2011-04-08

Poster Design Tips

An effective poster has both visuals and content that shines. This article gives tips for poster design aimed at the novice designer. As always, the experienced designer might benefit from the revision.

Viewers first engage with a poster at quite some distance. At first most of the poster’s details will not be in visible. As the viewer moves closer to the poster the visual elements uncover cleanly one by one rewarding the viewer with more to see.

Content needs three things. These are the hook, the body and the call to action. These things work together to form the textual content of the poster.

The content hook is a piece of enticing text designed to grab and hold the attention of the viewer. It is usually a clever tagline. A tagline does not need to inform so much as it needs to invite the viewer to continue viewing the poster. These should be short and snappy.

The content body is the main textual information of the poster. At this point the user has digested the visual hook and is ready for real content. Tell them enough to encourage acting upon the call to action.

The call to action tells the audience the preferred behavior desired of them. It is strongest if explicitly stated with a verb. Avoid implying the call to action – say it directly. If the both is good then the poster will contain enough information for the viewer to decided where to take the suggestion in the call to action. Example calls to action are: visit our website at… book online at…. Phone today for a free health check.

There are also three things to consider for the visual arrangement of a poster. These are the visual hook, the hierarchy and good eye flow.

The visual hook is an extremely dominant design element that is interesting enough to attract viewer interest from a distance. It will be the first thing that viewers notice.

Hierarchy is the visual dominance order of the design elements in a composition. The visual hook will be overwhelmingly the most dominant item. The next most visual dominant item is second in the visual hierarchy and so on. A good visual hierarchy has clear contrast in dominance between elements because there are problems when elements are close together in dominance.

Eye-flow is the two dimensional journey the eye takes over the surface of the poster. Typically eye-flow starts at the most dominant element in the visual hierarchy then progresses to the next most dominant element and so on. Good eye-paths are smooth and avoid the eye jumping around the composition. A good eye-path will have the viewer encountering the most important information first, followed the second most important information and so on. Eye-flow can be disturbed by gestalt continuations that throw it off course by indicating a different direction.

There are many successful posters that are set entirely on a centered top-down eye-flow – but this is the default solution and might be too boring. There is a western tendency to like eye-paths that move left-to-right, top-bottom so if the eye-flow moves in a counter-direction then the designer must make extra effort to ensure that each element in the hierarchy has enough contrast in dominance.