Americans are spending more time than ever in traffic, and more time in traffic means that billboards remain an effective method of communicating to your target audience. Billboards are a unique form of advertising: gigantic in scale and seen for just a few seconds by commuters who are focused on the road. The design strategy used to build online or print ads won’t translate perfectly to this medium — good billboard design needs to consider the limitations and strengths of billboard advertising.
Here are 12 tips for designing an effective billboard:
1. Be Single-Minded
Present just one message. Multiple messages on your billboard can clutter it and make it harder to follow. More importantly, asking your audience to divide their attention between two different messages will make both less effective. A good billboard design will show off one product, offer or service. Use your billboard to communicate that single message only.
2. Use Color to Stand Out
Make sure that each design element — text, background, images and graphics — contrasts enough in color to stand out from the others. High contrast may require you to pick a less exciting color palette — white or black for text and a contrasting light or dark color background — but consider it an opportunity for bold design. Text and images that are subtle or fade into the background will make it much harder to tell what you want your audience to do — or even who you are and what you’re selling.
3. Keep Your Typography Bold
Your billboard should be as readable as possible. Use a font that’s clear and easy to read at long distances. Avoid handwritten and cursive fonts along with anything that has a lot of visual noise or roughness. Clean reads better, which means you need just one or two fonts.
4. Include a Call to Action
Your billboard design needs to ask for an actionable response. You can list a phone number to call, a website to visit or an app to download, but you need to offer a next step. Best case scenario without this element, you may miss out on the audience that would be driven to your business if you provided a call to action. Worst case, your audience may be left scratching their heads and asking, “What exactly is this billboard trying to do?”
5. Remember That Short Copy Is Better
There’s no single word or character count to aspire to, but less copy is usually better than more. The best message may need more writing than you’d want to put on a billboard. In this case, risking a longer piece of copy can be worth it. When possible, however, reduce the amount of writing you need to communicate your message.
6. Stay Consistent
Treat your billboard like a part of your overall marketing plan in terms of design, appearance and overall style. Keep color, type and imagery consistent with the rest of your branding. Your billboard design should fit in nicely with all other marketing material from the same campaign. Same message, same look and of course, same same product.
7. Pick One Good Image
Avoid cluttering your billboard design with images. One high-impact graphic or image will do more work than several because there’s not enough time for people to appreciate subtle or small design elements on a billboard. Go with something that’s bold, contrasting and clear as the single, distinct element in the design of your billboard.
8. Don’t Be Afraid to Innovate
Most billboards are pretty standard — a solid color for the background, some text, a message and a graphic. It’s easy for billboards like this to blend into drivers’ morning commutes.
There are all sorts of ways to play around with the bounds of a billboard and create a clever ad that will stand out. Unique billboard designs use interesting shapes or alter the edges of the sign, crumpling the frame or letting the ad spill out of it. Some designs even use technology like motion detectors to catch pedestrians’ attention as they walk by.
You don’t need an especially fancy three-dimensional design to create an effective billboard. Even something as simple as a change in silhouette can help a billboard pop out from the landscape.
9. Know Font Sizing
The size of your font will affect what distance your billboard can be read at and also how long it takes to read. Choosing the right billboard font size will be a balancing act between the most readable font and the other elements of your design.
In general, bigger type is better — but there are always exceptions. Billboards that target pedestrians may use smaller fonts because their audience is closer to the ad.
10. Remember Where You Are
Or, better yet, where your consumers are. Outside of traffic, the target audience of a highway billboard is traveling at anywhere between 50 and 80 miles per hour. You have around seven seconds to make your pitch. Most billboard design tips are organized around standard design principles that work anywhere — keep it clear, consistent and designed for legibility. Good design is make-or-break when your audience is moving as fast as they are.
11. Know Who Lives There
Specificity sells. When you’re designing your billboard, keep in mind where it will be placed and what sort of audience you want to target. Location, income and whether someone is a home-owner or renting — these factors can all influence how you advertise. People pay attention when they feel like they’re being communicated to directly and specifically. Take advantage of the demographic information you have access to, and plan your billboards to speak to the community where they’re located.
You should also keep specific commutes in mind — billboards on major highways aren’t necessarily advertising to the local community. The drivers who see your billboard may be coming from miles and miles away.
12. Choose Your Location Wisely
If there’s a tree in the way, the billboard is not likely to succeed. Enough said.
With Billboards, Less Really Is More
It can be hard to resist the urge to clutter. You see the amount of space up there on a billboard, and you feel like there’s room for all sorts of messaging about your brand — room to convince drivers to take a look at your business. But good billboard design is all about perspective. If there were a central tenet for billboard design, it would be that old classic: Less is more.
Effective billboards focus on one message, are clear in that message and don’t confuse a reader with unreadable fonts or low-contrast designs. Follow these tips, and you’re guaranteed to have a billboard that’s clear and communicates your message effectively.