Demystifying Graphic Design: How Posters Work

Ellen Lupton, Curator, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

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11 Videos (1h 4m)
    • Introduction

    • Assignment

    • Tell a Story

    • Activate the Diagonal

    • Simplify

    • Overlap

    • Focus the Eye

    • Assault the Surface

    • Visiting Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

    • Creating a Poster

    • Final Thoughts


About This Class

Join museum curator Ellen Lupton for a one-hour class exploring how posters work! You'll go inside New York City's Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, explore the six moves that make modern graphic design so compelling, and create a film poster of your own — a surprising and powerful homage to a cinematic masterpiece.

This course is inspired by Cooper Hewitt's 2015 book and exhibition How Posters Work, presenting works from the museum's astonishing collection of over 4,000 historic and contemporary posters. Every lesson is filled with inventive and authentic pieces from this astonishing collection, from Polish film posters to political propaganda. Ellen shows you how to tell a story, excite the eye, and use visual language to create emotional, effective design. Plus, Ellen shares her own poster design process in a hands-on design lesson. Explore the museum's collection at

This class is perfect for graphic designers, illustrators, and enthusiasts alike. All you need is a passion for design, a curious eye, and love for a visual story.


This class is presented in collaboration with Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

1,234 of 1,241 students recommendSee All

Loved this class! It was like enjoying a personal museum tour right from the comfort of my studio. Great content and inspiration.
Ashley Whittenberger

creative hustler

Wonderful overview and detailed breakdown into what makes a great poster. I could listen to Ellen all day beak down what makes a great poster design.
Very good! I am new to graphic design, and trying to take in as much as I can to help with career in web design.





Ellen Lupton

Curator, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

I am a curator of contemporary design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City and director of the Graphic Design MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore. An author of numerous books and articles on design, I am a public-minded critic, frequent lecturer, and AIGA Gold Medalist. My book Thinking with Type is used by students, designers, and educators worldwide.

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