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I’m Jacob Cass, the founder of JUST™ Creative. I’m a multi-disciplinary graphic designer, working with clients all around the world. My specialty is logo & brand identity design. JUST™ Get in touch.

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The Design Process Of Creating A Creative Billboard Campaign

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In this article I will guide you through the design process of creating a creative billboard campaign for a University project of mine with some tips along the way.

Below you will find the final 3 billboard designs. (A new revised billboard is at the bottom of this post based on feedback from the community.)

Tips For Outdoor Advertising

Before I get into the design process of the campaign I will share with you some tips I learnt during my research of designing for outdoor advertising.

  • Product Identification – Your message / product should register quickly.
  • Short Copy – Your message should be brisk and provocative.
  • Legibible Type – Your message should be able to read at a distance, and while the person is moving.
  • Layout - All elements of the design / campaign should come together as a single unit / package.
  • Images – Your images must be big enough to capture attention / convey a meaning.
  • Bold Colours – Your design should separate well from its surroundings and gain attention.
  • Simple Background – The background should usually be simple so as not to interfere with the message unless of course it adds to the design / message.
  • Innovative / Creative / Humorous – If you can include these traits in your design, it will go a lot further than any other message.
  • Less Is More – Single minded, focused ads deliver more impact.

The Brief

Now that I have given you some tips I will guide you through my design process.

This assignment was given to me in my Design For Advertising class and the brief was to create a 6mx3m billboard campaign (3 billboards) to gain awareness of how tough living the life as a single pensioner is here in Australia.

We had unlimited creative freedom and we had to research everything ourselves including billboard sizes, best locations, prices, what being on the pension was like, statistics, etc.

Some interesting information:

  • 2,750,000 people are on the Single Age Pension here in Australia
  • Single pensioners receive $281 a week (works out to be $40 a day)
  • Research has shown $80 more is needed per week to lead a healthy lifestyle

Mindmapping

After carrying out the research as I mentioned above I drew up a mind map, which is one of my ‘get creative‘ methods. Mind mapping is a great way to figure out word associations and a good way let your ideas run wild. While mind mapping I also draw / write down any ideas that come to mind.

Below you can see my messy mind map with some sketched ideas I had on the way.

Brainstorming

Concept Development

After I had done a bit of mind mapping I ended up going into thumbnail sketches

In the two images below you can see some of my ideas, see if you can match up the pictures to my thoughts – it will be a challenge considering how messy my sketches are.

  1. A photo of a plate with only 1 pea on it with the tag “The Pension Is Not Enough”
  2. Photos of many pensioners and the tag “Adopt A Pensioner”
  3. Large 65,000 number with the tag “Adopt A Pensioner Today”
  4. A gravestone with ‘pensioner’ written on it.
  5. A $10 note cut in half with the tag “The Pension Is Not Enough”
  6. The Pension Is Not Enough (Word play)

Concept Choice

You can see above that I was playing on the catch phrase “The Pension Is Not Enough” along with different pictures (ie. a pea on a plate, an unhappy pensioner, a $10 note etc).

While I was playing around with this phrase I managed to find that I could spell the word ‘tough’ out of the other letters.

ie. The Pension Is Not Enough gets turned into The Pension Is Tough.

I immediately knew that this idea was going to work and I brainstormed further on how I could make this catch phrase work. ie. What images would work in a series, colours, etc.

Picture Choice

I ended up going with hard hitting images that would engage the viewer, making them see and feel what it is like to be a pensioner. This was achieved by two photos of sad pensioners and another photo with a hand full of shrapnel.

The images I used were stock images off the internet that I have adjusted to suit the needs of the campaign – I had to use stock images due to a lack of time. You can see the original stock images above.

Colour Choice

After I had found the right images I made the photos black & white and increased the contrast to show the emotion and reality of being on the pension. The red, black and white colour scheme was used for its ability to gain attention. Do you know your colour theory? You can find more colour resources here.

