Inside the U.S. Air Force Poster Series: How 3 Passionate Designers Made All the Difference in a Project

As part of Adobe‘s Designer Diaries series, we sat with Maureen Stewart, a 10-year U.S. Air Force veteran and now lead designer of the official magazine for the U.S. Air Force. Stewart shares how one question from a team member led to the creation of an unexpected series of inspiring posters shared around the world. “Sometimes, you need to show (not just tell) to get the great, out-of-the-box ideas out there.”

I love my Air Force. It’s the reason I came back to it. It’s where I want to be.

That‘s what Maureen Stewart, a designer for Airman Magazine, said when we asked what drove her and her team to push above and beyond on a project celebrating the U.S. Air Force‘s 70th Birthday.

Stewart served in the U.S. Air Force for 10 years before joining civilian life as a designer outside Washington D.C.

She worked for several jobs before seeing an opportunity at Airman Magazine, a publication for the U.S. Air Force. She jumped at the chance to rejoin who she warmly refers to as her “family.”

The First Spacewalk poster took me the longest to create – about 18 hours. It’s also most people’s favorite of my series.

The Opportunity: Zag When Everyone Zigs

The original request Stewart and her team received was to create a website to celebrate the 70th birthday of the U.S. Air Force.

It was an opportunity to pay tribute to the innovation and service of thousands of men and women over the years. The creative team was tasked to show the organization’s history on the new website.

This team of designers said yes, but also pitched something a little different to add to that: a physical poster series.

“We wanted to create a really cool series of posters that could be printed and used by anyone — where the artwork on each poster would artistically show a pivotal time in the Air Force’s history,” said Stewart.

“It could represent an innovation, a milestone, a person, or a major event that made a lasting and positive impact in the world — to help us all remember.”

The Inspiration

In the 1980s, a series of posters came out to represent what the future could hold for the U.S. Air Force. Printed artwork like these were created for decades — and it was common for civilians to display these posters with pride.

Someone on the team found these old posters and asked, “Why aren‘t we doing this now?” That one question led Stewart‘s team to create what they did.

The Goal of the Project

The team’s mission was to tell the U.S. Air Force’s story in a dynamic, different, and interesting way.

“The Air Force is the youngest service here in the U.S., so being able to showcase strong moments and people in our history to represent how far we have come was very important.” said Stewart.

The Challenge

Projects in the military can be very regimented and structured, with many hands in the pot for approvals and changes. In most government agencies, red tape is often talked about as the greatest barrier to creativity.

Stewart said, “If you have a great idea and you’re not sure how it’s going to be received, just make it and present it. Show your capabilities. Saying you can do something is not enough. Show them.”

Stewart and her team “took a leap of faith” that their approach to these posters would be well received.

“We didn’t reach out for guidance throughout the process, and instead let our designers have the freedom to create what they believed was imaginative, different, and engaging,” she said.

“We were so passionate about the project that we spent many extra hours of our own time in making it perfect.”

The Creative Process

In her words, Stewart takes us through her design process:

The Style. Originally, we talked about making all the posters look the same. But then we decided to give them unique elements. So, each designer had their own liberties to express their unique style. I decided to go with a low-poly look using and piecing together geometric shapes to recreate images.

Research. So much of it was research. Looking through the decades for big events. Finding what was important. Then it was choosing how to depict it artistically. As designers of this project, we all had a ton of fun! We all learned really cool and bizarre Air Force facts.

Sketches. Paper, Pencil — sketching by hand for composition

Design. Adobe Illustrator — my go-to. Mybread and butter for everything :)

Capture behind-the-scenes coverage. Adobe Premiere — to edit the time-lapse videos.

Print the posters!

After we created individual posters for each decade, we decided to do something different for our final poster. We designed something that represented the future of the U.S. Air Force—something that didn’t exist yet. This allowed the designers to get even more creative and essentially invent something new of their own.

End to end, it took our team about two months to create the posters. The first set of posters were released in January 2017, and from there, we released three posters per month.

The Result

The posters were received with a great amount of enthusiasm by the U.S. Air Force creative team.

“Approvals were effortless compared to most things we do,” Stewart said. “A big part of that was that we weren’t putting out any new messaging. We were presenting facts that were readily available, and visually showing them in creative, modern and engaging ways.”

Before I knew it, I was getting text messages with photos of our posters hung up all over the world. They are hanging now in the Pentagon and in XXX in Kuwait.

Meet the team behind the Breaking Barriers project

  • Corey Parrish (Team Lead)
  • Brandon DeLoach (Web Designer)
  • Maureen Stewart, Chris Desrocher, Travis Burcham (Poster Designers)

See the 3 designers’ posters on Behance

Learn more about the U.S. Air Force’s history on the 70th Birthday Website

Download, print, and hang the posters in your office



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