Moving images: The art of alternative posters is now showing everywhere

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We download music to our smartphones, stores hundreds of books on e-readers, stream movies, find out about gigs from Twitter, and share cultural tastes with a "Like" on Facebook. But while all this technology is wonderfully convenient, it also seems to do away with a certain tangibility: the material properties of the art and culture we consume seem very ephemeral now.

Or they ought to. In fact, alongside such digital streamlining comes a retro revivalist interest in old-fashioned products, packaging and design: vinyl is fetishised, hardback books are being given ever more beautiful covers, movie posters are becoming more stylised.

And then it comes full circle: any particularly gorgeous or clever design is inevitably shared online with a single click. This has given rise to a rash of design mash-ups: projects which take the principals of genre and advertising conventions and play with them.

Witness the rise of the alternative movie poster. Forget glossy Hollywood clichés: graphic designers are creating cool, sharp designs, picking up on quirky details from movies or recreating their visual style, and using modernist typography alongside.

It's no surprise that some directors appear time and again: the distinctive aesthetics of Hitchcock, Tarantino, Wes Anderson and Christopher Nolan seem to be particularly popular for this kind of reinvention.

Umpteen blogs are dedicated to the designs, but alternative posters have also attained official status, commissioned by film studios themselves: La Boca's gorgeous series for Black Swan, for example, were released as "teaser" posters before the more conventional photographic advert, and won the graphic-design studio several awards.

For many, however, getting involved starts as a private hobby. This was the case for Matt Needle: "I began designing movie posters when I was in my first year of university. My early designs included Hitchcock-, Kubrick- and James Bond-inspired pieces. I decided to put them out on my blog, and as the designs got passed around more and more, I had people sending in requests [for me to do other films] and asking to buy prints.

"There is a large online community of people now creating, selling and exhibiting. It's thanks to the internet and social media that I have been able to share my work worldwide," he adds.

But even though Needle is pleased his reinventions have struck a chord, he adds that, "This is, and always will be, a passion project first and foremost."

Needle also creates posters for TV shows – which, obviously, have less of a tradition of posters. Not that that stops him, or others: Albert Exergian has produced a stylistically simple, coherent series of TV-based work. His posters k are visual in-jokes: he takes one little recurring feature of a programme and creates a corresponding small, clean icon, in block colours.

"It's basically combining two things I like: good TV shows, and creating icons and iconographic work," explains Exergian, whose job is in corporate design and illustration. For him, too, it all began as a bit of fun, at the end of 2009, before his images were re-posted on design blogs; he now sells posters, thanks to popular demand.

"I think the important thing, and why they work, is that the individual posters don't show anything too obvious – you only recognise which programme it is based around if you have seen [the TV show]. If you haven't seen it, it doesn't make sense," he suggests. And, who doesn't like to show off not only their impeccable taste, but also a sideways, knowing approach?

Exergian acknowledges that it's part of a wider trend. "There has been minimalistic art for various genres – music, games, movies – but TV didn't really have anything like that."

Another internet-born project is about to make it into print: Mike Joyce's blog of punk gig flyers given a modernist treatment launched online last year, but is now being printed as a coffee-table book/compendium of rip-out-able posters. Using geometric shapes, bold colours and the International Typographic Style created in Switzerland in the 1950s, he recreates the DIY cut'n'paste punk posters of his youth in the clean style of 1950s Swiss graphic designers such as Armin Hofmann, Josef Müller-Brockmann and Emil Ruder.

"I'm a big fan of punk rock, indie rock, alternative music, and as a graphic designer I'm a big fan of Swiss modernism," he says. Smushing those together proved rather satisfying, and before he knew it, he'd created 200 designs, all based on posters and flyers for real gigs. It became, he admits, a bit of an addiction.

His site, Swissted, became a Twitter hit. "I just thought a few people would get it or like it – but it blew me away how many people know of and love that movement in design, and who also love punk. I thought they were two strange bedfellows." Many a hardcore fan has since been in touch, thankful that, through their redesign as modernist minimalism, "Finally my wife will let me hang up my punk posters…"

Joyce really loves the originals, too, and part of the fun has been finding flyers from unlikely venues, or advertising unusual line-ups. Although these DIY posters were meant to be ephemeral – stapled up today, ripped down tomorrow – many people have a collector mentality towards them. The internet, once again, helps disseminate this, and Joyce found plenty of online archives and sellers on eBay.

Christophe Gowans is another master of the unlikely design marriage. He has produced a hugely popular "Record Books" series, mashing up classic albums with standardised book designs: think Patti Smith's Horses as a Dorling Kindersley guide, New Order's Power, Corruption & Lies as a Collins Dictionary, Ian Dury's New Boots and Panties!! as a Dr Seuss book…

"I guess they're visual puns," he muses. "It's something to do with the surprise of one thing being packaged in another way. It hits a chord; people, when they get it, really get into it. It's like they're sweeties – there's something really moreish about them."

Is it also that as entertainment becomes digital, we get nostalgic for proper packaging and design? Gowans think so. "As even the concept of an album – in terms of music – is changing, there's a bit of nostalgia for those classic albums, and also a feeling that books as a product in general might be under threat. So there is a kind of wallowing in the deliciousness of the package."

'Swissted' will be published by Quirk on 19 March (swissted.com). For more: mattneedle.co.uk, exergian.com, ceegworld.com, rockpot.co.uk

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