Think Like a Designer: Making an Art Poster | Chip Kidd | Skillshare

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Think Like a Designer: Making an Art Poster

teacher avatar Chip Kidd, Graphic Designer at Alfred A. Knopf

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      The Problem


    • 3.



    • 4.

      Possibilities of Form


    • 5.

      Photography vs Illustration


    • 6.

      Testing the Concept


    • 7.



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About This Class

Chip Kidd is world-famous for designing some of the most innovative book covers of our time. How do his ideas come to life?

This inspirational 35-minute class takes you on a journey through Chip's process for designing an art poster, a real project he took on for the Brooklyn Book Festival in Fall 2016. As he explores his assignment, research strategy, and even graphic ideas, you'll see how the best graphic designers — Chip amongst them — are creative and conceptual problem-solvers.

You'll learn how to:

  • Plan and research a new creative project
  • Evaluate compelling concepts
  • Execute original ideas independently

Plus, each lesson is filled with lesser-known examples of Chip's poster work, as well as comparisons to his popular work in book cover design.

Whether you're creating your own poster, curious about the principles of good design, or just want to see a master at work, this class will help you "think like a designer," hone your visual instincts, and harness the power of graphic design!


Want to dive deeper? Be sure to check out Chip Kidd's first Skillshare class, Introduction to Book Cover Design: Making Stories Visual, as well as Ellen Lupton's Skillshare class, Demystifying Graphic Design: How Posters Work.

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Chip Kidd

Graphic Designer at Alfred A. Knopf


Chip Kidd is a Designer/Writer in New York City (and Stonington, CT, and Palm Beach, FL). His book cover designs for Alfred A. Knopf, where he has worked non-stop since 1986, have helped create a revolution in the art of American book packaging.

He is the recipient of the National Design Award for Communications, as well at the Use of Photography in Design award from the International Center of Photography. And a bunch of other stuff.

Kidd has published two novels, The Cheese Monkeys and The Learners, as well as Batman: Death By Design, an original graphic novel published by DC Comics and illustrated by Dave Taylor. His latest book, is Go: A Kidd's Guide to Graphic Design, was released in October, 2013.

