Five innovations that transformed our visual language.
For the my new book, 100 Ideas That Changed Graphic Design, co-authored with Veronique Vienne (Laurence King Publisher), we each chose 50 that we believe continue to make an impact. These are five of my selections adapted from the book.
The Object Poster
With the introduction of chromolithography during the late 19th century, a major shift in advertising form and content altered the way graphic design was practiced. The ability to reproduce color images gave rise to a new popular art that not only persuaded but entertained. Posters were like grand canvases filled with fanciful figures, mirthful metaphors, cool colors, and artful letters. But artists, being artists, were not content to use one method alone, and their visual approaches evolved into numerous complex graphic styles. As a reaction to this complexity, a more simplified style emerged that was easy to "read" by passersby on crowded boulevards. In Germany this technique, known as Sachplakat or "object poster," took the advertising and design worlds by storm. It was the method of choice for the Plakatstil, or poster style movement.
Sachplakat's inventor, an 18-year-old German cartoonist who called himself Lucian Bernhard, entered a poster competition in 1906 sponsored by Berlin's Priester Match Company and Hollerbaum & Schmidt, Germany's leading poster printer/advertising agency. As the origin myth goes, Bernhard's first sketch was characteristically Art Nouveau/Jugendstil: It showed a cigar in an ashtray on a checked table cloth with dancing nymphets formed by the intertwining wafting tobacco smoke. Next to the ashtray were two wooden matches. When it was mistakenly taken for a cigar advertisement, Bernhard was forced him to rethink his composition and began eliminating the tablecloth, ashtray, cigar and smoke, leaving behind only two simple matches. He enlarged the matchsticks, made them red with yellow tips, and placed them against a maroon field. At the top of the image area he hand lettered in bold block letters the word "Priester." Voila! A new style!