The black background was used because this is the most legible way to display text at large sizes. Find below a scan of the photocopy our teacher gave us (You can click to view it larger). Notice the one that stands out the most?

Legibility

As mentioned above the large, short message can be read easily at small and large sizes. This is achieved by the white on black colour, correct kerning, balance & spacing. See the image below which features the billboard decreasing in 25% increments – notice how the sign can still be read at small sizes?

Font Choice

I used the typeface Frutiger LT Std 75 Black for the words THE PENSION and Frutiger LT Std 65 Bold for the smaller copy. Frutiger is a great, extremely legible font for large signage and is extremely popular in advertising. Fruitger was originally designed for use in airport signage, a place where legibility is of the utmost importance.

Legibility is also of the utmost importance in billboard design because people reading the sign will be driving and will only have approximately 6-7 seconds to view & take in the message.

You can read more about fonts and where to use them in my post 30 Fonts All Designers Must Know.

Bringing It All Together

After a lot of experimentation with layout and type sizes I had completed the billboard campaign. I achieved the top of the class with this campaign but somehow still only managed to get 76/100 – the teacher is a hard marker to say the least.

Well there we have it, the design process of creating a creative billboard campaign.

Revision

Based on some of the comments below, I have slightly revised the design of which you can see one variation below.

Billboard Design Revision

Further Resources

Outdoor Media Association
Everything you will ever need to know about advertising outdoors in Australia. Sizes, formats, etc.

The Design Process of Creating A Billboard Design
This was another billboard design that I created at University with a walk through of the design process.

Billboardom
A blog dedicated to funny billboards & creative billboards.

15 Outstanding Billboard Designs
Some creative out of the norm billboard designs.

80 Creative, Smart & Clever Ads
A collection of clever advertisements from around the world.

As always, constructive criticism & comments are welcome.

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37 JUST™ Creative Comments

  • ksuyin Reply

    Well done on being top of the class.

    Critique: I’m not sure if about the colour choice (red — might be my screen but it’s not really legible even at the biggest size) and the word play (just a bit too far apart for my liking).

  • eydryan Reply

    I enjoy the idea behind the designs but I do have a bit of criticism:

    - firstly, the type used seems unfitting here, it’s a modern type, and looks too big to me, gives a feeling of simpleness (can’t really express it) => my choice would be a heavier, bolder newspaper title font

    - secondly you’ve not kerned the all caps letters and it’s a bit disturbing to the eye

    -thirdly and this is personal opinion, the “the” text should be more to the left, line up the stem with the one of the letter P below and I think it’ll look better spacially

    - lastly, I think you should maintain a single theme with the images, of old people, to create a unity of design, rather than the third being of a hand full (and it is too full for the message) of money. if you can’t think of more variation than male/female, go for ethnicity, age, etc.

    I personally would have shown dramatic pictures of homeless people and used the main word “Retire” and a witty catchphrase. Oh, yeah, one more thing about the catchphrase, the is tough is not easily noticeable (I mean I only saw The pension tough).

    anyway it’s a good design and I enjoyed the process, thanks for sharing ;)

  • Paulo Pereira Reply

    Hi Jacob! Glad to see more details of your design process. I understand your sketches aren’t very detailed, they’re more on the “grunge” side :) But I think they don’t make you look unprofessional as you said in a earlier post. I think that it makes you look professional, because you show everyone that you don’t have anything to hide, you are willing to show how you work to the design community. I think that sharing your design process is a signal of maturity. So, thanks for this post!

    Now for some constructive criticism,

    - I didn’t like the red “tough”. The main motto of the billboard is very clear, and I don’t think you needed to add a second message. It may even distract someone from the most important message.

    - The color for “tough” doesn’t match well with the black background, but if you did it, it’s because you’ve tried it on print and it looked well. Maybe it’s my bright glossy laptop screen.

    - I really liked the typography though, and the incresded contrast photography too.

