Blind Greens

While travelling from Ohakune to Paraparaumu the other day I became obsessed with the plethora of political party billboards lining the highway.


To the point…The National Party takes the cake for effective design (and billboards per mile), and the Social Credit party billboard in Wanganui wins the prize for sheer audacity… (won’t they ever give up?)

But the standout party for bad billboard usability was, surprisingly, the Greens. I was particularly mortified because the Greens are my party of choice.

Now, my vision is good but I found their billboards unreadable. Here’s why…


Use of a mid-green background with white and gray text (gray on green!) .

  • Compressed fonts.
  • Black drop-shadows.
  • Obscure photos.
  • Small in size.
  • …the effect is a muddy looking design – nothing caught my eye – especially at 80+km/h. Compare this to the succinct National billboards – you can’t help but notice them.

    I’m baffled… in previous years the Greens campaign has been slick, clever, and had the best political party designs by far – what happened in 2005?

    I’ve never designed a billboard, but here’s some common-sense tips if you’re ever lucky enough to give it a go…

    • Communicate your message as quickly as possible (on average, a billboard is only viewed for 7 seconds!)
    • Use no more than 10 words in your entire ad.
    • Your message should be readable for people driving 50 to 100 km per hour past your sign.
    • Your text must be big and clear.
    • Bold letter styles are the most effective.
    • Contrast the background and the text – don’t layer similar colours on top of each other (e.g. red and orange, gray and green).
    • Use just a few different colours.
    • Avoid outlines, drop-shadows and fancy effects.
    • And finally, usability test your billboard
      – Convert the colours to grayscale – is it still readable?
      – Print it out as close to actual size as possible (but even A3 size will do).
      – Stick it on the wall, then walk past it, run past it – and ask others their first impressions.
      – Paste your billboard design into photos of various locations (e.g. farmland or a busy street scene).
      – Shrink it down and see if it’s still readable.