Milton Glaser in 1989

What is the commercial / artistic / social role of the poster?

Milton Glaser: If we mean by ‘role’ a pre-existing, intrinsic function, the poster’s role is to convey information from a source to an audience, in order to move that audience to an amplification or change of perception that produces an awareness or an action. When a poster has a commercial intention it obviously tends to convince an audience to buy goods and services.

The artistic role of any poster is more difficult to ascertain. Depending on your definition, posters do not have to be ‘artistic’ to be effective (i.e. be successful in its ‘roles’). It is far more important for posters to be effective than artistic. The aesthetic part of poster making has more to do with the objectives of its maker than the requirements of form. Because of the poster’s historical relationship to the world of painting, any by virtue of its physical size, the poster seems to offer more opportunities for the designer to do artistic or imaginative work than many of the other areas in which he may be working.

In addition to the significant function of informing and motivating a public, the question of the poster’s social role is a more subtle one. Does society benefit from experiencing words that have ‘artistic’ merit and which are well made? Without beginning ot define those evasive terms I would have to say, yes, although I would be hard pressed to prove a case. To add to the ambiguity, it should be noted that a well made object may have little artistic merit, and an artistic object does not have to be well made.

Is money a corrupting influence in poster design?

Glaser: Perhaps in one sense: when the financial risks are greatest, clients tend to be most conservative. The fear of losing a significant amount of money can have a chilling effect on one’s sense of adventure and imagination.

— (via Commercial Art, 1989)