in praise of posters

Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so he may run who reads it.

Habakkuk 2:2

They’ve placed several large screens around the campus where I teach to promote university sponsored events and messages.

These screens also appear intended to reduce or even eliminate posters in certain buildings. Common areas are stripped clean, and academic halls have bulletin boards and tack strips, an invitation reinforced by policy to keep posters off of windows and walls.

I understand the impulse. But I’m not sure I agree with it.

It’s unnatural, for one thing. The universe tends towards disorder, as anyone who has ever raked a yard can attest. You know creation isn’t exactly symmetrical if you take a close look at a tree.

But my broader concern has to do with the diversity and creativity reflected in the tradition of flyers and posters on almost any university campus. Or during any election campaign, for that matter. During the War of American Independence posters and flyers were an integral part of creating public outrage over the Stamp Act.

Let’s face it. Approved electronic announcements, coupled with approved, carefully designed posters on fewer more regulated bulletin boards say little about the spirit of a community.

Don’t get me wrong. I like attractive, effective posters. I teach effective poster design in my communication technology class, talking about focal point and point size and legibility. It’s always been fairly easy to walk out into the hall and find some poorly executed examples to critique.

But even poorly designed posters, encouraged and embraced, say something about the vitality of a university. People who make posters take ownership of some small thing they want others to know about. It’s not even especially effective advertising. Some unknown band will never fill a venue with a dozen posters on campus. But they wont get featured on the electronic screens either.

On the other hand, anyone who walks down a hall of flyers and posted notices knows the community is filled with people who are doing something and you are invited to come, watch, listen, read and care. It’s an emotional connection that even prospective students can, or should, make.

It says a lot is going on here. And you don’t have to have someone’s permission to do stuff. This place enables people and frees them to follow their passion.

Or not. Sterile, ordered, symmetrical messages might say something else entirely. Like “post no bills, “ which of course makes us really want to post one.

Our human need to connect with others, and to convince them that the things we care about are important, is elemental. It explains Facebook, for example. And it explains a tradition of handbills and posters older than the republic.

But it does not explain electronic billboards, controlled messages in controlled media saying controlled things. That’s a different impulse altogether.

So cork board kiosks and tack strips everywhere, I say. It’s old school, I know. Especially for someone who praises e-books.

But surely there’s a place for both.

And a poster for every band.

4 thoughts on “in praise of posters”

  1. Totally enjoyed this. Thanks for allowing me to see the poster chaos from your perspective. I’ll view church bathroom mirrors in a different light now.

  2. I didn’t see anything on the e-boards about glow sticks.
    Thanks for blogging again.
    You should have time, you know– you have a very efficient assistant now.

  3. When I found out that they were putting up those electronic boards I first thought it was very progressive. Now that they’re up and posters aren’t cluttering every window I kind of miss the vitality and tangibility of poster’s physical invitation.

  4. I really like the perspective you have chosen. my initial thoughts on the new message boards was… honestly… waste of money… you took this way deeper and provided understanding for me as why I also think that the new boards are inefficient.

    “Sterile, ordered, symmetrical messages might say something else entirely.”

    Maybe the campus is headed in this direction or maybe the new buildings just need more character or need people to wear ’em in. The message boards combined with the new building sort of makes me feel like the culture here is being suffocated by a facade to please the eyes of rich people.

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