A distinguished and prolific Lecturer, Kidd has spoken ... See full profile

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1. Introduction: Hi. My name is Chip Kidd. I'm a graphic designer, and a writer, and an art director. I work for Alfred A. Knopf which is an imprint at Penguin Random House. I am primarily in book publishing although I do some freelance graphic design as well. What this class is going to be about is actually designing a poster, more specifically designing something referred to as an art poster. We're going to get into what that means. The assignment is from an organization called the Brooklyn Book Festival. It sounds self-explanatory, it is a book festival in Brooklyn. But, when we say art poster, what we're really talking about is a poster that is very much image driven. There will be some typography on what we're going to be doing, but it's really about a strong image, posters that are more about ideas and about events that are happening that the sponsors of the events want you to attend. I see the audience for this class as people who want to develop their conceptual thinking. I had a teacher in school who basically, he would give an assignment and say, "If I were you, I would find out what everybody else in the class is going to do, and then do something else". I'm Chip Kidd and this is a class about posters and the graphic design creative process on Skillshare. 2. The Problem: So, about three months ago, I got an email from the people who run the Brooklyn Book Festival which has been around for 10 years previous. They have a logo, but what they never had is an image to go with it. It's not only an aesthetic thing, but it becomes impractical thing because then they can make tote bags and they can make mugs and they can make key chains and what have you, and all of these organizations are non-profits. So, they always need to raise money. So, they take the art and they apply it to things to help keep the book festivals going. For 10 years, the Brooklyn people did not have this and they had a logo and they had a physical program that they would make, but all the information that was on the front of it was just very sort of logistical, dates, and who's going to be appearing, and what's going to be going on. Usually, if I'm designing a book cover, I'm going to focus on the author and who they are and what they're saying. In this particular case because there's so many different authors that are going to be there, I'm focusing on the idea of books, and I'm focusing on the idea of Brooklyn, that this is in Brooklyn. There is going to be some typography on it. The logo is going to be on it, but really what they want is an identifying picture. The specs I was given for this poster were 14 inches wide by 22 inches high and that's actually pretty important. They arrived at the 14 by 22 size because they want the physical poster to be displayed in a lot of storefronts in Brooklyn. They want it to have a presence, but they don't want to impose on businesses to completely block out their windows. So, that makes perfect sense. In terms of what it needs to say on it, it has to have the Brooklyn Book Festival logo and there's a few other bits of information about the dates of when the festival is and various components of it. But that information doesn't have to take up a lot of space. As with my book cover design and my graphic design in general, I don't really have what I would call any kind of signature style. I really pretty much start over every time based on what the assignment is. One of the greatest compliments I get is if somebody looks at something and says, "Wow, I really liked it, but I never would have guessed in a million years that you did it." So, I have here the program from last year's festival. This is the established Brooklyn Book Festival logo that must be used. Other than that, I am going to be reinventing this. Now, I am not designing the program, I'm designing the poster, but you can see that basically what we have here is all logistical information about the festival. There is frankly not an element of what we call art here. Here's our map of the festival, very useful, and it's designed and I think it's designed well and clearly, but it's not a piece of art that's going to represent the festival. The primary goal of this is to upon seeing it raise my awareness about an event that's happening, that I will hopefully want to go to. "Oh, there's going to be a Book Festival in Brooklyn and look how fun it's going to be, and interesting." And that will make me want to go. When I'm working on a book cover basically, the assignment is, what's going to make me look at that book and say, "Wow, I want to read that." So, for this poster, what's going to make me look at this and say, "That looks cool. I want to go." 3. Researching: I had a teacher in school who basically, he would give an assignment and say, "If I were you, I would find out what everybody else in the class is going to do and then do something else." Previous to this assignment, I have been asked to do a book festival posters for two other cities, one in Miami and one in Boston. So, the first one I'm going to talk about is in Miami, this was in 2004. The Miami Book Fair is a wonderful, wonderful event. The year that I was designing the poster for, they were having an emphasis on graphic novels, which is a fancy way of saying comic books. Because the fair is so large, I wanted to make a poster that had to do with comics, but also, what we call tightly crops the images in the panels to imply that the fair is so big that it can't be contained by the boundaries of the poster. I did want to incorporate some kind of images of books in it, so it doesn't just look like it's maybe an animation festival or a festival