When you’re designing a custom poster, you have very limited number of words to work with. You need to catch your audience’s attention, make sure they know everything they need to, and then show them where to go to get more information if they’re interested. This isn’t easy, and there is a degree of artistry in being able to hyper-summarise text for use in posters, but there are some tricks to keep in mind that will make the creative process easier:
1) Get the headline right first
The headline is the most important piece of information on any poster. With just 3-5 words, you need to tell the audience everything they need to know about what your poster is about.
Consider one of the most iconic posters of all time – the “Uncle Sam” recruitment poster that America used to get conscripts to join the army during World War 1:
(Image via Time)
With just five words, you know exactly what this poster is for – there was no need to write out a long explanation for why Uncle Sam “wants you” – this background information can be filled in at a later date (once the candidate is in the recruitment office, for example). The point of the poster is a first interaction with the audience, so the material on the poster itself should be top-line information only.
2) Make the call to action bold
Because the poster itself won’t hold an abundance of information, it’s critically important that people that are interested in learning more can instantly know where to go to get that information. Generally this takes the form of a phone number that they can ring, or an email address that they can jot down (make sure the email address is as short as possible). Other options might be a website that they can visit, or a QR code that they can scan using their phone (don’t rely exclusively on the QR code, though, as some people might not be able to use that).
Take a look at this brilliant music event poster:
(Image via Smashing Magazine)
Firstly, it’s an incredibly beautiful poster design, so the visuals alone will immediately catch your attention. You then know instantly what the poster is about thanks to the headline (it’s a Peeping Tom concert!). Assuming you’re a fan of Peeping Tom, you’ll then take the time to look a little more closely at the poster, where you’ll see location and a website to go to for more information and/or to book tickets. That’s all you need from the poster. You don’t want to have to spend time carefully pouring over it to find the basic information.
Save the deep and detailed information for your audience to browse through at their leisure when they’re back home.
3) Understand how the textual hierarchy works
For a poster, there should be no more than three “levels” of textual hierarchy; there’s the heading, which is discussed above and should be the first text element designed into the poster. Then comes the sub-heading, which supports the information found in the heading with more detail.
Finally comes the body text, which is the bulk of the information that will be displayed on the poster. This isn’t to say there will be a lot of body text, but the reason that every poster should have these three elements is to harmonise with the visual, and make sure that the audience reads through the text in the proper order.
Movie posters have made an artform out of mastering the textual hierarchy, so let’s look at one of those:
(Image via Washington Post)
This poster is a brilliant example of how the textual hierarchy can be intertwined, while still conveying the message. The film’s title is the headline. The subhead is the names of the two stars, and the date the movie releases – this is important information to convey at a quick glance so that people who are interested in the visual of the poster can immediately know if their favourite performers are in there, and the film’s release date.
Finally, the body text is all the other film credits, for people who want to read on further and know who the director etc is. This information is for the real film buffs and plays a minor role on the poster, knowing that it won’t catch the attention of the majority of people.
Understanding these three key elements of textual design on posters is crucial for ensuring that your own poster will be a success. You don’t have many words to work with, but if you approach poster design as an opportunity for first engagement and awareness building, condensing the text that you wanted to share becomes easier. Another way to think of a poster is as a “tease”, providing just enough information that the audience is left looking for more.
Once you’ve designed a killer poster rich with easy to read and eye-catching information, printing these off is your next priority. Don’t settle for second best! Using low-quality paper can lead to a finished product that simply doesn’t look great on the eyes, even for well-designed posters. Check out our poster printing options for more information on quality, fast turnaround printing.