Posterizing Identity


Overview

The Senior Design Thesis project is one of the final steps in earning one’s Bachelor’s Degree in Studio Arts, with emphasis in Graphic Design, at Loyola Marymount University. To showcase the knowledge and skills acquired throughout their academic career, students are given the opportunity to create their own design thesis that explores personal interests. For my thesis, I combined my interest of vintage posters with a self exploration of identity. I titled the project, Posterizing Identity: The Power of Graphic Design.

Thesis:

Graphic design can shape an individual’s identity, influencing how the individual perceives themselves in relation to society, and how society perceive’s the individual. Historically, graphic design has also extended the notion of identity past the individual to a community, culture, and nation, having both positive and negative ramifications. Using the poster as a design medium, and focusing on its roll in American, Japanese, and Hawaiian culture from the 1920s to postwar 1950s, this project aims to give insight into how graphic design can impact the identity of a larger whole through the self exploration of my own identity as an individual.

While language, and thus typography, may not be fully understood when placed in a cross-cultured context, a graphic image through the use of layout, color, and visual imagery has the ability to span these boundaries. Similarly, while ethnicities and cultures may not be fully understood by those of differing backgrounds, the feeling of identifying with ones own ethnicity and culture is universal. By researching historic usages of graphic design that have created identities around a specific ethnic group or culture, I plan to reinterpret these strategies and apply them to the three ethnic cultures that I identify with: American, Japanese and contemporary Hawaiian culture.

Research

  • Collection of poster samples
  • Vintage American, Japanese, and Hawaiian posters from 1930s-1940s
  • Inspirational imagery of motifs related to perception of each culture

For the research portion of this project, I compiled numerous samples of posters. Specifically, vintage iconic Americana, Japanese, and Hawaiian posters from the 1930s-1950s. From these samples, I was able to discern unique characteristics from each group, and then apply those aesthetics to my own posters. Reflecting upon the motifs and imagery that people associate when referring to a specific culture, I also complied inspirational images, associated with American, Japanese, and Hawaii culture, from both personal photographs and across the internet.

Strategy

  • Poster as a medium to express cultural identity
  • Three set poster series
  • Compatible as a series, unique individually
  • Capture complexity of identifying with multiple cultures

My goal was to use the poster as a means to express the three cultures I identify with. Thus, I decided to do a three set poster series, with each poster relating to the others. To create a relation, I needed some elements to be the same; and yet, to showcase the three different perspectives on my identity, I needed each poster’s design to be unique from the other two. Trying to capture the idea of three uniquely different perspectives, coming together to create one unifying whole, was a representation of how my three unique cultural backgrounds blend together to create my identity.

Solution

  • Self portrait to tie series together
  • Apply unique aesthetic of vintage poster groups to associated cultural background
  • Build three sided kiosk

To visually solve the problem of creating three unique posters that were compatible with each other, I decided to keep a consistent element in each: Me. A portrait of myself would literally represent Me, one of the main topics of exploration, and show how the perception of Me can be changed through the other imagery, motifs, and design elements used to change the overall aesthetic of each poster. To make each poster unique from the others, I used the design elements from the samples of American, Japanese, and Hawaiian posters and applied them in my own way.

To emphasize the idea of three perspectives or cultures, coming together as one, to present my posters I decided to build a triangular kiosk with a poster on each side. This would force the viewer to walk around the installation, and literally view the project from each unique angle to see the project as a whole.

Result

The final product is a visual representation of my thesis, and how I identify myself as an individual from a cultural standpoint. It intertwines captivating imagery with complex and reflective ideas about self exploration.

This project was selected for Loyola Marymount University’s Undergraduate Research Symposium, and was put on display to help represent the studies of LMU’s Art and Art History Department.