about comics. So, within the cartoon boy's eyes, instead of your usual sort of white round highlights that you get in cartoon figures, if you look closely, you can see that they are books. Couple of years later, in 2009, I was approached by some people who wanted to start a book festival in Boston. So, I started thinking about Boston as a place and how do we perceive a lot of places is through maps. So, I decided to take a section of a map of Boston where the book festival was going to be held and turned the maps into physical objects, i.e. book jackets to be wrapped around books. The first thing you see is Boston Book Festival. The second thing you see is that these are indeed wrapped around books. Then, you get the date and exactly where it's going to be, Copley Square and the website address. So, this is something else that's very important to keep in mind about posters, which is what I call a visual hierarchy of information. The thing with this the Boston poster, is that they didn't have a logo preexisting, they didn't have anything. With this, even though it is quote an art poster, it also has to announce what the festival is through typography. That is not going to be an issue with the Brooklyn poster and we'll get to that. I started to understand pretty early on that for the Brooklyn poster, it's a different goal because typographically, they've got that covered. I want you to be able to read what the image is even though that's not going to depend on typography. This is kind of a potentially difficult concept to grasp. Simplified drawings often work this way that's a part of why Charles Schulz was so successful with Peanuts is that he was able to visually reduce basic human emotions into just seven or eight little squiggles that were easy to read and were almost typographic in nature. I'm thinking about books, I'm thinking about Brooklyn and I'm thinking about combining them so that it makes an image that you will put together in your head and read it as a book event that's going on in Brooklyn and not only that, but a really interesting one. Okay. So now, I know I've defined what the problem is and I've done the research and I know what the goal is. So now, we're going to get into form. We're going to get into what does something look like and why should this particular thing look like what we want it to look like. 4. Possibilities of Form: Okay, form, what does something look like? What forms do we think about when we think about Brooklyn? I want to think about Brooklyn, I want to think about its literary history. A lot has been written about it. Whitman did a wonderful poem about crossing on the Brooklyn Ferry. Thomas Hart Crane did a poem about the Brooklyn Bridge and so I was thinking about that. I start to think about the idea of a book as a bridge, a bridge from you to what the author wants to say, to their ideas. But also the form of of a bridge is not unlike a book. Especially if you're on the Brooklyn Bridge and in the span of the cables it makes a kind of it's hard to explain but it makes a kind of web that reaches out and feels to me like an open book. Sometimes your first idea ends up being your best idea and sometimes you just simply need to work through your first idea just to see if it's working or not and then if it's not working then you cast it aside and keep going and don't be afraid of coming up with an idea that you love and then realizing that you have to get rid of it because it's not working the way you thought it was going to. I'm getting this idea of the Brooklyn Bridge as a book, that makes sense to me. I can clearly see it in my head which is always a good sign. Now, again just because I can see it in my head doesn't mean that the reality of it is going to work. But I want there to be some kind of what we call a visual trick to this. It needs to somehow go beyond an image of the Brooklyn Bridge. There needs to be an unexpected component to it. Sometimes when you use images that you've seen a million times but you use them in hopefully a new or interesting way it helps you to see them all over again and rediscover them and that's what I'm going to be going for here. But what if you're working on a poster for something that doesn't readily draw up a visual image. I've been the art director for a series of posters every year for National Poetry Month. One was using a quote from Emily Dickinson and just using an image of her dress. One of the interesting things about Emily Dickinson is she was not recognized in her lifetime so there's only one photograph of her that's everybody seen a zillion times. There's a museum dedicated to her in Massachusetts that has a dress that she wore and so there's a contemporary photograph of this dress and the quote is about that art is a house that wants to be haunted and so it almost looks sort of ghost-like and and it works as a visual. Another one I did was for Walt Whitman probably best known for Leaves of Grass and so there was an image of grass on it. But there's also an image of a life size cast of his hand in brass and the quotes about, even if I'm away I'll always be with you. These posters are going to schools and I wanted to recreate the cast of the hand. Absolute life size so that student or anybody can put their hand on Walt Whitman's hand and feel like they are touching him and compare the size of their hand to his hand and so even if it seems like there are no possibilities there always are. You just need to be able to dig and look and find them. Hopefully, learn about them and the more you learn the more the possibilities will open up. 5. Photography vs Illustration: Now, I want to talk about photography versus illustration. Like I said, I want to turn the Brooklyn bridge into a book. There's going to be any number of ways I