Exploring Hierarchy through Poster Design

Bryce Li
4 min readSep 22, 2021

Project Prompt: Using a given real-life set of text, create a poster that uses hierarchy responding to its context.

I changed the layout to emphasize The Chief, Two Trains Running and Slow Food. See first header below for comments on hierarchy.
Left: Created more whitespace and changed spot color to complement seat image, Center/Right: flipped text to make it more readable, see section about it below
Left/center: an alternative exploration of type reflecting that of stage– although these were visually interesting, they did not reflect hierarchy as much as my vertical text explorations (right)

What is important in Hierarchy?

To answer this question, I needed to look at the goals of the poster and the intentions of the Pittsburgh Public Theatre’s advertising. My interpretation of these goals throughout this project changed as I learned more about the theatre and its audience.

Initially, I thought that the dates of the plays was the most important: that way, people who saw this poster would be able to see when they could go see a production in a given time period. However, upon careful consideration, I realized that this was not as helpful as I imagined. Because the dates were though a large range in the span of a few weeks, it was likely guaranteed that I would be available at some point for any given show (or at least not shown on the poster).

Initial typographic exercises that I initially resonated with

This made me move towards thinking about the title of the plays itself once I started working on more high fidelity posters. Asking people like Jess, an avid enjoyed of theatre, I found that most people like her make choices of the content of the play, not when they were available.

However, around the time of my final iterations, I wanted to see which plays were more important than each other. Not all plays were created equal in the eye of a Pittsburgher on a street checking out the poster, especially when there is a lot of text for plays that is visible at the same time. Looking at Google Trends statistical searches for content in Pittsburgh and nationwide, I found that there were some plays that resonated with people more than others.

Looking at this data, Pittsburghers are a lot more interested in plays like the Chief or Two Trains Running: something that’s uniquely about the city, especially when it’s related to such a beloved team such as the Steelers and an iconic face of Art Rooney.

I also found that the play “Slow Food” was intriguing to people: the premise of such an interesting name and situation it to me drew me in the moment when I received this project. I found that a lot of people felt the same way. As a result, I decided to emphasize “The Chief” and “Slow Food” together.

Fundamentals of Type: Making readable vertical text

Here’s something interesting: why did I flip my horizontal text about halfway through the process? When I was looking at my posters, Yoshi felt that the text was not justified and Vicki said that it felt difficult to read. I had to adjust something on my computer, and when I came back, my poster had suddenly become more legible. It turned out Vicki had turned it upside down, with a spectacular increase in legibility. How did that happen?

One reason is that people in the US are more accustomed to read horizontally tracked type with the baseline facing left. This is because some countries print titles on a book spine this way. My alternative hypothesis is that the eye prefers reading from top to bottom, which follows mental models of gravity.

Using Color

I ended up using a duotone color with magenta and cyan for a couple reasons:

  1. I enjoyed a purple in a gradient in previous versions– it reminded me of the lighting of a stage, which felt mysterious and inviting from personal experience.
  2. The usage of duotones hearkens back to an age of screenprinting, one that brings to mind a community-oriented organization.