I spent five years working at Facebook as a designer. I pride myself on an ability to design in any medium, and I think it’s important to consider which medium is appropriate for a given design challenge and audience.
Like many designers, I have an affinity for posters—I enjoy looking at them, designing them, and even printing them. However, I came to design through a love of technology, especially the internet. Because of this, I’ve thought a lot about the role of posters—and to a larger extent, printed ephemera—in a world increasingly dominated by screens.
Previously, if you had something that you wanted to communicate to a large number of people, posters were one of the most efficient and effective ways of doing it. But we all know the internet is now a much most efficient way to distribute information. So is there still any use for the poster?
A lot of the work I do uses the language of design to take complex ideas or feelings and communicate them in the simplest way possible. I think about this process as the packaging of ideas—taking something complex and making it easy to see, understand, and share with others. Making the ideas tangible. This can happen in a digital space, but I believe that in certain contexts, physical media—like a poster—can be a powerful choice. Posters certainly aren’t the solution to every design challenge, but here are a few reasons I like to use them:
1. Posters have the opportunity to cut through all the noise of information we are exposed to, especially when they’re used in small, contained communities, like a corporate environment, college campus, or even a neighborhood.
2. They’re actually tangible. Posters have a physical presence in the world. Depending on the context and placement, they can be really unexpected or surprising, in a way that you can’t truly replicate in the digital space—at least not yet. They are also limited in quantity, and that scarcity can make them more desirable and collectable.
3. To me, posters can feel more human, especially when they’re printed by hand. You can start to sense that a person took care to make it. It’s much warmer than anything you can achieve on screen—again, at least for now.
4. Posters require a certain level of commitment. They take time and resources—ink and paper—to actually produce. This is a signal to pay extra attention to the content.
5. How a poster is produced can also communicate something. At Facebook, where there’s a hacker culture, this was especially true. It was really important to me that we produced all the posters ourselves, by hand, because it reinforced our companies do-it-yourself hacker culture.
There are innumerable ways to create images and almost as many ways to print them on a poster. One of my favorite methods has always been screen printing. To me, screen printing is in the sweet spot of ease and efficiency and quality and creative opportunity. Relative to other printing methods, it’s very cheap and fast, and it’s possible for an individual to setup and start printing with very little investment in infrastructure. And with a little effort, the quality of the prints can be incredibly beautiful.
You don’t need the resources of Facebook to screen print in your own home or office. With less than a couple hundred dollars in supplies, you can have a decent setup.
To get started, draw a design in pencil and then cut it out with an exacto knife. Then put your paper stencil on top of the paper you want to print on.
Place the screen in the hinge clamps. Align the screen to your paper and clamp it down so it doesn’t move.
Add the ink.
Using a squeegee, push the ink through the screen—by pulling from top to bottom while applying medium pressure—onto the paper or whatever you’re printing on.
Now the paper stencil will be attached on one side of the screen. You can repeat the process a few more times before the paper stencil degrades.
Let the ink dry. Then voila! You will have a screen printed poster. Keep in mind, this is the most basic way to create a resist and print a design, but not the most practical.
In less than a couple hours you can get your teammates creating posters about your culture too. For a more durable way photo emulsion is typically used, watch this video to see how the professionals do it.
Special thanks to Ben Barry for leading this Bridge workshop, Julia Plevin for helping recap it, and the Facebook Analog Research Lab for inspiring us.