When it comes to designing a poster, experiment wildly—there are no rules! To help spark your imagination, we’ve put together the mini-lessons below about design elements, with examples and prompts to help inspire new ideas and stretch your thinking.
After you’re done with the mini-lessons, check out our DxD Academy videos on type & layout (with contest judge Anu Murthy) and color & imagery (with contest judge Bosco Hernández)—both co-hosted by the Academy’s own Saba Tauqir.
And when you’re ready to start creating, scroll down for some free software/images/fonts, recommended videos about design, and inspiring poster collections. Have fun!
Colors say a lot. Bright colors shout, pastel colors whisper, and dark colors seem quiet and serious. Some color combos feel relaxing, while others clash and make us feel on edge. Color also has symbolic meanings that can vary widely (for instance, white means purity in some cultures but in others it signifies death). When choosing colors for your poster, play around to see what reinforces your message, and notice how the same color can look different depending on the colors around it.
Typography is about how words and letters look—and fonts are just the beginning! You can get a diversity of results with just one font depending on how you arrange the letters and how big they are. See what happens when you scrunch letters together, space them out loosely, or even float them around the page. Is it easier to read when they are centered or aligned to the left? What helps your poster "speak" the way you want it to?
Scale and layout
How you put something on a page determines how someone will look at your design. Usually, we notice big things first and small things last. We often read from top to bottom, and (in English) from left to right. What happens if you make something really big and put it at the top of the page? What happens if you move it to the bottom? What if it goes into a corner? Or, what if you make it tiny and put it in the center of the page? And what if you add other items next to it? Think about what you want someone to notice first, and use scale and layout to make it happen.
From photos to illustrations, images can tell a story without words. But sometimes, pairing an image with words can suggest a very different story. For instance, how do you interpret these images differently, simply because of the words shown with it? If you use images in your poster, either use ones you created yourself or sourced from a stock site with any necessary citations (check on the Creative Commons licensing). For more on our rules around imagery usage, please read our Contest Rules.
Every poster should say something—that’s the message. But messages don't necessarily require words. You can design a great poster using only images to convey the message. On the flip side, you can also design a great poster with only words and no images. Usually, short and bold messages are the most memorable. No matter what, a good poster will stay in someone's mind long after they've seen it. So, what do you want someone to know—and remember?
Explore more resources
- Free photos: Unsplash, Pexels
- Free photos, illustrations, video clips, and music: Pixabay
- Vintage plant and animal illustrations: Biodiversity Heritage Library
- Animal and plant photos: Cal Photos University of Berkeley
- Photos from Earth and space: NASA Image and Video Library
- Image guidelines and best practices: Creative Commons
- The creative process (Alison Bechdel, cartoonist and graphic memoirist)
- Design a Poster (Cooper Hewitt Museum)
- We The People (the viral art campaign/poster series created for the Women's March)
- Interview with Carrie Mae Weems (photographer and video installation artist whose work examines the complex legacy of African American identity, class, and culture)
- Typography and lettering (Jessica Hische, a Bay Area artist)
- Type tutorials (Type Department & Femme Type)
- Logo design (Mark Winn, Bay Area designer)