    Thanks for this wonderful post.

  • Joann Sondy Reply

    Jacob, another creative and successful execution.

    Here’s a tip I learned on a recent “senior” project. Elderly have a difficult time deciphering RED. Although I think your target audience is probably working adults.

    Additionally, whenever I did a billboard project I made sure to visit/drive by a couple of the locations so that I could envision my design. Sometimes taking pictures and dropping in my/our design for concept.

    Keep up the good work.
    Joann

  • Abbas Arezoo Reply

    Your process is very interesting and quite different to how I would approach a project of this kind. I like to see how other people work in relation to how I work.

    The imagery could be a little more stark and hard-hitting and I think you’ve taken an obvious route. But for a University project I think this will be fine, a client, however may be looking for a bit more.

    My main criticism is that most billboard campaigns have the main message, then have a call to action. There’s no call to action here, there’s nothing to make me want to find out why the pension isn’t enough, who’s the main sufferer? Does this affect me? Who can I talk to about it?

    I can imagine myself driving past this and thinking ‘so the pension isn’t enough’ and then forgetting about it at the next set of traffic lights.

    There needs to be a URL to go to for more information at least.

    The first thing that I would consider when taking on a billboard campaign would be the must-have details, what must go on, and then workaround those.

    Great insight to your design process though Jacob, keep up the good work.

  • Hoof Reply

    Hi Jacob! I really like the designs, but I get the feeling to warn you (or your readers) that this result seems too simple for the real world.

    As you state “Product Identification – Your message / product should register quickly.” But what is the product?
    This is a statement that is true in most countries (too true in too many), but I can not see what the reason for this billboards is.

    Lately I have been seeing lots of designs with ‘made up’ goals, products or messages, which are much easier to make something according to the KISS principle.

    Would you agree that in a real-world application a billboard like this could not exist without at least the name/logo of some insurance company? Possibly a tag line and/or a URL or phone number… And maybe a logo of some organisation that shows the message is approved by the national board of pension insurance yadayada…

    Because there is where is gets harder to make bold billboards. (and I agree with eydryan that the third image has too much of a different character).

    You insights and talent are great, don’t get me wrong. But the challenge in reality might be more of shuffling information, message, logotypes, client wishes, and all, and less ‘freedom’ to just find the right image and the right words.
    So your three billboards like this would be the sketches the account people show the client, after which chaos and disorder commences. Tears will be brought to eyes. Loud words will be spoken. In the end you are wondering if you will ever make something you can put in your portfolio without explaining why all those other stuff, opinions, colors and choices had to be incorporated.

    By the way, for me that battle is what makes designing the challenge, fun, exciting, frustrating thing it is :)

  • Cristhian Bedon Reply

    Hey Jacob,
    Like the pictures you used here, they throw alot of emphasis on what you are aiming for. Like the first guy commented I don’t get the point for the red, maybe just to grab the attention of the reader/viewer? Other than that I think it is a great piece of work. Also teachers that know what you can be always mark harder since they want to push you beyond your max.

  • Blog Expert Reply

    This article is another reminder of why I read your blog. Over and over again your explanations just blow my mind. I probably will not be designing billboards anytime soon, but it was a good read.

  • Olly Reply

    Hi Jacob,

    You seem to have ticked all the boxes in choice of font, layout and legibilty so technically its spot on but its lacking the one important thing, the creativity.

    I understand that you’re writing from a design perspective here and I don’t mean to be too critical, but what’s the one thing that makes this ad different from everything else? What’s the take home message? is there a call to action or are we supposed to just agree or disagree with this very black and white claim?

    The idea could have had a little more punch. For example an image of a pensioner in a bank queue holding a sawn off shotgun is both provocative and memorable.

    That said it was interesting to see your thought process, and I think its a very well thought out and interesting how-to.

  • George - LogoDesign.org Reply

    I like it. The top one (with the woman) is the best, IMO. However, I didn’t get the wordplay till you explained it, not sure why as it is sort of obvious… Congrats on being top of your class!

