The 21st Century Object Poster

In 1906, the Priester Match Company held an open contest for the design of a poster. Art Nouveau was in full flower, so surely the judges expected to receive decadent renderings of languid smokers, things perhaps in the style of Toulouse-Lautrec or Alphonse Mucha. What none of them expected was a shockingly bold drawing of two matchsticks, almost antagonistically free of nuance: this winning entry, by a twenty-three year old designer named Lucian Bernhard, would come to be recognized as the world’s first Sachplakat, or “object poster.” It was arguably one of the most important design artifacts of the twentieth century, and came to define an entire approach to design that lives on in everything from corporate logos to desktop icons.

104 years later, Austrian designer Albert Exergian has explored this ever-modern idea in the creation of a marvelous set of posters offering witty reductions of television shows. Some of them have Bernhard’s brash disregard for subtlety (Twin Peaks is a pair of mountains), most are considerably more sophisticated and wry (I hadn’t considered how essential the red and blue stripes are when representing a Ziploc bag: see Weeds, above.) Each matches the cleverness of the show it portrays: Exergian’s X-Files is a not merely an X, but the secret signal masking-taped to Special Agent Mulder’s window. Is it possible not to love an interpretation of Charlie’s Angels that features not the girls, not the guns, but the speaker on Bosley’s desk? Is there any better symbol for MacGyver than a bent paperclip? Some of my favorites are above, but the entire collection is worth a look: if nothing else, you’ll be delighted by Exergian’s interpretations of Boston Legal, Miami Vice and Lost. —JH

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