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This time we’re heading to the Barbican…

“Less is more” is a classic graphic design mantra. It looks good: I’m typing this on a MacBook, with a Muji notebook by my side, opposite some Vitsoe shelves, so I’m all signed up. But this style does a funny thing to words – mostly not very many of them, in a sans serif font. It isn’t just about the choice of typography or the word count. This stripped-back style often stifles the words themselves and minimal can soon become broad and bland.

The Barbican Cinema had written themselves into this (concrete, brutalist) corner. For their poster ads, they wanted to promote their team of curators, showing how they handpick lesser-known films and screen brave film seasons alongside their mainstream programme. They’d got to ‘bold cinema, bravely curated’, but wanted other ideas. The catch? The words had to fit in the same (small) space on their ads. 

Here’s what they started with:

Here are our rewrites:

We started very gently with some alternatives for the line at the bottom. What does ‘bravely curated’ mean, really? Writing ‘films worthy of a wider audience’ makes the same point more simply – and more like you’d say it. And then we played with the headlines and the ads themselves.

First off, what if we let the films do the talking (even the silent ones)?

And we tried getting the curators to front the campaign:

But we also thought it worked well to pitch it as the place for cinema-loving Londoners:

Finally, what happens if we play off the Barbican’s own brand as a venue for interesting, independent theatre, music and art?

And pushing it some more, because we like to do that:

When we presented our work, the client loved it and then, well, we’re not sure what happened after that. The posters didn’t actually appear around town and our client moved on. These things happen. But we wanted to share these words that got away, if only to persuade you to check out the Barbican Cinema once going to the cinema is something we do again after these strange lockdown times. Popcorn?