Billboard Mastery Podcast: Episode 97

All About Typestyles

Billboards are all about being read. And the typestyle you chose for the advertisement can have a huge impact on how effective the sign will be. In this Billboard Mastery podcast we’re going to explore he world of typestyles and review what science tells us about what the correct lettering should look like.

Episode 97: All About Typestyles Transcript

Billboards are mostly words. Sure, they have pictures, sure, they have graphics, but it's the words that actually sell. It's the words that tell them what the product or service is, where it's located, how to get there. But did you know that the type style you choose to create those words can have a huge bearing on how successful that sign is? This is Frank Rolfe, The Billboard Mastery Podcast. We're gonna talk all about type styles. So what is a type style? You probably noticed on your computer you have various, different letter combinations in the way letters are created. Those are called type styles.

In the olden days, there were only a few. Today with modern technology, there's literally probably thousands of type styles, things like Times Roman and Calibri and Univers and many other styles. And all those type styles were designed by artists, some of them decades or centuries ago, some because of legibility, some to make more of a graphic impression, but nevertheless, the type style you use will have a huge bearing on whether or not the consumer can read the sign and having it look professional.

Now, when it comes to type, there are two types of type styles; there's Serif and there is Sans Serif. Now, Serif styles are those that have the little tick marks. On the S, for example, there's a little tick mark on each end of it. On the letter T, there's a little tick mark on the top. And they invented Serif type because it's easier for the eye to see. So when you look at Serif type from a distance, you'll see it gives your eye a natural line. It makes it easier to read from left to right. So when it comes to sheer legibility on a billboard, Serif type styles simply are easier to read. But unfortunately, the fact that they're easier to read does not make them often as attention-getting or as bold or profound.

That's typically found in your Sans Serif type styles. Sans Serif have no boundaries. They don't have to align visually. So many of the more outrageous type styles that you see are Sans Serif. The type styles that are bold and in your face, those typically are Sans Serif type styles. So for the billboard itself, you have to make this choice between the legibility and easy use of Serif type versus the greater graphic expression of the Sans Serif. So then the question is, which one's better?

Well, when you look at McDonald's, for example, the McDonald's words and their logo, that is a Sans Serif type. It's a very, very bold Sans Serif type. And it does look great on the billboard. McDonald's is one of the top billboard advertisers in the United States. And because they've got McDonalds in Sans Serif, they will often use Sans Serif type for the remainder of the ad. But that doesn't mean that everyone should run out there and use a Sans Serif copy.

I think if you look at the different advertisers, you'll see, is, the ones that we know by routine, I've seen lots and lots of ads where we can tell the logo from afar, you can tell McDonald's logo from far, far away with the yellow, big M on the red, red background there. We all know what that means. So perhaps part of the use of the Sans Serif is it seems to appeal to situations where we have a much greater knowledge going into seeing the billboard, where at a glance, we can tell what it is without doing a lot of reading on it.

Also, if you don't have a lot of words on the sign, Sans Serif is probably superior, because it makes those words look more interesting, bigger and bolder. But the other problem, though, is if you have something that people don't know really well, or you have more words on the sign, or you have to put more than just something like "Exit Number Three," then perhaps the Serif is the better choice. It's definitely more legible. Definitely have much greater ability for motorists to read it and make a decision on where to go.

So it's really kind of a toss-up. You have to basically play with the art to see which is best. You don't really normally want to mix type styles. You don't really wanna mix Serif and Sans Serif. It's kind of tacky-looking when you do it. So part of it also will tie to what your advertiser's logo is. The kind of type style that they have, you'll probably wanna replicate that throughout the rest of the sign. And sometimes it's just a matter of consumer choice. Your advertiser may like a certain type style more than others.

Times Roman is a type style frequently used in newspapers and long printed articles, and it dates way back. It's one of the oldest type styles, and it's a Serif type style, because it was built for book copy, newspaper copy, because that's what's easy to read. But yet, a type style like Univers, which has been around for probably, again, maybe now approaching almost a century, it was designed not to be read in abundance, not like what you would see in a newspaper, but more to give a giant graphic bang, graphic expression on just a few words.

So it really all boils down in the end to what looks best to the advertiser and what looks best to the naked eye. And a great way to use and decide on type styles is to mock up the ad. Take the ad, print it off your computer in different type styles, tape it on a wall and stand back 30-40 feet and see how easily you can read it, and walk towards it and see which ones you can read first, which ones look the best because there's no duplicate for testing. You can do market testing yourself very easily with nothing more than a computer printer, print the ad in color, go meet with your advertiser, stick them on his wall, stand ways back, and then walk towards the ad and see which one looks the best to them.

But it's very important that you put some thought into type styles. Don't just pick the first thing on your computer. Don't just say, "Well, I'll use Calibri because that's what I normally write my letters with." That's always the wrong choice. You need to be more creative, more profound in what you decide to do with it, because the use of type styles, if done intelligently, will definitely help your ad.

This is Frank Rolfe, The Billboard Mastery Podcast. Hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again soon.