  • Elizabeth Reply

    This is great. I really like the play on words.

  • Zach Dunn Reply

    I love when people include their sketches to a design, it gives a great sense of how the design arrived. Thanks for including the billboard legibility guide, gives a new look on billboards!

  • Jacob Cass Reply

    First off thank you all for your critiques, I really appreciate it as it does help me improve as a designer.

    Ksuyin,
    Some other commentators have mentioned the red not being easily decipherable. It is interesting to note how other people think – user testing is great!

    Eydryan,
    In regards to the type I believe it was a correct choice for the medium of a billboard. A newspaper heading font, is harder to read and would usually not work when moving at higher speeds. Could you explain how the the all cap letters are not kerned, I still can not see how I can improve it much more and any help you provide here would be appreciated.

    Regarding lining up the the stem of the T, it didn’t look right with the bar sticking over the side.

    Your idea of the retire is quite a good one, but pretty extreme. Pensioners are not usually homeless but I can see the thinking… I even see that that thought came up in my brainstorming. One of the thumbnails depict pensioners lining up in a homeless line for food.

    Paulo,
    I will try to put the sketches in more often into my design process articles.

    Thanks for the feedback on the red tough, I used red for its ability to draw attention, especially when on a road. I did check the design on a printed gloss page however that is nothing to a billboard size.

    Joann,
    Thanks for the tip regarding elderly eyesight however you are right, the target audience would be the general public and working adults.

    If this project weren’t fictional I would definitely visit the location and take photos of it for mock-up purposes.

    Abbas,
    I agree, seeing other peoples process is a great way to compare each others work. When you say I’ve taken the obvious route what would you have said is the other route? Something a bit more creative?

    Regarding the call to action, we were not given any website or association to go with the design however I can see it going in the right hand corner of the design. It usually is pretty easy to accommodate / balance.

    Hoof,
    As mentioned to Abbas above, the product would most probably be a website or association.

    I can agree with you about the ‘made up’ goals, especially in logo designs. Thank you for your feedback and yes the challenge is the fun part about designing.

    Cristhian,
    Please see my comments above in regards to the red and yeah to be honest I don’t mind hard markers, it really does make you improve and show you that hey, this design probably would not work in the real world. If students kept getting 90/100 they would think they are ready for the real world and get a nasty surprise when told otherwise.

    Blog Expert,
    Good to hear I can blow peoples minds!

    Olly,
    Please see my comments to Abbas & Hoof. Thank you for your feedback.

    George,
    It seems some others didn’t get the message straight away. Interesting to see who sees it and who doesn’t.

  • Abbas Arezoo Reply

    Jacob, great to see you appreciate constructive criticism, it’s good to take other designers thoughts on board and it makes you a better designer in the long run. I get it all the time and I welcome it, bring it on so to speak.

    Being a university brief I would have created a fake URL and phone number and added it to create the notion of an organisation actually existing. Whether you could’ve done this with this project or not, I don’t know.

    Creatively, I think the photos are little too bright, they could be a bit duller – maybe add a texture or a faint dark image behind the text instead of the block black.

    Imagery wise i’d have used something a little less obvious. Maybe a picture of a bare food cupboard, something along those lines.

  • Steve Brown Reply

    Hi Jacob, the message possibly needs to be conveyed by photography, a photograph of a situation which might give this statement some backup, these are just photos of old people looking looking fed up. But I have no problems with the fonts letter spacing and colour choices, these look pretty good to my amateur eye.

  • Kristine Reply

    As always jacob you present design and make it look “easy”!

    All points are really strong – but I’m wondering how would you approach Electronic Billboards… I’m seeing more of those in our city area’s…

    I guess the design process would be the same as you have discussed but how about adding the flashing lights and buzzing colors and moving text on electronic billboards?

