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Iconic Posters and Why They Work

- 29-Jul-2016 -

We are strong believers in the power of the poster at Ro Am. A well-designed poster can stay pinned to the walls for generations. But what makes a classic poster work? We take a look at some of the most iconic posters of all time, and the lessons you can learn from them.

Iconic Posters and Why They Work

Your Country Needs You – 1914


Designed by Alfred Leete, this WWI recruitment poster features Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War, pointing his finger directly at the viewer.

The image, combined with the emphasis on the word YOU, created an urgency which drove thousands of young men to enlist in the British Army.

This design debuted as the front cover of London Opinion magazine, where it proved extremely popular.

Similar posters of Lord Kitchener are thought to have been more influential at the time, but it is this striking image of Kitchener next to four simple words that has endured.


This poster is successful because it conveys its message so clearly and straightforwardly. Minimal text and a simple image create a poster that everyone can understand, even if they only glance at it. Kitchener’s arresting look grabs the viewer’s attention. And his status as a popular figure of authority adds a sense of importance.

“Your Country Needs YOU” has inspired countless imitations, including the famous Uncle Sam poster, and even German and Russian versions


  1. Think about this poster’s origins as a magazine cover. It is eye-catching and bold, encouraging readers to pick it up. Would your poster stop a shopper in their tracks?
  2. Personal connection is important. When a poster engages directly with a viewer, they are going to remember it.
  3. Don’t clutter your poster with words. Boil your message down to its core. Say as much as you can with a single image.

We Can Do It! – 1943



This poster, sometimes known as “Rosie the Riveter”, was created by J. Howard Miller for a Westinghouse Electric morale-boosting campaign.

Little seen for thirty years, “We Can Do It!” gained popularity when it was rediscovered in the 1980s. The poster has since been used to promote feminism all over the world.

Many assume this poster was created to encourage women to join the workforce. In fact, it was intended to encourage the women employed at Westinghouse Electric to work harder.

Originally it was only on display for just two weeks, but this image has become one of the most enduring posters of all time.


Much like “Your Country Needs YOU”, this poster features just four words, with a single image doing the rest of the work.

The reason “We Can Do It!” had a renaissance is because it had such broad implications. Whether intentional or not, this poster didn’t just inspire workers at one factory to work harder, it inspired women in all walks of life to stand up for their rights.


  1. Keep it simple, again. Bold colours. A short caption. These are the components of an iconic poster.
  2. Think about whether your poster has a universal application as well as a specific one. If it does, you may just see it pop up again in 30 years.




The poster for Hitchcock’s Vertigo was designed by film legend Saul Bass. Bass, a pioneer of cinematic branding, attempted to keep a film’s titles, credits and marketing campaign coherent. When Bass did design work for a film, he gave it its own identity.

The Vertigo poster is part of a wider ad campaign designed by Bass, which included larger posters, cards for cinema foyers and windows, magazine ads, trade ads, and of course the film’s title sequence and credits.

Though other Vertigo posters were used when the film was re-released, it is Bass’s original that has endured.


The Vertigo poster’s staunch avoidance of traditional features are what makes it so iconic. It eschews film stills and photographs for a stylish hand-drawn minimalism. The poster’s bold, eye-catching images are also intriguingly complex, fuelling the viewer’s desire to watch the film. Because the poster avoids all ‘tried and tested’ trends of the time, it is timeless.

Though the poster dubs the film ‘Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece’, Vertigo actually received lukewarm reviews on its release. Clearly the movie, like the poster, was ahead of its time. It is now considered the greatest movie of all time by Sight and Sound.


  1. Keep your multi-platform marketing coherent. Strong branding makes the poster part of the product.
  2. Keep it minimal. Like all the iconic posters we’ve looked at so far, this poster proves that less is more.
  3. Don’t bend to trends. Just because every other poster is doing something doesn’t mean you should. A poster that stands out from the crowd lasts longer.
  4. Make bold claims. If you believe in what you’re promoting, there is nothing wrong with declaring it on the poster. Even if initial response is negative, time may just prove you right.

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