can do this. The thing about being a graphic designer is that if you are able to draw great, but if you can't, that's okay too as long as you can convey to somebody who can what your idea is. What I'd like to do at least initially for this is to generate all the imagery myself. The means now to take good photographs is tremendous. I can go to the Brooklyn bridge with my phone. I don't need to go there with the camera crew. I can go by myself and can control every aspect of what I want to see. But also what happens, and I learned this early on when I was designing book covers for fiction which is, a photograph contains a sense of realism within it that it's much much harder to achieve with an illustration. Though the Wolfsonian to mark, I believed the 50th anniversary of four famous posters that Norman Rockwell did in World War Two which are called the four freedoms. The Wolfsonian asked a whole bunch of designers to reinterpret these or to basically say what would the four freedoms posters look like today. So, what I decided to do was take the idea of, basically we take these freedoms now for granted and that freedom isn't free and this is what happens when we abuse these freedoms. I decided to do this with photography as opposed to Rockwell's illustration. I mean, first of all Norman Rockwell is one of the greatest artists of the 20th century by none. So, I'm not even going to try and compete with that or ask anybody else too. But for these posters that I was going to be doing reinterpreting these ideas, there's two things going on here. I'm turning the ideas around and saying this is what happens when we abuse these freedoms and also when we abuse them it is real. So, if a photograph is going to convey that, I believe in a more powerful way, than a drawing. Freedom from want, thanksgiving dinner. Yeah, but this is what happens when a large number of people in the world or in America or wherever are obese. Freedom from fear becomes everybody wanting to have a gun and use it whenever they want to. So, I felt very strongly about the fact that photography was going to get this across in a more powerful way than an illustration. But there are times when you definitely want to use illustration because you feel a photograph isn't going to be enticing or interesting enough. For this poster that I created for Adobe, they do a competition every year to give scholarships to students in creative fields. I was really racking my brains about this, about what to do until one of the people at Adobe that I was working with said, when the kids win this award they really feel like the world is their oyster. As soon as she said it, then that finally gave me an idea of what to do, it's like let's show an oyster, if you've never seen an oyster. It's usually served raw and basically looks like a big globe of mucus. What I decided to do was hire an illustrator to draw an oyster with, of course, a Perl to imply this is the prize. This is a wonderful artist named Charles Burns. Charles is really good at making potentially creepy things look beautiful. Also, oysters are, in general, gray, various shades of gray. So, I wanted to then contrast that with the bright colors around it. Okay. So, what if you don't consider yourself to be an illustrator or a photographer? Well, that's why you're in art director. I think, you could argue that any creative person is an art director. What does this mean? This means that you make creative decisions in your head and then if you can't execute them by yourself the way you want to, then you work with somebody else who can. What you need to be is it's a conceptual thinker and that takes time and process and effort to learn how to do that and be that. On the other hand, the means now to take photographs, to create illustrations, has never been greater. I really do encourage you to research photography that interests you. It never hurts to try and that the more knowledge you have the better you're going to be at at least trying to get where you want to go rather than just saying, "Well, I can't do it, so I'm going to get somebody else to do it ". At least try to figure out how you would do it if you could. Often the biggest barrier to you doing something that you would like to do is you. That's person that's doing the thing that you really want to do but you're not doing. Sometimes the reason that is is because they went for it and you didn't. So, you should go for it, you should at least try. 6. Testing the Concept: So, I knew I wanted to do photography. I picked a beautiful day, and went on a field trip to the Brooklyn Bridge with my iPhone 6 Plus, and my Panasonic Lumix Camera, which is higher resolution. So, when I was on the Brooklyn Bridge, I took a video of myself, sort of explaining my thought process once I got there. "Okay. Now, that I'm actually on the Brooklyn Bridge, I'm changing my idea, not hugely. We're still going to involve the bridge itself is definitely the right thing, but I think the actual physicality of it is making me think differently about how I'm going to apply my concept. I'm still thinking of the Brooklyn Bridge as a book, but it's going to have a different background now. It's only by coming here on site that I'm figuring this out, but, I'm still encouraged about the concept I have. We'll see how it goes." Okay. Yeah. Actually. I got very good shots of the Brooklyn Bridge, at various distances of the arches and the cables. Just a variety to play with to see about how they're going to wrap around the book. So, I basically turned these into book jackets. I tried this a different, wrapping it around, so there's different distances from the bridge. I decided that the one that pulls back the most is going to be the most effective, because of the cables, and the way they're