1,000 Days. 1,000 Surreal Posters. One … Unfortunate Design
If you want to put a number on it, Alex Proba has spent at least 30,000 minutes of her life designing posters. In actuality, it’s probably far more than that, but every day for the last 1,000 days, Proba has dedicated somewhere around half an hour to crafting colorful and surreal images as part of her Poster a Day project.
Proba, a design director at creative agency Mother New York, started Poster a Day as an exercise in creative stamina. Today she’s hit a milestone: She just finished her 1,000th consecutive poster. For two years and 270 days, through sickness, vacations, professional deadlines, and one too many glasses of wine, Proba has forced herself to sit down and produce one additional piece of design before turning off her computer.
Her 1,000th poster has a simple blue background with a scattering of (appropriately) 1,000 green, peach, and white dots that each represent a single day of the project. In the animated version, the dots shift and fade in and out like twinkling stars. It’s a fitting symbol for a project that’s evolved so much over the years.
Initially, Poster a Day was just an outlet from a creatively unsatisfying job. “It made me feel like I was actually doing something every day,” she says. In the beginning, she’d draw on her daily experiences—her meals, her moods, the patterns she saw while walking around New York City—and distill them into colorful (and occasionally bizarre) visuals. “At one point, it kind of became my personal diary,” she says.
Proba’s brand of Photoshop surrealism feels distinctly millennial in its irreverence, and indeed, I’ve found myself at my local Urban Outfitters sorting through tables filled with a few of her designs (commence eye rolls now). Early posters were oftentimes nonsensical juxtapositions of objects and materials that appeared to be nothing more than explorations of geometries and color. In one, the leaves of a pineapple sprout up from a marble circle. In another, a clementine is dipped in dark blue paint. Sometimes Proba would simply play with patterns and color, honing her aesthetic, which she calls “minimalist with a wink.”
After 365 days and as many posters, Proba was ready to try something new. “It’s not that interesting to me after a while, and it’s also not that interesting for the community to just see pretty things that don’t have meaning to them,” she says. In the second year of the project, Proba asked her followers to submit stories that she could craft a poster around. “I thought because my designs in the first year were super fun and colorful and weird and juxtaposed, people would tell me funny stories,” she says, “but at least 80 percent of them were really sad.” Her posters turned slightly more object-oriented in an attempt to convey a narrative through shape. Then in the third year, instead of crowdsourcing stories, she began encouraging people to ask questions she could answer in poster form. Despite their seemingly surreal aesthetic, all of the posters are rooted in truth, like pieces of abstract non-fiction. Proba hasn’t settled on how to approach the fourth year of the project, though she doesn’t have plans to stop. “I’m going to put something out in the world every day,” she says. “But I’m not 100 percent sure if it’s going to be a poster a day or something different.”
Inevitably, over the course of 1,000 designs, there are a few she regrets. Like the one with a bra hanging off of the Eiffel Tower. “It’s like the worst thing I’ve created in my entire life,” she laughs. Still, Proba says holding herself to constant creation has taught her that executing even bad ideas is worth more than simply thinking about good ones. “The project has let me relax a little bit,” she says. “Looking back, it’s like, OK, no one’s gonna die if this pixel is not moved to the right. It’s going to be fine.”