Born in Bonnières, France, Jean Carlu came from a family of architects and studied to enter that profession. After an accident at the age of eighteen in which he lost his right arm, Carlu turned to graphic design. His early work reveals a fascination with the angular forms and spatial nuances of Cubism.
As Carlu's work evolved over the next two decades, it continued to show a concern with the geometric shapes of Cubism, but this was manifested in very different ways. Carlu sought to create a symbolic language in which color, line, and content would represent emotional values. His work thus achieved a distinctive, streamlined economy of form, rarely incorporating narrative or illustrative elements.
Carlu spent the years of World War II in the United States, where he executed a number of important poster designs for the government's war effort. Characterized by the same scientific precision of form as his other work, these designs were well suited to the promotion of industrial efficiency. Both American and international design traditions continue to reflect his influence.