Unfortunately, one caught my eye last week for the wrong reasons. It was such a jumble of information that I had no idea what to focus on when I read it — which means it’s a valuable educational tool.
So, today, I want to talk about what you shouldn’t do when designing print advertising, using this flyer as an example.
I made a copy for you, too — download it and follow along. There’s even a screenshot on this page so you know what to expect.
Note: This is not the actual flyer. This is a mockup that I made to show the flyer’s poor design elements while also maintaining the privacy of the organization that made it. While some phrases from the original flyer remain in this mockup, all identifying information has been removed.
Mistake #1: A Giant Wall of Text
The first thing you’ll notice about this flyer is that aside from the header and footer, it contains 3 columns of nearly continuous text. The columns contain subheadings, lines, and the occasional bullet point, but those features disappear when you squint your eyes.
The thing is, studies have shown that people rarely finish big walls of text online. Instead, they skim and pick out the information that most applies to them. Considering how much the online world has affected our media overall, I’m sure that those reading habits hold true in print, especially for advertisements.
Mistake #2: Not Enough White Space
This is related to, but not the same thing as, Mistake #1. It’s possible to have a lot of text and still use white space judiciously to encourage readability. White space calms the eye and encourages readers to keep on reading. However, this flyer doesn’t do that. Instead, it’s an avalanche of information, and it gives readers very little opportunity to rest their eyes and reflect.
Contrast that with print advertising examples like this, where the use of white space to convey visual interest and additional information is what makes several of those ads so remarkable. Granted, this flyer wasn’t designed with memorability in mind, but research has shown the importance of white space to readability.
Mistake #3. No Path to Lead the Eye
In this flyer, I have no idea which information is the most important. Where am I supposed to start, and where am I supposed to end? Should I just read everything in order from the top of the leftmost column to the bottom of the rightmost column in order to find the one piece of information that might help me?
Put another way, there’s no sense of hierarchy. No textual element immediately grabs my eye to help me get my bearings.
As a result, I have no idea where to focus my attention. There’s no underlying visual path to lead me through the maze of the text. In contrast, here’s a great example of a print ad with dense text that still has a coherent visual path.
Mistake #4: Caring for Your Own Needs Rather Than Those of Your Audience
You’ll notice that the mockup contains phrases like “employment counselling,” “skill development,” and “language instruction.” Those phrases are one of the few indications that remain of who originally created this flyer, and why. The flyer is meant to promote community services to people in need.
This means that the mistakes outlined above lead to the worst problem of all: they show that the organization behind the flyer was more interested in listing everything it did rather than addressing the needs of its target audience. Chances are this choice was made with the best intentions — Every program we offer is important, and we can’t omit any information! I hear them think.
However, imagine who benefits the most from the kind of employment, education, and settlement programs that this organization offers. These programs are meant to help people who:
- need job training,
- need to improve their English, or
- have just arrived here from another country.
In other words, this organization helps the kind of people who are least likely to be able to understand this flyer’s wall of text and most likely to benefit from better readability because they’re experiencing bandwidth poverty.
In that context, think about what a missed opportunity this flyer is. The people it means to help are those most likely to be overwhelmed by its breadth of information. Do you think that was the plan?
I certainly don’t. And I certainly think it’s a pity.
What Would I Do Differently?
I’m not a designer. But even so, I think several things could be done to make this flyer more effective. These include:
- Rearranging all of the information so that similar programs are grouped together
- Creating new, larger subheadings to highlight each grouping — an “employment” subheading, a “settlement” subheading, and so forth
- Making regional versions of each flyer so that each one lists only the services offered in the region the flyer is delivered to
- Ensuring that all information for a single program stays within a single column — you’ll notice that in the mockup, the info at the bottom of column 1 bleeds over into column 2, and that the info at the bottom of column 2 bleeds over into column 3; this is native to the original flyer
Of course, a lot of other things could be done to make this print advertising more effective. These are only a few. But you need to walk before you can run.