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From the Design Desk: The View from the Road

Like most people, my family typically does a fair bit of travelling during the holidays.  A few years ago, my brother and I passed some of the time on a 13-hour car trip by criticizing billboards along the highway.  Maybe it was just because of the area we travel is mainly small-town mid-America, and not major metropolitan areas, but there are a lot of really terrible billboards out there.  It made us think a little bit about what made some more effective than others. It takes a different approach to design for large applications like billboards and signage than most print designers are used to.  The rules are different – what works in one medium won’t work in another.  Large scale mediums – like billboards, window and vehicle graphics, and outdoor signage – all need to function as attention grabbers.  Most of the time your audience isn’t going to have time to read a lot of information on a sign that they’re passing by at speed.  In fact, you have less than 5 seconds on average to get your message across.  The idea should be to pique their interest enough to investigate further by visiting your website, coming into your location or prompting a phone call. Take a look at the letter visibility chart for some more detailed information, including readability distance and effective color combinations.  If you’re still struggling, take a look at some of our tips below, or contact us to help you with your outdoor signage needs!
  • Use a clean, bold, easy-to-read typeface.  Scripts and decorative fonts are generally difficult to read, especially if they are distressed, or have high-contrasting line widths.  They may not be as attractive, but simpler fonts are usually more efficient.K
  • Keep the environment in mind.  A green sign on a green lawn isn’t going to stand out as well as a bright yellow or white sign will.
  • Use high-impact photos with a simple focus.  A busy image with too many focal points will just look like a jumbled mess.  Make sure your photos are high-resolution, and if you’re placing text over the image, make sure the copy space doesn’t compete with the text.
  • Don’t overcrowd or underwhelm your copy.  Too much text will blend together like static on a tv screen.  Too little and your message gets lost.  Use large, concise messages that get your point across quickly, keeping your positive and negative space in balance.

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