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Effective Billboard Design

Tuesday, December 14 2010 10:43 AM
By Scott Thome

The qualities that define a successful billboard design are rooted in Design 101 principles. My fellow designers know what I'm talking about, but getting a client on board with these concepts is sometimes an insurmountable task. Let me show you how to great design will always effect a client's bottom line in a positive way.  Here are 5 things that will make any billboard successful.

  1. Be True to the Brand
    Make the Logo Bigger! ~ This is easily the most common request of all designers.  You'd think we'd get it by now... unless there is a reason why a super-sized logo is not always the answer.  It's true, branding is one of the most important things to consider when designing a billboard.  The layout, however, shouldn't be a duplication of existing collateral or advertising materials, but should definitely be true to an existing design aesthetic.  Billboard design has a very specific set of challenges that print ads or company brochures do not share.  When designing a successful billboard, consider the branding philosophy of "variety within unity;" let the billboard design follow the brand strategy, but allow it to be its own design.
  2. Pick A Message
    A billboard is not a brochure.  It's not a website. It's not even a banner.  A billboard has about 2 seconds to get the message through to the driver.  So what does that mean?  Stick to the basics: a solid headline and a supporting subhead. That means no paragraphs, no confusing or esoteric copy, and nothing that does not support your message.  Phone numbers on billboards have always confused me.  I'm guilty of talking and driving just like everyone else out there, but I have never, EVER, dialed a phone number from a billboard.  I've remembered domain names, but those are easy mnemonic devices.  Again, only use what will support your marketing goals.
  3. Be Clever, or Don't
    I've seen it both ways, and everyone responds to different approaches to advertising.  Personally, funny or clever billboards always catch my eye and stay in my memory. It's more risky, but the reward is greater too.  I've also seen and responded well to non-clever boards because the message and execution was spot on.  The board had a simple message, was a quick read, and spurred me to action.
  4. Keep It Simple
    KISS (keep it simple stupid) doesn't apply here, because keeping a billboard simple is the most difficult aspect of billboard design.  There's nothing stupid about it; it requires a talented designer and a client who understands that billboards must be a quick read.  If you can brand the board, develop a strong message, can grab quick attention and keep it simple looking, then your billboard is on its way to becoming a successful design.
  5. Test. Test. Test.
    Testing isn't just for web design.  In fact, I would surmise this is the most overlooked step in the process.  First, view the final file on screen.  Does it have good contrast?  Is it readable?  Now, zoom the image out and look at it as a very small image.  Does it still hold up.  Second, print the billboard out on a regular sheet of paper and tape it to the wall.  Stand back 15+ feet.  Does it still hold up?  Is it a quick read?  Are the colors correct?  Finally, get some input from others who are not familiar with the project.  Does the billboard read well for them?  Testing will make sure that the final product is effective as possible.
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