Sunday, February 24, 2013

2ed Scholarly Blog Post: The Most Coolest Graphic Designer in Postmodernism

        Clarity and readability are unique styles for poster design. Barbara Kruger is a feminist graphic designer in Postmodernism movement, and she is also an American conceptual artist. The feature of the conceptual arts is that the concept should be stronger than other elements in the artwork. Kruger said that the reason that I chose to use images and texts to create artwork are that they defined who we are and who we are not. Kruger stands out among the American conceptual artists due to her unique style. A writer Phililips, said, she has striking observations and great wisdom in her works.[1] Her works are clear to read, and she uses the direct method to communicate the messages with the viewers. Her design style is influenced by Minimalist graphic design. In addition, she rarely uses conventional elements in her works and she avoids using common methods to explain and communicate the subject. Audience can easily recognize her designs because she uses black and white images in the background, Futura bold type, Futura bold Itlic type or Helevitica Ultra Condensed type and the red, white and black shapes behind the text. The red, white, and white colors juxtapose with the black and white image are really eye-catching to the viewers. The audience can clearly see the ironic slogans, controversial images, and deliberate compositions.
      First, slogan is a very important element that conveys messages in poster designs. A writer Abrams, said, she is very concerned about the social issues, and she is a political activist.[2] Thus, the slogan in her poster design usually has the meaning of seditions and provokes conventional concepts. Kruger likes to use concise and ironic text to express her ideas. The most common approach in her posters is the use of pronounces, such as "you", "I", "we", and “they’’. Moreover, her texts and subjects often include both tangible and fictitious connotation and she also likes to adopt various violent and impactful languages, such as the texts in her poster, “We have received order not to move”, “You kill time” and “Your body is a battleground” in her posters. Although her posters are clear to understand by audience, the author, Steven Heller, says, she is still trying to stimulate every audience’s curiosity and imagination between the text and images. A writer said, she wants her works to interact with each audience and let the audience develop his and her own interpretation.[3] Posters are a medium that conveys information but they rely on designers to speak to audience. For instance, commercial posters not only promote products but also send messages to audience. Take the slogan in her poster “I Shop Therefore I Am” for example. It is a commercial poster that presents consumerism ideology. Individuals’ identity can be constructed through products, and the interplay between culture, fashion, and taste conveys consumers’ desire and status. Thus, although the slogan is clear and short, it has a very prefunding underlying meaning.    
            The most frequently used typefaces in Kruger’s posters Futura Bold type, Futura Bold Italic type and Helevitica Ultra Condensed, which are modern and clear. Also, they are both Sans-serif type and enhance clarity in texts. However, her conventional typeface is Futura Bold Italic type. Her works primarily made in Postmodernism movement therefore the typeface has a more modern style in that period. In addition, she usually uses concise texts, so the san-serif type is definitely suitable for the text to catch the viewer’s attention. Meanwhile, the red, white and black typeface collocate with the shape of color, and can quickly to catch the viewer’s focal point. Take her poster, “You kill time”, as an example. It used Futura Bold Italic typeface.  If she had used the light typeface or traditional typeface it would have missed the focal point in the image, and the contents would not have explicitly conveyed the message to the viewers. Therefore, the way she used the typeface in the Postmodernism makes her works more unique.
    Second, images help audiences better understand contents in posters. Kruger is not only a graphic designer but also a famous feminists’ photographer in that period of time. She is adept at juxtaposing texts and images in her posters. Her style usually creates spectacular visual tension in her posters. She has explored various issues, from politics, society, religion, gender, race, to feminists’ opinions, consumption, and the greed of large cooperation. The message her posters convey is direct and profound to viewers, and it also resonates with modern life styles. Moreover, she likes to point out the problem underlying the unreasonable and ridiculous social system. Thus, people can quickly and easily understand what she wants to communicate to them in her posters. Through her images, she criticizes the abnormal social structures. Take the image from her work “we won’t play nature to your culture ” for example. Although there seems to be a harmonious relationship between the woman in the poster and viewers, the opposite meaning in the poster exists. A writer Owen, said, it reflects how the society imposes the stereotypical gender roles on women through a subtle manner, as if all the sexist gender norms should be accepted naturally without a question. That is why she chose dramatic and controversial images.[4] For another example, her famous work, “I shop therefore I am”(1987), used the montage style. Not only did it bring her fame but also became a popular slogan in the society. She successfully used the interplay between pictures and texts, and adeptly used fables in the images. In addition, she worked on commercial posters, which required consumer’s psychology and social implications. For example, the texts in her poster, “I shop therefore I am”(1987) had an image of a hand. It could be interpreted as that consumers should not let go of the product in their hands. Furthermore, she likes to choose the image to mock consumerism.

