Keep it simple
Decorative typefaces are harder to decipher quickly and from a distance, while clean, simple typefaces increase readability in a large format design. Choose a traditional, clean typeface over unique, delicate, script or ornamental typefaces.
Elaborate effects applied to type can distract or interfere with the message. Keep your type clean and use effects with care.
Research has found that it is harder to read words set in all uppercase letters. The brain recognizes letters and words based on their overall shape including ascenders and descenders. When text is set in all capitals, the letters are all the same height making them harder to decipher. Use all caps sparingly.
Avoid placing your type on a busy background or one that does not offer enough contrast to your text.
Don’t distract from your message by using many different typefaces in your large format design. Sticking to one or two keeps your message clean.
Keep it short
Even though you have a large surface to fill, it doesn’t mean you should. Your message will have more impact if it is short and to the point.
White space / blank space increases readability. Make sure your type has breathing room between elements and from the edges.
You may need to fine-tune your leading and kerning to avoid unsightly gaps that become more visible in a large format layout.
Determine what part of your message is most important and use hierarchy in your typography to lay out your piece.
Make it big
Before starting your design, determine where the item will be placed and where people will be viewing it from. The chart below provides suggested letter heights based on viewing distance. Bear in mind that there are additional factors to consider when selecting type size, including the typeface used, colours and backgrounds, lighting, the viewer’s eyesight and the amount of viewing time, but this chart is a good starting point.
Generally, a ratio of one inch of letter height will provide ten feet of ideal readability for your message. As the viewing distance increase, readability decreases.
When designing, we are used to sitting close to our screens, zooming in and out to better see details. A quick way to judge legibility, is to stand up and step back from your computer monitor...and keep stepping back. Can you read what is there? Does your message stand out? This is a good periodic and final check to help you determine if you have been successful with your typography or if you’ve still got some tweaking to do.
© Cathy Vandergeest, RGD, gawck group inc.