The Hierarchy of Text

Tips on making your sign stand out from the crowd

Stack of playing cards on a tableThere’s only one reason for producing a sign, and that is to convey information about something related to your business. Otherwise, it’s either art or graffiti. Yet how often have you seen or passed signage and are left none the wiser to what it’s all about? It is true that if you stand in front of a sign for long enough you’ll glean all of the information from it, but no one really wants to do that, do they? This is why we create a hierarchy of text for the reader. Typographic hierarchy presents lettering so that the most important words are displayed with the most impact so that users can scan text for key information.  It allows you to consider the readers of your signage as they often are: drive-by. Or walk-by. Either way, the information that you present must have an impact on the casual passing reader.The information that you want to convey may be sales focussed such as a vehicle wrap, which relies on the company name and contact being clear and the industry represented. Or it may be event focussed, such as a banner advertising a show, in which case the title and location are key. Perhaps you’re looking at the more day-to-day content to inform customers of opening times, directions around the premises, or just to the loss. These should have simplicity and readability at heart. Of course, we can’t forget to brand – your shop front or interior brand signage which must represent your concept on all its levels.

How do you create an impact? Since we’re talking about hierarchy, let’s imagine a deck of cards:

Our Ace of text is the attention grabber

The thing that makes people stop and read more.   It’s your WOW element and is all about contrast. For example – coloured text on a grey scale image or blank space around your keyword.  If the information that follows your attention grabber is given lower tonal values, then a visual hierarchy will have been established.

On to the King – and we mean king size

Which piece of information is the most important for you to convey? That’s your primary level and tends to be the largest text on your signage. Secondary level typography is scannable information for the reader which is slightly smaller in size and, still smaller in size, your tertiary level typography is any descriptive text should you need it.

The Queen in our deck represents appearance – colour and style

Your text needs to stand out, but beware of using too many visual techniques which can create a chaotic feel that readers will subconsciously reject.  If you are brand focussed, the colour and font of your text must be in line with your existing visual identity. Script fonts can be barely legible from distances whereas Sans Serif fonts are more assertive and commonly used in signage for that reason.

Next to be drawn is the Knave of text – layout, orientation, placement

Spacing and positioning create different tensions. To enable your message to be easily understood you should generally avoid ALL CAPS (stop shouting!) and your text being either too spaced or too close together as this decreases contrast. Typical Western reading habits run from top to bottom left to right. So you know how your reader’s eyes will move over the text that you present. Use this knowledge! An asymmetric balance feels more dynamic, while a central design can appear static.

How about the Joker or wild card?

This would be the image… not text at all! Images are processed by the human brain 60,000 times quicker than text so a clear, cleverly selected and framed image can indeed paint a thousand words.

So when you go to design your signage, cast your mind through this typographic deck of cards. Be clear about your hierarchy, remember your key message and contact us for any design and printing assistance.