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Poster Research Project 1
The Takeo Poster Collection
March 1999 Tama Art University

The present rwo-year collaborative poster research project was inaugurated in 1998 uder the auspices of Tama Art University, whith the Takeo Poster Collection as its focus.

This collection was purchased by the President of Takeo Company Limited, Mr. Shigeru Takeo, from the Reinhold-Brown Gallery New York (Susan Reinhold and Robert K.Brown) as part of Takeo's 100th aniversary celebration.

The collection contains works from Europe, America, the USSR, Japan and other countries, as well as an extensive library of poster-related literature. Since 1998, the posters have been housed in special facilities at Tama Art University.

Research aims

The present two-year collaborative poster research project was inaugurated in 1998 under the auspices of Tama Art University, with the Takeo Poster Collection as its focus. This collection was purchased by the President of Takeo Company Limited, Mr. Shigeru Takeo, from the Reinhold-Brown Gallery New York (Susan Reinhold and Robert K. Brown) as part of Takeo's 100th anniversary celebrations. The collection contains works from Europe, America, the U.S.S.R., Japan and other countries, as well as an extensive library of poster-related literature. Since 1998, the posters have been housed in special facilities at Tama Art University.

A characteristic of the collection is its emphasis on major figures in the history of 20th century poster design. Among those represented are designers who played an important role in disseminating avant-garde ideas, centering around the Bauhaus, such as El Lissitsky, Jan Tchichold, Herbert Bayer, and Max Bill. More recent designers are also featured, for example Josef Mller-Brockmann and Otl Aicher.

The aim of the research is not simply to consider the importance and worth of the works, but to clarify the function of posters in the history of graphic design and explore from a contemporary viewpoint the general properties of visual communication through the study of concrete examples of communicative design. A third objective is to acquaint specialists and non-specialists, both in and outside Japan, with the collection.

Bearing this mind, we can divide our initial research into ten categories:
1 material (paper); printing process
2 information medium (text, image); communication
3 aesthetic structure (design)
4 related art and design movements
5 urban environment and its influences
6 period and social background
7 creator (designer, artist)
8 literature
9 visual presentation of research results
10 database design

Research method

Even though a poster is no more than a layer of ink on a single sheet of paper, it could be called a mirror of its period, illustrating the complex relationship between semiotic and aesthetic theory. The present research will explore this unresolved area by closely examining the attributes of individual posters, the relationships between them, and the contexts in which they were produced.

As far as we can ascertain, most research into poster design up to now has been done not in the context of the theory of design, but in the history of art, and the so-called history of poster design, with attention given to individual designers. Most attention has been paid to the works of major designers, centers of progressive design activity, and classification of types of work. In contrast to this, we rarely see research in which the elements that make up posters are examined in a comprehensive manner.

To avoid describing poster production historically, in other words observing posters from outside the field of design, it is necessary to analyze from inside each poster, that is to say examine its essential structural elements. By analyzing the attributes of individual posters in this way, we can carry out our research from the point of view of the practicing designer rather than that of the historian, and describe a poster more accurately and in greater depth.

Based on these observations, we have drawn up an 'attribute chart', which presents the attributes of individual posters in a clear and instructive way.

Thoughts on an attribute chart

In order to construct an attribute chart, it is necessary to select and analyze specific attributes and viewpoints within the general context of the holistic 'field' that they produce (F. Zwicky 1959). Thus, the aim and means of a poster become apparent in terms of its structure and how it is perceived. Needless to say, it is vital to identify key elements and organize them in such a way as to construct a comprehensive field. The attribute chart presented on pages 16-19 is our response to this task. It is evident that a single poster will contain a certain configuration of certain attributes that relate to a certain field. Therefore it can be assumed that each poster has its own 'attribute context' which distinguishes it from others.

Attributes: some basic points

In order to analyze a poster in a meaningful way, it is necessary to decide what types of classification are needed. As a first step, it is of value to consider the process of making a poster and how it works as an information medium.

1 A client has a plan or information to communicate with people by means of a poster.
2 A designer is chosen, the purpose is explained and text and images are discussed.
3 The designer completes the design, combining his own concept of design with his client's aim.
4 The designer chooses the type of paper, and by printing this design on the paper, the actual poster is created.
5 The poster is displayed in various locations for a certain period and the public sees it. The nature of the featured information, and the beauty and effectiveness of its design will determine how great an effect the poster has on the public.

It can be seen that all attributes of a poster, whether viewed from inside or outside, will be included in the above process.

Classification of attributes

Apart from the actual graphic constituents of a poster, we can assume from stages 1-5 above that general attributes of poster design can be deduced from the careful study of individual examples.

To decide on which attributes to study, we first need to identify main areas suggested by the process outlined above. These might be: advertiser, designer, recipient, symbol/sign media, semiotic expression, support (paper, printing), geographical location, society, period, and contemporary art and design movements. Furthermore, as the posters are collector's pieces, information on collectors, state of preservation, provenance, and value must also be considered. This is the method we have used to produce our attribute chart.

According to F. Zwicky (1959), a certain attribute dictated by a particular viewpoint may contradict an attribute suggested by another viewpoint. This does not imply a simple dichotomy, but an overlapping of attributes that together create a fully-realized whole.

It will be clear that at present our list of attributes is far from comprehensive, and does not address such issues as symbolism and aesthetics; however, in the process of our research, new areas of interest will no doubt be discovered, and the list of attributes suitably amended.

Attribute chart and examples

Work, printing method, designer/artist, client, conditions of surroundings, social and historical context, acquisition, and present condition have been selected as main attribute areas.

The attribute chart on pages 16-19 illustrates these essential areas. For an example of how the chart is applied to particular posters, please refer to pages 38-57. The sample posters are taken from a selection of works by about thirty designers represented in the Takeo Collection named 'Masters of the Poster'. To qualify as a 'master', a designer must satisfy the following conditions:

1 He must be mentioned at least once in a selection of five recognized reference volumes on posters or graphic design. Please refer to pages 62-63 for a bibliography.
2 His work must be highly regarded in the context of modern design history.

Research overview

As mentioned above, it was our main purpose during the first year of research to determine the main distinctive features of posters as a means of visual communication. In the second year, using the attribute chart as a database, we intend to carry out research into posters in the collection according to the ten points mentioned in 'Research aims' above. As far as the attribute chart is concerned, all posters are treated as independent works and the relationships between them are not treated in depth; however, in order to carry out an extensive study of the Takeo Poster Collection, it will be necessary to compare works and identify groups and movements. To this end, the attribute chart is being computerized to form a comprehensive database.

Bearing these points in mind, we will have two main research aims in the second year. Firstly, we intend to make a general study of the communicative language of posters by making use of the database. This is a question of relating the semiotic and aesthetic elements that make up an individual poster to information theory in general. Secondly, we will examine the roles of individual master designers in the history of 20th century graphic design. In particular, we will study the connections between post-Bauhaus movements, poster styles, and the works of master designers in the Takeo Poster Collection.