You’ve been there, sitting in front of your computer—late at night, maybe—with a hard deadline looming and the as-yet unfulfilled promise of three layout options hanging over your head. You need some inspiration, perhaps served with a side of distraction.
Here are five fantastic web sites that I’ve turned to for ideas, and, diversion.
With over 10,000 vintage movie posters in the collection—from obscure titles to those of well-known classics—the Ransom Center Movie Poster Archive might be the most complete collection of cinema ephemera extant. The bulk of the assemblage comes from the former Interstate Theater Circuit that, at one time, “consisted of almost every movie theater in Texas,” and, the posters are free to download and print for non-commercial use. The greats—like Saul Bass—are represented, as is the work of countless anonymous artists. Either way, there’s a ton of great design available here.
The Newberry Library, a private humanities research institution in Chicago, is a treasure trove, and, was a frequent hangout for me when I was in design school, just down the street. In the past few years, they’ve made available a huge amount of material on their web site. The Ephemeral by Design collection includes type specimens, vintage ads, and, some truly amazing letterheads.
The Public Domain Review bills itself as an online Wunderkammer—a “cabinet of curiosities”—so, while it’s not a dedicated graphic design resource, the Review is a wonderful rabbit hole to stumble in to. The Art of Book Covers (1820–1914) and the highly innovative data visualizations of W. E. B. Du Bois’ Hand-Drawn Infographics of African-American Life (1900) represent just two of the excellent design-related online exhibits that the PDR offers.
The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) is widely regarded as the premier graphic design professional association in the U.S., and, while I let my own membership lapse long ago, I still rely on their online resources and local events. Their Design Archives feature contemporary work of note, along with older materials, and, the collections are searchable by color, year, format, or keyword. Two excellent collections currently featured are 50 Books | 50 Covers and Graphic Explanations: Charts, Diagrams, Graphs and Maps. Maybe it’s time to finally renew that membership.
The Letterform Archive is a San Francisco-based nonprofit with a collection of “over 50,000 items related to lettering, typography, calligraphy, and graphic design, spanning thousands of years of history.” The Letterform Archive is the one resource listed here that requires a membership for full access, but, it’s unique in that it’s become the repository for the archives of Emigre, arguably the most important type foundry, and, graphic design publication, of its era. As a graphic design student in the late Nineties, this, and LA’s upcoming exhibit Design in the Nineties, make a membership worth my while.