In the world of advertising, “larger-than-life” is practically par for the course, and outdoor print is literally the largest of all marketing media. Billboards have the potential to be an incredibly useful advertising tool because they are able to reach so many people over the course of their display period. They also play to a mostly “captive” audience who, unlike other segments of the population who typically try to avoid or ignore ads, may actively be scanning the roadside for interesting billboards to pass the time on their commute. However, to quote a superhero, “with great power comes great responsibility” and for super billboard designers this means that before unleashing a new billboard on an unsuspecting driving public, it must be designed as well as possible. The following 5 must-use tips for effective billboard design will help maximize the impact of your billboard.
Simplicity – It can be tempting to treat a billboard as a giant canvas on which to display several different images and lines of text. Doing so would violate the principle rule of billboard design: Keep it simple! Remember, your audience is traveling at often high speeds. So depending on when the consumer begins looking at the billboard, they’ll probably only have 5-8 seconds to read the words, process the images, and understand the message.
The best billboards typically use only one very large image rather than multiple different images. They also usually limit the billboard’s text to seven or fewer words. Be creative and don’t be afraid to use humor, but make your text simple and easy to understand. The best billboard text often requires no punctuation at all to be understood. Where punctuation is used, it is often an exclamation point or question mark that merely adds emphasis and is immediately understandable.
Big and Bold – Billboards are not the domain of understated advertising. If your billboard is dull or engaging then it is forgettable and will not make an impression on a casual viewer. Use a color scheme with high contrast and excellent visibility. Blacks, whites, and bright, primary colors are usually best; whereas, earth tones and pastels may blend together from a distance or blend into the surrounding landscape, making them difficult to read.
Don’t be afraid to make your text and image huge. This will make them easier to see and also help bolster the impact they will make. As a general rule of thumb, text should be at least 1 ½ – 3 feet tall for maximum effect. If you include your company logo on the billboard you probably won’t want to make it quite as large as the billboard’s image, but it should still be large enough to be quickly and easily recognizable. Generally that means making the logo about 1/8th or larger of the overall size of the billboard.
Readability – Going hand-in-hand with simplicity and bold design, is the principle of readability. Not only should your lettering be tall, it should also be designed in a thick, easy to decipher font. Sans Serif fonts typically work best for this. Make sure the lettering is well spaced, and that the words and letters don’t run together. Often removing shadowing and paying close attention to background colors will help improve the overall readability of your billboard.
A good test to check how quickly and easily your billboard will be readable is to show the design to someone who hasn’t seen it yet and who was not involved in the design process. Hold it up for 5 seconds then take it away and ask the person what it said, what it was about, what company or organization if was for, and what the overall message was. If they can answer, great! If not then it might be time to go back to the drawing board.
High Res Images – Remember that your billboard will almost always feature images that are blown up to many times their standard size. It is extremely important to begin with a high quality, high resolution image that will not look grainy or pixilated when it is enlarged. Remember, the design may look great on a 3 X 3 square on your business card, but that doesn’t mean that same image can be scaled up on a 30 foot billboard. It might seem like an added expense, but don’t be afraid to have your logo or artwork professionally recreated in a vector format that will not degrade when it is expanded.
Focused Message – A billboard should have a very strong, focused message. It should say one thing versus several. That means if the product you are advertising has great quality, is very affordable, and comes in a variety of colors you will probably want to focus on only one of those benefits per billboard, not design a single billboard that tries to convey all those points. Such a billboard is likely to be too confusing and to include too much text or too many images.
Your outdoor piece should also be very focused in terms of its target audience. If you try to appeal to too many demographics at once, you run the risk of failing to effectively engage any of them. If your billboard is advertising a product typically sold to a broad demographic, it may be worth narrowing the focus to appeal to a single demographic.