How much does readability matter when it comes to product labeling design? Driving through the back roads of Ohio right before the election, we saw a yard sign. Done in a true-blue background with white lettering, it was the perfect foil for the oranges, golds, and browns in the mid-autumn woods and fields that surrounded it.
One thing went missing, though. The candidate’s name. Since we’re in the label business, we did a double-take. We even turned around the car, stopped, and got out so we could see why we couldn’t read it. When we got up close to the sign, we saw why.
Cursive writing. Barely readable cursive writing—even upon closer inspection.
On a political sign. In a close race, no less!
From the road, you could barely make out even the first letter of the candidate’s name, let alone the rest of it. One wonders what genius designed that worthless yard sign.
We did a little digging after the election. The candidate did win—in a squeaker. But I wonder if part of the reason it was so close was that sign.
With major name recognition and endorsements from newspapers throughout the state, it shouldn’t have been so close.
We hope that if he runs again, he chooses a different graphic designer.
An entire state’s future hung in the balance. A man’s political future hung by a thread, simply because some graphic designer thought cursive writing in white would look cute. Or maybe the designer thought that cursive writing would promote the candidate’s support for a robust public education system. Who knows?
Don’t let this be you.
Whether you’re a politician gearing up for the 2020 Presidential race or a small business just getting off the ground, your future depends on customers (or voters) knowing who you are, you need labels and bumper stickers that people can read.
Readability matters when it comes to product labeling design.
Here are a few tips to give your promotional campaigns the edge over your competitors.
Less Is More
When you have only a small space in which to make an impact, advises Notes on Design’s managing editor, Margaret Penney, “concise and clear copywriting becomes more important.”
For product labels, that means just a logo, a (readable) name, a tagline, and a phone number or URL. Same goes for bumper stickers.
This isn’t the place to write the company history or long descriptions. Unless your name is Coca-Cola, it surely isn’t the place for cursive writing.
Readability is King
On labels, even the small print on the back side should be readable. Penney advises at least 10-point fonts for important information. Use even larger font sizes for bumper stickers and front labels.
- Font and background colors: Use colors that define your brand yet contrast well with the background. Bright colors, says Penney, are more likely to trigger a purchase than neutrals or duller shades.
- Font styles: Choose fonts that not only enhance your brand but also are easy to read. Yes, cursive writing might portray the subtle message that you support excellence in public education. Yes, loopy clown letters might tell customers your toy store is the place for fun. But if no one can read it, the message gets lost in the brand.
- Font variations: Don’t use too many different fonts since they distract—even annoy–readers. No more than four in any signage. Make sure that the styles pair well. Again, a professional eye is good to have when you think about mixing fonts. If no design pros are around, ask someone you know who has a great eye for design for their opinion.
- Font thickness: Dark backgrounds, like the royal blue political yard sign, demand thicker, clearer letters. If you choose a lighter background, you can go with a thinner font—but not too thin. The goal on a bumper sticker is to see it from traffic. On a label, it’s to see it clearly from a shopper’s perspective. Always plan your fonts’ thickness with the end goal in mind.
If you can’t afford your own in-house or freelance graphic designer, ask the company who makes your labels and bumper stickers if they have someone on staff to design a brand-forward, yet readable sticker or label.
If you’re going DIY, test out a few fonts and font sizes. Make a mock-up label or sticker. If it’s a label, put it on a container or wrapper. If it’s a bumper sticker, put it on your car’s bumper. Look at the item from the distance others will see it from. If you can read it, bravo. If you can’t, keep trying until it’s readable.
Does it matter if labels are printed digitally or flexographically specifically in terms of readability? Yes, if colors are red and green for instance, it can be difficult to read. Colors need to work together to create a pleasant reading experience.
White Space Avoids Visual Clutter
In a sign or label, visual clutter makes it difficult for a reader to pick out individual words. Avoid that problem with what design professionals call “white space.” White space doesn’t have to be white. It means blank space on a page, label, or sticker. It creates visual space that allows a reader’s eyes to better see words and pictures.
Use Your Logo or Another Design to Spruce It Up
Without an eye-grabbing image, text can look boring, plain. If you can’t catch the eye of passers-by, shoppers, or people in traffic, you’ve lost your chance to win their business. Instead, put your company logo, product picture, or an abstract design in a prominent place to get people’s attention.
Use Quality Materials
When you print labels, bumper stickers, or other promotional materials, you want the finished products to radiate quality from every angle. Instead of trying to cut corners with inferior materials, use only the best. What good is a bumper sticker on a car if it’s half-frayed in the first year of use—or if the ink runs off, blurring the print. People who see it may get the idea your company produces equally shoddy goods or services. Not the effect you wanted. Use quality products to make your promotional materials, and you’ll get maximum value out of your marketing dollar.
When you use these tips to plan your marketing materials—be they stickers, signs, or even promotional wear—you’ll never have to worry about whether your target customers can read them. Put readability at the top of your list when it comes to product labeling design—and you’ll enjoy a bigger return on your marketing investment.