     The feature of her works is using black and white photograph as the main image. She often selects contrast colors of red and white. People can also see montage techniques of her photography in her posters, book covers, or products during the 1970s to the 1990s. For example, she began to cut the picture of human figure from the news, ads, and medical books. Then, she recombines the original picture and breaks the original meaning and figures of the picture, creating incomplete photography and ambiguous mystery. At the last step, she uses the special with coarse particles and high-contrast black-and-white images. The image in her poster “your body is not a battle ground” (1989) will be a great example of the different techniques she used in work. Therefore, the images are always shown in black and white, which emphasize the subjects and avoid interfering the text in posters. Kruger adopts different effects in the black-and white images, which make the images more interesting and attract viewers’ attention.

       Third, composition is important and is the last step of the poster design. Designers should consider how to place texts and images in suitable places. There are several key elements of designing the compositions, such as bilateral, proportional, harmonious and pure. The author, Abram, said, Kruger’s works usually build on the consistency and surprise. Her posters did not only contain texts and images but also professional compositions.[5] She uses only texts and images to design the posters. In her basic structural design, she tries to design various compositions. Although their layouts may seem very similar, they still have different structures and organizations. We can see various texts compositions in her posters, such as cantered, irregular and dispersive. Take her text “Memory is your image of perfection”(1982) for example. It has the centered composition in the poster. Furthermore, it keeps a lot of spaces between the texts. The focal point travels from the up to the down, increasing the fluency of the viewing experience. The design allows the viewers can see the text and the image at the same time, and makes the piece consistent and fluent. There is another example to explain the irregular composition of her texts “we take the words out of your mouth”. The texts separate the two sides of the poster. However, she wanted to focus on the mouth in the image. She placed several texts on the left side, which was beside the mouth, and the rest of the texts were placed on the right side in the poster. The composition was irregular, but it appeared stable. The reason was lying in the way she handled the proportion of the texts and image. She wanted the viewers to focus on the mouth on the first sight. Although, she placed the focal point on the up left space in the poster, she still left some texts at the bottom right because it extended the viewer’s vision. She guided the vision of the viewers from the left to the right, and the viewers would not be confused when reading the contents. Moreover, her texts had great dynamic compositions. For example, the texts in her poster, “When I hear the word culture I take out my checkbook”(1985), were placed in oblique, and it made the unity with the subject. On the other hand, the texts in her poster, “You will kill time”(1983), were placed in center, the negative space enhanced stability in the composition.


       Kruger had another series of design styles for posters which used a red square with white texts around the posters. We can see this from the example of her poster “not stupid enough ” (1997). The composition was interesting because she wanted the viewers to focus on the two points. The first was the content in the middle of the poster, and the second was the content in the red square. She adequately juxtaposed the text and the image in her poster, clearly conveyed the message to the viewers, and controlled the line of vision of viewers by compositions.

