is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
It’s the end of the year and I’ve been on holiday since before Christmas. With this much time on my hands, I tend not to think much about work; instead I’m watching a lot of movies and thinking a lot about film. This afternoon I did a quick survey of several “best film posters of the year” lists, and compiled my own inventory of the posters that I thought were most worth commenting on. In no particular order…
“Human Flow” Probably not surprisingly, a contemporary artist—the inimitable Ai Weiwei—made a documentary about the global refugee crisis and hardly anyone noticed. Its poster image is graphically striking but I wonder if it’s too benign or even neutral, rather than upfront about the scale of this issue.
“Downsizing” Alexander Payne’s high concept comedy posits a world where you can miniaturize yourself in order to help preserve the earth’s resources and enjoy its bounty without guilt. It’s an intriguingly unexpected concept for one of the smartest directors working, but its generally terrible reviews dissuaded me from venturing out to theaters to see it. Nevertheless, this teaser image is a total winner, a graphical riff on film posters themselves.
“Better Watch Out” This horror thriller about the holidays came and went without much fanfare. Its marketers may have done better to stick with this teaser image and its efficiently descriptive imagery of a bloody Christmas sweater for the entirety of the marketing campaign, rather than the utterly generic posters that were ultimately rolled out.
“I, Tonya” This biopic about notorious figure skater Tonya Harding is at the top of my list to see in spite of the fact that I have virtually zero interest in the sport or the subject. Its main poster images are fine but I really took to this one which echoes the illustrative style of tween books from the 1980s—this almost looks like it could have adorned a Judy Blume novel.
“It Comes at Night” There are a number of teaser posters on this list, which is cheating because they don’t have to do the heavy lifting of the final release posters. They can just hint at what’s to come, which is a much easier creative challenge for the designer. It’s even more unfair to choose posters for horror films whose very nature is to be mysterious and reveal relatively little. Still, this teaser for director Trey Edward Shults’s bunker thriller “It Comes at Night” is worth a closer looks. Its simple, classically centered composition does so much with so little, and the perspective effect created by the progressively larger font lines is genius.
“Mother!” People hated this film but this gorgeously illustrated cover is a triumph. Had I not heard so many terrible reviews, I’d have gone straight to the theater on this image alone.
“Roman J. Israel, Esq.” This legal drama looked totally unappealing to me but its poster is delightful. It offers just the right amount of details—the unruly hair, the old-fashioned Walkman headphones, the thick glasses—to convey the film’s emphasis on character. And its simple Helvetica title typography, reversed out of star Denzel Washington’s silhouette, underscores the notion of an internal struggle. Expertly done.
“The Beguiled” You don’t see wildly expressive typography nearly obscure the face of a big star like Nicole Kidman very often, and even less do you see it running sideways—along with all of the type one the poster. All of it is beautifully woven together though.
“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” This image is a fitting companion to the poster for director Yorgos Lanthimos’s previous film, “The Lobster.” Like its predecessor, this new movie’s poster is minimal and collage-like. I’m particularly fond of the way Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell’s garments appear to turn into the musculature of the upside down head of Barry Keoghan; it’s a beautiful kind of visual punning. You don’t see a lot of consistency between the posters for a director’s films unless they’re explicitly part of the same franchise, but I think it’s really effective here for the Lanthimos “brand.” If the visual similarities are an accurate indication, I would imagine “Sacred Deer” is just as messed up as “The Lobster” was.
“The Post” I was already a sucker for newspaper movies. But the poster for this one, which shows Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks ascending the stairs at what I’m guessing is the Lincoln Memorial, hits all of my design joy buttons—an almost abstractly square composition with big, bold Helvetica type. It stunned me when I first saw it, though upon closer examination, I’m not sure the lighting on the figures is particularly convincing and I’m also not sure there are that many steps placed that steeply at the Lincoln Memorial. Typical Hollywood!
“The Shape of Water” There are other variants on this poster for Guillermo del Toro’s retro fantasy thriller that use this same illustration against a richer, blue background, but I prefer how delicate and almost ephemeral this one looks. Lovely.
“Thor: Ragnarok” I had high hopes for this movie; I’m a big fan of director Taika Waititi and I had hoped he’d be able to bring some much needed style to the Marvel Universe. And while I did find some thing to like about this movie—its overt visual homages to original comics artist Jack Kirby are a treat—I found it to be a mess. In some ways, this poster is a perfect embodiment of the movie; it’s wonderfully bright and alive but overstuffed and conveys no story or single unifying idea.
“Phantom Thread” I like the idea for this poster better than its execution. Its watercolor illustration is in the vein of the mid-century fashion world that P.T. Anderson’s new film explores, which is fitting. The movie itself is gloriously well done, but this drawing is hardly a commensurate work of art.
“Ingrid Goes West” It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to design a poster for a movie about the Instagram culture as a riff on the Instagram grid. But this poster avoids slavish imitation and goes for something more interesting—it’s a Hockney-like photo grid but not made of photos, but rather of a pastel-like rendering of star Aubrey Plaza’s face. I was charmed by it.+