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Archive for the ‘Posters’ Category

Custom Printing: How to Design a Promotional Poster

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

I got an email the other day from a dear friend from college, a print book designer I’ve written about numerous times in this blog. I was just entering the grocery store. “Help,” the email said. “I’m designing a poster, and I’m scared. I don’t know how to do it.”

So I called her on my smartphone as I walked past the fruits and vegetables.

The Backstory

It turns out that she had no copy, five hours to press time, and only her client’s direction to use the infographics she had designed for a related textbook. This got me thinking. Having an initial product from which to draw design information would be a good starting point. Here’s what I proposed as her first steps:

  1. I told her to pull images, a design grid, and typefaces from the prototype (the initial print book that she had already produced). I said that these common elements would give the textbook and the poster a common “look.” Conference attendees (apparently the poster was for a conference) would see the similarity and associate the print book with the poster. Even if they did this subconsciously, it would still make for “brand awareness.” (Think of the Starbucks logo, which is immediately recognizable even in small grocery store kiosks surrounded by a multitude of other signage.)
  2. I said that if she had no copy, she should write some. I told her to think in terms of “who,” “where,” “why,” “what,” and “when.” “Your client can always change it later,” I said.
  3. Unlike a print book, a poster is meant to be read from a distance. I told my friend to make the type big as well as short.

Then I proceeded with my grocery shopping.

My Friend’s Poster Design

When I got back home, I called the print book designer for an update and to help further. She had called up another designer and had asked for a quick and dirty product (i.e., she had subcontracted the work). Interestingly enough, my friend the book designer had then taken her associate’s work and had revised it. Here’s what my friend did that worked beautifully:

  1. As I had expected, the typefaces had been drawn from the client’s textbook. Starting with the top of the poster, the initial design included a rather long headline in all caps set flush left. The book designer took this headline and centered it, running it all the way across the top of the poster and placing a brown rule line all the way across the page immediately under the headline. This separated the headline from the text. It made the headline a single chunk of information (easier for the reader to absorb). The rule line also provided a “hook,” like a clothesline, from which all other elements of the poster could hang.
  2. In the same brown color as the rule line, my friend the print book designer placed the single-word headline of each of three charts on a 45 degree angle. One above the other, these three heads drew the reader’s eye down the page. To the right of each was its chart. All three charts were formatted alike, so the reader would know to approach them as “similar” or “equal.” The charts all looked alike except for the three heads (three countries in Africa). My friend used green and a lighter version of the dark brown to give a sense of cohesion to the piece. The green also appeared as the color of a huge initial cap starting the text paragraph on the left column of the poster.
  3. The text and bullets ran down the left-hand side of the poster, set flush left with an initial cap five lines deep. The book designer had initially made the initial cap light green (matching the infographic images in the three charts). I suggested that she make it dark green. It then matched two green (highlighted) words in the poster headline. I knew this would make the reader’s eye jump from the headline to the initial cap.
  4. After reading the text in the left column, the viewer would know to jump to the three chart titles and then scan the charts. The colors would reinforce these intuitive connections.
  5. My friend the print book designer then used large, light brown numerals and percentages to distinguish each chart from the others. Presumably, if the reader saw nothing else, he/she would know that the poster was about the gender gap (in three African countries) based on two bold, highlighted words in the headline, and a little woman and man icon set. The percentages and the three African country names would then clarify the differences among the charts.
  6. Within the text on the left-hand side of the poster, the book designer had made certain words all caps, in a bolder and contrasting typeface, and in light brown. If the viewer read nothing else, he/she would still get the gist of the poster’s content. And the light brown color would tie the text on the left to the charts on the right. The chart heads would also act as an anchor, leading the eye right down the page.
  7. Below the text and charts, the book designer had placed another horizontal rule all the way across the page. It matched the rule just below the headline, creating a frame for the central portion of the poster.
  8. Below this rule line, she put another head: “Three lessons learned.” She typeset the word “Three” in brown ink. (If you scan articles on the Internet, you’ll find a lot of short, pithy articles that start this way: “Three ways to do this or that.” It catches the reader’s attention. He/she knows the level of time commitment needed to get answers to so many of life’s questions.)
  9. Horizontally, below this headline and initiated with large numerals, the book designer put the three lessons, each in its own column (of equal depth) with a small illustration using the same male and female icons she had created for the charts above, and in the same colors.

Because of all these design choices, the reader’s eye knew exactly how to progress through the chart. The final product was even better than the quick-and-dirty mock-up the print book designer’s associate (the poster designer) had provided.

I made one final suggestion. I reminded my friend, who was used to designing for the 8.5” x 11” page, that a poster was to be read from a distance. No matter how good it looked on the computer screen, I encouraged her to print out a tiled copy, in color, tape it together, and put it on the wall—just to see what it would look like.

What You Can Learn from My Friend’s Poster

Consider these steps when you design your next poster, particularly if you’re new at poster design, or if you get stuck in the process:

  1. Relate the overall look to previously designed materials for the subject (books or collateral), using the same typefaces, design grid, colors, and images. This will ensure that the poster reflects your corporate identity.
  2. Determine how you want the reader’s eye to move through the poster, and use color, type, and rules to structure the content for easy reading.
  3. Always check the design from a distance.

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