 Barbra Kruger is not only a graphic designer but also an artist. In addition to graphic design, she also has design on other media, such as magazine, package, and installation art. She wanted her works to be unrestricted in graphic design. Some people wonder why her works are still popular in society. A writer, Magers, said, Kruger has a lot of experiences with popular culture experiences from the 80s, and she is still active in popular designs such as magazine covers. At the same time, Kruger continues to absorb current popular cultures from the TV.[6]  Thus, the combination of rich experiences and new information explains why her designs are still famous. Phillips, a writer, said, that Kruger’s works convey the power and energy of the visual[7], and viewers can comprehend her works with ease and find her works in everyday life. Kruger is neither afraid of stating her opinions nor afraid of presenting critical issues in her works. Fabbri, a writer, also suggests that while fairy tales and Krugers’ works both contain moral meanings, only the latter discuss them through irony.[8]  From my point of view, it is courage that keeps her creating her works. Her insistent attitude toward the works extends her fame and popularity beyond time.

[1] Lisa, Phillips. Money Talks. New York city, 2005.

[2] Abrams, Harry N. Love for Sale. New York, 1990.

[3] Kruger, Barbara, and Rosalyn Deutsche. Barbara Kruger: Thinking of You. New York city, 1999
[4] Owens, Craig. We Won’t Paly Nature to Your Culture. London, 1983.

[5] Abrams, Harry N. Love for Sale. New York, 1990.
[6] Magers, Sprüth. “Barbara Kruger: Slogans That Shake Society” (May 9, 2011).

[7] Lisa, Phillips. Money Talks. New York city, 2005.

[8] Vettese, Angela, Paolo Fabbri, and Marco Pierini. BARBARA KRUGER, 2002.


  1. Thank you for your informative post. Its always exciting to hear more about an artist that is covered in class. Sometimes with all the information, we do not get as in depth coverage of each artist as I would like.

    I found it most interesting that font was actually extremely intentional to Kruger. I know it was mentioned in class that she used futura but I didn't pick up on how important the choice was. Your example: You Kill Time done with traditional typeface instead of futura gave me a new found appreciation for Kruger’s process. Thank you for creating an example that I could visualize. It is always the consideration to detail that can make or break a piece.

  2. As a graphic design major, I’ve always been interested in Barbara Kruger’s work. The first exposure I had to her work was a museum installation where the entire room was covered in images and text. I really like the way she combines images and typography to communicate her messages; the cutout method of the type is also interesting. Looking at images of her work gives off an advertising or magazine aesthetic. Combining all of the elements together makes for great compositions and definitely raise discussion of what is actually being commented on.

  3. As you written that
    "Barbra Kruger is not only a graphic designer but also an artist. In addition to graphic design, she also has design on other media, such as magazine, package, and installation art."

    I would like to tell you brief about her new installation art.

    Barbara Kruger made a name for herself in the 70s through subverting the powers of print media. In "Belief+Doubt," Kruger's new installation in the Hirschhorn Museum in D.C., ,Kruger proved that she is familiar not only with the language of print but of the digital world as well.

    Kruger's latest work swallows the museum space whole, with massive vinyl text up to 12 feet high wrapped around every inch of ceiling, floor and even the escalator like a gaudy unwanted gift. Working in her signature color scheme of red, white and black, Kruger's imagery makes literal the dangerous effects of thinking in simplistic terms. It looks as if the popping reds are the the symbolic representation of violence of thinking in black and white.

    "Belief+Doubt" also invites big questions to invade, especially in Washington D.C., where the installation is erected. Questions such as "where and who is the law. for whom is the law?"

    here is a link of pictures about Kruger's installation art
    thanks for letting us know about this artist

  4. This post has been really informative and interesting since I'm a graphic designer too.
    It's a very interesting fact that even if she used the same font and style through out, her layouts were completely different every time with respect to organization and structure. It reminds me of a very basic assignments taught in my undergraduate class where we learnt that with the given elements, like type, color, and image what could be the possible successful layouts which could be formed. This practice is a very good exercise as a designer. And opens up our thought process.