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Creating Effective Large-Format Graphics

(September 2008) posted on Wed Sep 24, 2008

It takes more than artistic talent to create effective large-format graphics. You also need to have a firm handle on the way big promotional images are perceived and how to use various design elements to make them grab the attention of viewers. Presented here are a few basic rules that, when followed, will result in graphics that print correctly and deliver their promotional message effectively.

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By Benjamin Lawless

Designing graphics for large-format printing is a much different ball game from putting together small-format artwork. People won’t be picking up your large-format graphic, holding it in their hands, turning it over, and scrutinizing its text. Instead, it’s going to be glanced at quickly from a distance, and, if it’s poorly designed, it may simply be ignored.

From the first moment your work is glimpsed, you have only three seconds of a person’s attention to convey your message. This is called the three second rule, because if the viewer isn’t hooked within three seconds, you lost the sale and wasted time and money producing the graphic.

The truth is that most designers over-design for large-format printing, especially when they’re used to designing for smaller formats. But this problem can be avoided if you follow a few basic rules. The result will be graphics that print correctly and deliver their promotional message effectively.


Keep the message short

Ellen Lupton once wrote, “Just as designers should avoid filling space with arbitrary visual effects, writers should remember that no one loves their words as much as they do.” This concept is essential to keep in mind. Your graphic design isn’t a term paper. It’s not an autobiography. It’s not even a product sheet. It is an advertisement, and, as such, it needs to carry across your message in no time flat. So text should be short, straightforward, and the biggest bang for your verbiage buck that you can come up with. This goes back to the three second rule mentioned previously. If you can’t sell them in three seconds, then that’s it—it’s over.

As you can see in Figure 1, the graphic on the left is completely inaccessible. From a distance, there is no way that anyone could possibly even know what it’s about or want to shell out money based on it. In contrast, the graphic on the right is simple and straightforward. And without the aid of a single photo or illustration, it sells itself. In three seconds, the audience finds a moment of sanity and clarity in a maelstrom of other poorly made large-format graphics.

Once you’ve decided on how your text message will hook the viewer, you can use supplemental artwork to further flush out the message. Just remember to let the large-format graphic do its job with minimum effort.


Size your text correctly


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