splayed out, and the sky looks great. You can see, if you look closely, you can see people at the bottom, which gives you a further sense of scale. Now, I could just take this as a book, and put it on a plain background, like on a black sweep and just photograph that, like what I did for the Boston Book Festival with a stack of books. But I've already done that for the Boston Book Festival, so I don't want to do that for this. Plus, I think that taking this and recontextualizing it is worth trying and going to be interesting. What does that mean? That means really doing another trip into Brooklyn with this as a prop, if you will, and seeing if I try it in different environments within Brooklyn. I'm pretty sure it's going to work, I just don't know how. I won't know how, until I get there. I've enlisted my dear friend Anne Ishii. We were back and forth about where should we go, and I thought, "Well, Williamsburg" and she said, "Well, actually why don't we go to Bushwick, because I used to live there, and I know some of the hunts more." Then we start shooting, and something amazing happened right away. Next to the cafe where we met was the M Train, elevated M Train. So, we venture out to start taking pictures, and we're crossing the street, of course, illegally, because we're not at that street corner, but don't do that. But, all of a sudden, she turned and I turned and I looked at her, and I saw the elevated train coming down, the tracks coming down and like this perfect V. So, that was the moment. That was what I call the Eureka moment, which you always have to be alive to. It could come at any time, in any way, in any form. There was something about the train tracks coming down, and the way they echoed the shape in the Brooklyn Bridge. That was actually one of the first images we took. It's funny when it happens that way, because it just clicked. I was like, "Yes. That is it. That is the one." I know that, that's it, but, we've got the rest of the afternoon planned to do this. So, we just started walking, we just started walking in the neighborhood. The metal gates that come down when a place is closed, or empty, and they get graffiti on them. So, we tried some of that, we tried some bodegas, fruit stands, too complicated things going on in the background, we tried, there was this one great crazy collectible store that had a ton of stickers and stuff in the window. When we asked them if we could shoot there, and they said yes. Ironically, one of the last shots we took, was of graffiti, on a bright orange concrete cinder block wall, and somebody had made a crown. So, I took one of her there. So, we we were doing that for I'd say two and a half, three hours. I think we have enough photos to work with. And so I brought them back to my studio. Downloaded them from my camera onto my computer and then from there, it's just technical stuff. Bringing it into Photoshop, convert to CMYK, make it the size that it needs to be, and then it's just it's adding the information that you need at the bottom. One thing that was interesting is that the book cover itself looks different in different shots. Here, it's very clear in front of the collector store with all the stickers. This is in front of the orange graffiti, and they liked the graffiti background more. But for some reason either the angle, or maybe it's reacting to the background, this just looks different. It looks darker, and the contrast is less. Here it looks good, here it looks good. So, you can see there were all kinds of of graffiti, obviously that we found to use. So, ultimately I wanted to draw the viewer's eye into this world, into the Brooklyn Book Festival. I think this does this both literally and conceptually. Books are a gateway into another world, another person's ideas, that you can get lost in or find your way. So, a book does that, and a bridge does that, and a train does that. The dynamics of the visuals are working together, I think in an interesting way. But also, you recognize what these things are, they are passageways. They're passageways into Brooklyn, and into books too. So, the Brooklyn Book Festival people decided to go with those two. They would use the train track one in their digital promotions, and they felt that the orange in graffiti one would work better in storefronts. Some of the things that I learned or what's reminded of, are that, you can have a plan. It's good to have a plan. It's very good to have a plan, but you also have to be open to when the plan starts to change, and when the plan starts to change for the better. Even though it wasn't exactly what you had intended, if you're lucky and you're paying attention, it can turn out better than you expected it to be, or wanted it to be. 7. Conclusion: Okay. So, now we come to the end. I went through the process about what the assignment was, how I defined it, how I researched not only other posters for Book Festivals, but also Brooklyn itself. The one thing that I didn't really mention, or forgot to mention, or whatever is this was a job that I did as a pro bono job. That means I did it for free. I think it's important for graphic designers to do work for an enterprise or a course that they believe in even if it's not going to pay anything. My advice also to young people who want to start to get real work commissioned and made, it's a great way to start. If it's a course that you believe in and are passionate about, you're actually going to do a better job. Now it's your turn. I hope you've got something out of this class. I hope it inspired you to design your own poster for something you care about, for something you believe in, and get feedback. Get feedback from your peers and from other designers, and we look forward to seeing it, and I look forward to seeing it.