    This could get messy and sometimes the billboard designers make it too flashy to read quickly as people drive by…

    Kristine

  • Devlin Donnelly Reply

    Jacob, thanks so much for letting all of us in on your design process. It is great to see how other people approach the design process.

  • aidin Reply

    awesome and very helpful article….thnx…

  • eydryan Reply

    first of all sorry for taking so long to reply, been busy or relaxing. anyway, to answer your questions:

    1. my suggestion of a newspaper font was because you use a very large size of type and you don’t leave it enough room to breathe, so I would personally use a condensed font to make it look more at home.

    2. regarding the kerning I can’t draw you a diagram regarding current kerning vs optimal because I haven’t got the mouse here and you try drawing with a touchpad. anyway, an example would be the distance between the T and the H in “the”. the T has a big lateral space as opposed to the H so it needs to be optically closer to the H in order to maintain the same appearance as the distance between the H and the E. another example would be the O. circular letters tend to compress vertically in your mind so you need to adjust for that as well. also as a rule of thumb you should have more tracking for all caps text, because it’s hard to read otherwise, you need to separate the letters so the brain can identify each separately. I can write a lot more on this so if you want to just drop me an email and I’ll expand.

    3. the T may not look ok like that but have you tried something in between? i just feel that T should be a little bit to the left.

    4. extreme… maybe, but you’re going for impact here. all advertising is about impact, that’s why they use bright colors and contrast and loud commercials etc. (or the exact opposite). I mean I feel you could have taken the concept a lot further as far as impact goes.

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  • Jacob Cass Reply

    Abbas,
    I suppose next time I will ask about putting the URL or phonenumber / logo for a fake company. See my new revised billboard at the bottom of the post.

    I believe the black background was the right choice, it allows you to focus on the images and gives greater contrast.

    Steve,
    Sometimes showing the true emotion of ones face can be more powerful than other mediums but of course there are a many solutions to a problem.

    Kristine,
    Haha, if it only was that easy… when you compile it in a post like this it came come accross like that.

    In regards to electronic billboards, in Australia we hardly have any of them… maybe a few in the city and around airports but that is about it. I would have to research about the lighting required for that but I would presume it is a specialised company that does it.

    Eydryan,
    1. I did have a go with changing the font into a condensed form however it just didn’t work as well.

    2. I have attached a revision based on some of your suggestions (see post), any more feedback would apprecaited.

    3. I tried to find a happy medium for the letter T. What do you think?

    4. That is true however it is still quite a striking image / message but there is always ways to improve a design. Thanks again for your feedback.

  • damantoro Reply

    Hi Jacobs,

    Its really great to know that you share the process to us. Please keep doing it.

    some says
    ” the more you give the more you will get”

    ” anybody can steal the product but the knowledge behind it remains”

    this is true my lucky day finding your website

    best regards from Jakarta
    _TDM

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  • Molly Adamson Reply

    Hi Jacob
    I so desperately needed the hints you gave on Billboard designing. I have an 11 year old granddaughter that her loved ones are being deprived of seeing by her father and step-mother. I want to have a billboard sign made up composed of two photographs, maybe 3 if need be for balance and the simple wording, DARLING BIANCA QUINN, YOUR GRAMMIE WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU. Jacob, I don’t have a clue where to start to get this made up but the billboard is either 8 or 12 feet wide, yes I know it is costly but my granddaughter needs to see this message. Can you help or advise. Sincerely, Molly Adamson

  • Logo Reviews Reply

    Jacob, I really love your mind mapping style. Makes me remember the words of Tony Buzan. Not everyone is so good at paper work.

    Nice information on outdoor advertising. It can be useful to keep in mind.

  • Durden Outdoor Reply

    The b/w photo really makes these boards. I think its a very strong message and can capture your audience. While red on black would work great for digital billboard advertising, you might want to change to a different color for print billboards, like posters and bulletins.

  • Prontip Reply

    Excellent, informative post. I especially like the step by step creative process. Thanks for sharing!

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