Revealing the Language of the Illustrated Travel Poster

A mallard stands poised in high heels and accessories.
Enchanté. Travel Poster (2021)

Revealing the Language of the Illustrated Travel Poster

The travel poster of the early 1900s did not only depict attractive destinations. It also persuaded prospective buyers with images of what could be their future fulfilment. Commercial artists of that period were tasked with showing people enjoying scenic locations, and the comforts of passenger travel. This can be seen in the works of Tom Purvis, Frank Sherwin, and Percy Trompf to name a few. To travel was presented as something for the sophisticated and glamorous, and as the art critic John Berger once wrote, glamour is “The happiness of being envied”.

The Lingua Franca of Marketing

Due to the commercial nature of the travel poster, the unambiguous image was typically met with the explicitness of written text. The esteemed designer/publisher, Adrian Shaugnessy, has described this as the lingua franca of marketing. Being that travel posters were made to be seen by passers-by, the destination and strapline were read at a glance. This placed added importance on concise copy and legible typography. In this market, commercial artists were commissioned by travel agencies, tourist boards, and passenger travel companies operating by land, air and sea. Though commercial posters would later become the remit of graphic designers, the travel poster reminds us of what can be accomplished when coupling design sensibilities with illustration skills.

The travel landscape has changed immensely in the last hundred years. This has contributed to an active secondary market for reprints and original travel posters of that bygone era. Prices range between a few hundred, to tens of thousands of US dollars. The irony is there may now be more glamour in owning a valued poster than visiting the destination it publicises.

The Digital Poster

Today there is less call for printed commercial posters where there are outdoor LCD screens. These make possible animated movement, aid viewing during the nighttime, and ease any corrections that may be necessary. Translation and localisation are certainly more easily addressed with digital posters, and though energy is continuously used to power the screens, this reduces the heavy environmental footprint of paper based reproduction. Overall, it is reasonable to anticipate that many physical posters will be phased out in favour of their digital counterparts.

Understanding Editorial Illustration in the Digital World

A rooster stood upon the screen of an upturned smartphone crows in the dawn light.
Morning Notifications (2021)

Understanding Editorial Illustration in the Digital World

In today’s digital-first world, illustrated images continue to accompany written editorial. Having emerged to furnish the printed articles of European and American publishing, editorial illustration took a conceptual turn in 60’s. This made them better able to communicate complex themes. Not to be mistaken for conceptual art, whose execution is often a perfunctory affair, conceptual illustration crafts images that move the mind of the onlooker. These images allude to a discoverable inner meaning, often setting visual problems and using semiotic cues. In the service of editorial, this becomes a means to better engage the reader.

With digital having practically subsumed printed publishing, editorial illustrations still offers scope for non-passive reader deliberation. What conceptual images were once presented amid columns of printed type are now seen on websites offering editorial content. These include online publications, indie mags, blogs, and online documentation. Insofar as their current role, this remains unchanged. Editorial illustrations are not page decoration, they expound the article topics so they can be better grasped by the viewer.

The Changing Landscape of Publishing

What has changed is the stability once offered by the printed page, to which illustrated images were made to fit specific sizes. Today’s online editorial is commonly delivered via website CMS. Unlike the images of the past, illustrators are obliged to make adaptable artwork that can scale, and be cropped to suit screens of varying types and sizes. In the torrent of unbound content, anything that might increase dwell time is welcome. With evermore people accessing the web by way of broadband, images with subtle animated movement have also become commonplace.

Moving forward it seems likely that editorial illustration will not only be hitched to online publishing, which is in turn bound to the technological timeline of the internet. Much of today’s editorial content is being publicised through social media. Consequently, the pairing of a headline with the illustrated image are often the prospective readers’ point of first contact. In this context, the way an image can pique the interest of a viewer is not unlike an eye-catching cover on a newsstand.