For effective messages: See. Remember. Act.

One of the best exercises I have had for communication students is the poster/billboard assignment. They have to advertise a product or service and do it like you would on a billboard. The brilliance is in the situation of the audience.

They are literally flying past your message at 65 miles per hour. No time to consider your message. No time to figure out what you mean. You have maybe 4 seconds of their time to accomplish the 3 tasks of marketing. Get your audience to:

See. Remember. Act.

See. Many billboards succeed on this count. They use large type and a brief message. The type contrasts from the background for readability. Some fail. It may be design, or it may be message. If I can’t tell your point in 3 seconds, you’re done.

Remember. Here is where the creativity comes in. Memorable messages are ones that make you think about them in more than one way. Most successful on a billboard is emotion – where you feel as well as think. Surprise, wonder, shock. They can all make your message resonate longer and therefore stick around longer.

Act. This one isn’t always present in billboards, but it can be. I pass about 9 billboards for college and university programs on my commute to work every day. Most have some comment about the rating of a program or a picture of sports. What do you want me to do with this? Think about changing my life with a new degree? Buy tickets? You won’t get me to remember a URL or a phone number if I’m driving, but you might get me to remember you. Now what do you want me to do with it?

These principles are also useful for web and mobile communication. The users aren’t driving by, but they are usually just passing through, and doing it quickly. What is the one thing you want them to know? Will they see it? Will they remember? Will they know what to do?

Learn more.

Very basic design principles for billboards from an outdoor advertising company.

Clever ideas for memorable billboards that break the conventions (and you feel surprised or delighted)

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