Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk by Paula Scher of Pentagram, 1995
Handbill for an excursion train, 1876
Mass media in 19th century America consisted primarily of handbills and posters. Literacy rates were rising and technology at the time limited the printing of images, so these handbills relied on text. (McCoy) In order to effectively grab the attention of a passer-by and communicate a message, the type was often large, bold, and crisp. From 1828 to around 1900, during which the handbill shown above was produced, wood type was the favoured printing method. Wood type was invented for advertising purposes, as large scale typography was necessary and casting letters that size in metal was expensive and problematic. (Kelly) Though wood type was ideal for display text in advertising at the time, it quickly became overshadowed by newer technologies, its contribution to the evolution of headline typography is forgotten. (Kelly)
The poster on the left was designed by Paula Scher of Pentagram for The Public Theater, making use of The Public’s typeface: wood type. The Public is one of America’s first nonprofit theaters, and is built on inclusivity, accessibility, and the “by the people, for the people” attitude. (About The Public) The Pentagram’s poster was meant to align with these values, advertising Bring in da Noise to the public in an easy to read, and yet enticing, manner. The arrangement of the various creates a fun, graffiti-like impression in keeping with the Public’s brand. (The Public Theater – Story.)
Both designs targeted large audiences, use predominantly text to communicate a message, and fill the page with large-scale type. The Pentagram’s poster incorporates not only the wood type lettering used in the handbill, but also the method of communicating through text: headline typography, all capitals, prioritizing impact and readability. Both designs also use a selection of weights and widths to create variation and fit the design. One can even see the parallels in the way letters of the same word are sized differently to emphasize the word, or fit a certain space. Also consistent is the use of solid-coloured block letters and solid backgrounds arranged in geometric divisions, although Scher takes the idea a step further, orienting words vertically, horizontally and diagonally. These blocks fill the entire page in both designs, creating a rich and detailed design.
The poster was hugely successful, and advertised the show all over New York. The style also quickly became popular. Though it wasn’t solely used in the theater scene, wood-type block lettering was adopted by theater advertising, proving it’s continuous influence. (The Public Theater – Story.)
Kelly, Rob Roy. “American Wood Type.” Design Quarterly, no. 56, 1963, pp. 1–40. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4047285.
McCoy, Katherine. “American Graphic Design Expression.” Design Quarterly, no. 148, 1990, pp. 3–22. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4091231.
“The Public Theater – Story.” Pentagram, www.pentagram.com/work/the-public-theater/story.
“About The Public.” The Public, publictheater.org/en/About/About-The-Public/.