Poster Design FAQ

  1. You, the poster, have just been signed onto a show. Where do you start?
  2. What do you look for in a play to give you ideas about the poster?
  3. How do you map out your time?
  4. How do you prepare for meetings? What do you bring to the meetings? Do you make multiple prototypes?
  5. What resources do you use?
  6. Is there any information that is required to be on the poster in order for it to go up? Do you have to follow any rules regarding the size of the title, author, copyright, etc?
  7. Any other tips?

You’ve been signed onto a play. Where do you start?

Figure out when your deadline is, and plan your time accordingly. Read the play, look at past pictures of this production, go online, go to the library, go get lots of images for inspiration. Everyone approaches this part differently. I’ve found that looking at the play to find out the general tone of the play and to find striking images from the show. As a basic visual resource, google image can pull up visual reference pictures for almost anything. Sketch out your initial ideas for the poster, before you speak to the director. You will have to make sure that you sit down with the director and the producers at some point to go over what they want on the poster. Bring several working sketches if you can, and experiment until you’re satisfied.

What do you look for in a play to give you ideas about the poster?

Look at the play to figure out what time period it uses, its setting, the characters involved, the tone of the play, etc. Finding out that the play is a dramatic piece about Soviet Russia will give you some images to work with (or look for). Sometimes it’s useful to look up past posters and production pictures from past shows of the play to see what’s worked and what hasn’t. How you get inspiration is determined by the individual.

'How do you map out your time?''

You will be given a deadline for the final product to be delivered to a producer or graphic designer. Some organizations, like the Hasty Pudding, have very specific rules about poster submission (they have a comp process), but all productions will make these deadlines very clear to you. Be aware that you will usually need to get your poster approved by the director and/or producers, so budget for the possibility of needing to make last minute changes. Start sketching as soon as possible, if you can. If you’re going to have a very complicated process, start early. Give yourself enough time that you can experiment with ideas and aren’t racing against the clock.

How do you prepare for meetings? What do you bring to the meetings? Do you make multiple prototypes?

You probably don’t have to go to meetings if you’re just doing poster design, but this will vary with production. Again, different groups have very different specific rules for their poster design, and you’ll need to go over them before you start. You do make multiple prototypes (which can be as sketchy or developed as you want). Pay attention to the rest of the production, as it will be a good way to get ideas. Also, if the Soviet drama or whatever is being staged experimentally as a 1960’s nightclub, you might need to know this to portray the production correctly.

What resources do you use?

Most houses have a scanner in their computer lab, but there are also scanners and photoshop/illustrator-equipped computers on the top floor of Sever Hall. You can download Photoshop, Quark, and other useful software free from the Harvard computer services website. The 4th floor of Sever also has computers with stylus mouses --- the mouses that you can draw with on a tablet as if they were pens. Also, there is a Technical Showcase in the Harvard Science Center on the 2nd floor: it has the fastest computers in the University, scanners, video editing equipment, and other means of working with images on the computer. This has the largest scanner bed on campus, if you need to scan oversize materials.

Pearl, Utrecht, and Bob Slate’s are all very good art stores in the area (Pearl is by far the most extensive and most affordable), most about a T stop away. If you have to buy things for the poster, check with the producer as to whether you will be reimbursed.

Is there any information that is required to be on the poster in order for it to go up? Do you have to follow any rules about size of the title and author according to copyright, etc?

Show posters that go up in the yard must have an “Approved by HRDC (or HRGSP, if you’re doing it for Gilbert and Sullivan) + mm/dd/yy” on a corner of the poster. This can be as small as you like, but has to be readable. Clarify with your producers what size you will be working with, whether you can work with color (color is more expensive than simply Xeroxing your poster in black and white), and what copyright info you need to include.

Any other tips?

Experiment. It’s a very free creative process and can be a lot of fun. Remember you are advertising the show through the poster, and make sure it is visible and visually striking from a distance (it will be up on a wall covered with a million other posters). If your design will be converted into black and white, anticipate this so it transfers well. You will need to get the image scanned and delivered to the producer on a disk or through email --- this can actually be as time consuming as making the poster, depending if your computer has trouble with large image files. Sometimes you might need to scan pieces of a poster and then paste them together in Photoshop. For extra advertising, some people like reproducing their poster or making a sign for a Loker Board --- a wooden board you get from the Office of the Arts in Loker Commons and gets hung outside the commons to advertise shows. If someone paints this, seal it because it will be rained on. Text can always be added in Photoshop. Have fun with it.