• Steven Heller

Big Problem, Small Page

Big problems can be solved on small pages. A little book produced in 1919 titled Solving Advertising Art Problems, produced by Advertising Artists, Inc., a commercial art service agency in New York, was published to show commercial artists successful work—particularly the work that their artists produced. There was one mantra in this book that continues to have resonance: “Artwork must sell the public—not please the advertiser.”

And here’s an interesting rub: “Many a brilliant selling idea has been shelved, because it id not strike the fancy of the advertiser. On the other hand there have been many profound successes accomplished by the advertising disregarding his individual taste and letting cold business judgement dictate in the selection of ideas.”

Cold business judgement and individual taste, now that’s a might dangerous combination. What about the idea that the designer often knows better what will work to the product’s advantage? This internal debate took place in 1919 and it’s continuing today. “It is our hope that this book may contribute somewhat to the general development and improvement of art work in advertising,” wrote Advertising Artists’ president, Harry A. Weissberger. Funny thing is, in retrospect, the art he promoted was better than most of its day.


For a comprehensive overview of advertising design strategies, see Alex W. White’s Advertising Design and Typography.

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