In part 1 of our interview with John Foster, principal and superintendent of Bad People Good Things LLC and author of several books including For Sale: Over 200 Innovative Solutions in Packaging Design and 1000 Indie Posters, we saw some of his best poster design and heard about his surprising and successful career.
Read on for our Poster Design Competition & Awards judge’s expert tips on what makes great poster design—plus get the details on his favorite posters and designers.
You received a Gold Medal from the Art Directors Club of Metropolitan Washington and a Best in Show from the ADDYs, plus your work is part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian. Impressive! Is any of that for poster design?
Almost all of those awards are for posters! The Best in Show was for my Hurricane Poster Project print (which I will discuss in more detail) and a number of posters received ADCMW medals and all of the work with the Smithsonian happens to be posters as well. I guess that stops being a coincidence at some point. I am less terrible at posters than I am at other forms of design.
“I still get so excited about what is
happening in the poster world.”
What’s your favorite poster you’ve worked on?
My favorite poster was definitely the one I did for Leif Steiner’s Hurricane Poster project, for a number of reasons. The project afforded me a chance to not only assist the victims of Hurricane Katrina through the Red Cross, but also to utilize an illustration style I had been working on for years. I had been chasing a resolution to a comment my college painting professor had made, asking me to paint in the graphic way that I design.
This had been a process for over a decade, never quite getting the illustration style where I wanted it. I knew I wanted the elements to be as raw and as primitive as could be, so I drew them in pencil as separate pieces with the smallest number of shapes without connecting anything. Each shape exists on its own and then they fall in side-by-side to form the alligators and rooftop and old lady with her poodle. Those images of the elderly stranded and left behind on their rooftops will forever be with me. The project also made me so proud to actually be able to help in some tiny way, as I often feel neutered when something like that happens and my skills don’t translate immediately.
You’ve worked with some very well-known clients. Any favorites among them?
I have been really lucky to have had the chance to tackle some crazy projects, and along the way I have worked with some amazing people. It is hard to pick favorites. I am just thankful for the chance to be able to work with so many of my favorite musical artists, products I believe in, causes I support and to be able to shine a light on other talented designers through my books etc. …
If you had told the 20-year-old me he would be meeting with John Woo to work on materials for a blockbuster movie (and his wife would intentionally physically bump into Nic Cage on the red carpet at the premiere) or be designing LP packaging for Mission of Burma or sitting in a closed meeting at the White House or trying to reinvent classic games for Hasbro or rebrand several products for Coke or help launch a tiny local business like Honest Tea into to the global marketplace, he would say that you were bananas. And if you told 40-year-old me that along the way almost everyone he worked with would be smart and kind and funny he would be amazed looking back that you were right on the nose.
“I don’t know what stage we’re in, as only history will tell that tale, but this remains a golden period for the poster”
Can you provide any advice and/or a list of tips for designing posters? (For beginner and/or experienced designers?)
I can! [Editor’s Note: Check out Foster’s 10 Tips on Creating Killer Gig Posters] The best one is “Whenever You Are Stuck For Ideas, Use A Giant Head”—always.
What qualities in others’ (or your) posters do you appreciate? Is there some quality all the best poster designs have?
The thing I always look for in anyone’s work is that they did something that I could never in a million years have done. I think you need to have the level of execution and craft as a general rule, as well as a willingness to take risks, but it comes down to did they execute something, come up with a concept, create a juxtaposition, or manipulation that my brain just could never have produced? It could be a super simple final execution, like the brilliant work of Dirk Fowler, or it could be a mind-blowing, eye-popping burst from Seripop, but they all find themselves in a place where my jaw drops at how they seem to operate with a level of creativity that amazes.
In general, are you impressed by the quality of posters coming out of the design world?
Yes! I still get so excited about what is happening in the poster world. I truly feel like that has been where the most innovative and edgy design has been for quite some time. It’s kind of funny as we were all waiting for interactive design to lead the way to the bleeding edge, but now it has been squeezed into a tiny mobile device functionality, not unlike what happened to the poster in the early 90s, while the poster has been large and in charge and leaving behind a golden age of design.
The beautiful part is how we now get to see and be inspired by what is happening all over the world in real-time, so it is accelerating things. We can see someone like Felix Pfaffli using only the letters in a name and one to two colors and practically reinventing the visual wheel—he is so brilliant—at the same time as we can see Zeloot combining all that was great about the Push Pin school into a surreal illustration style and spitting it back on to the page like a psychedelic funhouse while Sonnenzimmer seem to be playing avant jazz atop the printed page as they toe the line between fine art and smart communication, and Neil Kellerhouse turns the commercial movie poster upside down just when we least expect it.
I could go on for days! I don’t know what stage we’re in, as only history will tell that tale, but this remains a golden period for the poster.