Graphic Design Historical Compare and Contrast Research Paper

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Graphic Design Comparison

Graphic design has the power to shape our world and reflect our history. This is abundantly clear when examining two works of graphic design over a century apart. This paper will examine the similarities and difference between the handbill for the excursion tickets to Baltimore of 1876 and Paula Scher’s poster for the Public Theatre.

One major similarity between these two posters that have over 100 years of difference between them is that they both employ a visually arresting typography. Both posters use a font that is recognizable but hard to identify and depend on the use of large words given to words considered most important. “The 1995 posters Pentagram designed for The Public Theater’s production of Savion Glover’s Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk featured the wood typefaces used throughout The Public's identity” ( In the case of the handbill, the largest and most important word is Maryland, and this word is the biggest in the entire piece. In the case of Scher’s poster, the word is Public, as after all the poster is meant to bring attention to all the artistry occurring at the public theatre. Both the poster and the handbill rely on a bold use of color to grab the viewer’s attention. With the Scher poster, the background is an exceedingly colorful yellow that commands attention; with the handbill, the background is neutral, it’s the text color that commands attention in a fire-engine red. Both examples of graphic design use a font that is designed to communicate with the viewer in a manner that is easy to understand, but in a way that generates excitement through its own simplicity. For example, the font of the Scher poster is difficult to pinpoint, as it looks both new and familiar. There is a vividness of font that allows the information to be absorbed thoroughly yet while radiating a strong sense of bravado. Both promotional materials are able to create a sense of movement and urgency in their own ways. The handbill uses varying sizes of fonts, stressing important words in larger fonts, with exclamation points. The Scher poster imitates this historical trend, drawing upon historical models of graphic design, but still transforms them into his own unique form of expression (Meggs & Purvis, 603). The Public theatre poster is a “refined and more expressions versions of nineteenth-century typographic posters combined with the playful spirit of Dada” (Meggs & Purvis, 603).

The handbill exhibits a prime intent of engaging the viewer: “By the Industrial Revolution typography was all about communicating with the masses. Through signs, posters, newspapers, periodicals and advertisements, typefaces became larger and catchier, with bolder lettering and shading—as well as experimental serif and sans serif typefaces” (Seibert). This handbill demonstrates an intense desire to communicate with the person receiving the handbill and to also make the sale: at the end of the communication, the desired response is to get the person holding the handbill to purchase a ticket.

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The large font used, the red coloring and the usage of exclamation points all work together to create an overwhelming sense of urgency in this regard. In this manner, the Scher poster is similar: its large font, use of exclamation points, and use of color urges the spectator to purchase a ticket. In a more distinct manner, the Scher poster promises that amazing times will be had by all if one decides to participate in all the Public theatre has to offer, by purchasing a ticket. This is achieved through color as well, but unlike the handbill, the Scher poster relies on contrast of two main colors (yellow and black) in order to create a sense of vibrancy—like an energetic bumble bee buzzing around. Almost imperceptibly, the Scher poster uses touches of red, to allow important details to stand out, such as the words “membership is easy” written at the bottom of the page.

The handbill showcases a form of elaborate lettering that was indicative of the industrial era: “Ornamental typography was another major highlight in this era. In the 1800’s, medieval art and hand crafted individual art has become commonplace, and international artistic styles developed considerably” (Seibert). The handbill presents at least five or more fonts, some of the bold, others not, and is able to play with the size of the font within the written word: a strategic example of this is via the word Maryland. The word is written with the entire word capitalized, but only both the M and D are the same size and biggest. The remaining letters are all the same size but slightly smaller, creating a sandwiching impact, where the M and D receive a sense of memorability and emphasis—much like the official state abbreviation, which is MD.

As already stated, all of the elements of each promotional material create a strong sense of urgency in the reader, as each piece of text beckons the spectator to purchase and to participate. With each item this is largely a result of the inter-workings of several elements. “Text layout, tone or color of the set text, and the interplay of text with the white space of the page in combination with other graphic elements impart a "feel" or "resonance" to the subject matter. With printed media typographers are also concerned with binding margins, paper selection and printing methods when determining the correct color of the page” (Douglas). While both promotional materials urge the spectator to pay attention and to remember, and make an unspoken promise of excitement and a rare opportunity, it is only the Scher poster the subverts the original….....

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Works Cited

Douglas, Ava. "Typography." History of Graphic Design | History of Graphic Design, Accessed 11 May 2018.

Heller, Steven, and Mirko Ilic. Stop, Think, Go, Do: How Typography and Graphic Design Influence Behavior. Rockport Publishers, 2012.

Meggs, Philip B, and Alston W. Purvis. Meggs' History of Graphic Design. 2016. "Paula Scher. The Public Theater, 95-96 Season. 1995 | MoMA." MoMA, Accessed 11 May 2018.

---. "The Public Theater ? Story ? Pentagram." Pentagram, Accessed 11 May 2018.

Seibert, John. "The Evolution of Typography: A Brief History." Print Magazine, 10 June 2015,

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