters during his career, including those for The NeverEnding Story, believes that without the hand of an artist, today's posters are often devoid of that touch of magic.

51. Peace

poster designs

The poster that helped to create an icon (Image credit: Ken Garland)

A striking poster even has the power to launch a new symbol into the international vocabulary. Ken Garland's poster for a march from Trafalgar Square, London, to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston took Gerald Holtom's original design of a symbol for the British nuclear disarmament movement, and made it simpler and bolder, contributing to the expansion of its use internationally. Holtom's original design took the semaphore shapes for the letters N and D, standing for 'nuclear disarmament' (see our article on the unknown stories behind everyday icons).

52. Vertigo

poster designs: Vertigo

Saul Bass's poster for Vertigo was part of a whole identity for the film. (Image credit: Saul Bass)

Bass created entire identities for movies, contributing to the whole look and feel of the release by producing a package of materials including title sequences. He produced four posters for Hitchcock's 1958 classic Vertigo, but this is the one that's most remembered. The two figures falling into the warped hypotrochoid curves reflects the vertiginous atmosphre of the film.

53. Air New Zealand

The posters provide an excellent history of the developments in aviation

When Air New Zealand celebrated its 75th birthday, the company dug out some of its best poster designs. The posters provide a history of the developments in aviation, as they move from advertising solent flying boats (which flew a maximum of 36 lucky passengers at a time) to modern 737s.

The vibrant Technicolor design provides an interesting contrast with modern advertisement methods – a clear reflection of how things have changed in the last 75 years.

Some content was originally published in Computer Arts magazine.

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Rosie Hilder

Rosie Hilder is the acting editor of Creative Bloq. Before joining the CB team in 2018, she worked as operations editor on Computer Arts, 3D World, Paint & Draw and Mac|Life magazines. Her interests lie in branding and illustration, tech and sexism, and plenty more in-between.