What are the worst conditions your design can handle?

I know nothing about Hungarian politics, but that doesn’t matter; I just love this photo and the story it tells. Someone tried to rip down this billboard poster of a political candidate, only the discover that the previous poster, concealed underneath, was another advertisement for the same person’s campaign! It shows great irony and I think it’s a marvellous way to introduce what I’ll be talking about here: the toughest conditions that your designs might face, and whether they’ll stand up to it.

Most of the time designers can work safe in the knowledge that their creations aren’t going to be ripped down or defaced. In fact the everyday concerns are usually far more mundane. Nonetheless there are some important things to consider when planning a design project, if you want the final product to be presented at its best, for as long as possible, and to effectively communicate its message. I’ve outlined some of these below.


Do you have a poster which will be vying for attention alongside hoards of others? A wine label which will find its way onto retail shelves with hundreds of competitors? Will your design stand out in the crowd? This is also relevant for postcards, greeting cards, exhibition displays, shop signs, business cards, product packaging, web and newspaper advertisements.


Will your design be on display at night, or in low light conditions? Billboards, shop signs, posters, theatre programs, product packaging (not all shops have good lighting), even free postcards in some cafes can all face this dilemma.

Wear and Tear

How much handling do you expect the designed product will be subjected to? Will your design be displayed on any products that need weather-proofing? Business cards in particular get a lot of handling and are shoved into confined spaces (pockets, wallets) where they can easily be marked or scuffed. Also consider booklets, programs, brochures, or any product which you expect to be handled a great deal. Stickers (especially car bumper stickers) and signs posted in shop windows may need protection from weather or UV.


How much time are you allowing for people to take in your design message? In many circumstances, people’s attention spans are low, and in some situations people simply don’t have the luxury to linger (for example, motorists driving along a highway). Websites, advertisements (print and electronic media) and billboards are examples of design products which need this addressed.


Will your design be read at close proximity (e.g. a business card or flyer) or further away (e.g. a calendar on a wall, a shop sign across the street)? Who will be reading it? Older people generally have more trouble with small type sizes or medium to low contrast between type colour and background colour (find out more  by reading this useful article on colour contrast in design by Nani Paape). Is your logo design still readable when reduced to thumbnail size? How about when you change the logo design to white on a dark background (which is less readable than dark colours on a white background)?

As I’ve mentioned above, getting past these questions comes down to planning ahead and doing good research. Some good tips to follow include:

  • Aim to create a design which stands out from the crowd;
  • Always consider what paper stock is needed, and ask your printer for help if necessary;
  • If there’s a good chance the design will be displayed in low light conditions, create enough contrast to offset this;
  • Do research on where your design will be viewed and how much time you have to get your message across. This will vary greatly between (for example) people reading a newspaper, gazing at posters in a waiting room, browsing in a shop, driving along a highway or surfing the web;
  • Find out the optimum size, especially font size, is ideal for your design depending upon the locations in which it will be viewed.

Would you add any considerations or guidelines to those provided here?


  • Anthony Hortin

    August 3, 2009 at 6:15 am

    Some really great points to consider Tracey. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • Tracey Grady

    August 3, 2009 at 6:19 am

    Thanks! I’m glad you’ve enjoyed reading this, and your feedback is much appreciated.

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  • Nani Paape

    August 21, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    Hi Tracey,

    Thanks for citing my Printing Disasters blog in your article!

    You’ve made excellent design consideration points here. Another I’d add is to figure out ahead of time the kind of press your work will be produced on so you can design effectively for the medium. For example, if you know the design will be printed on a digital press, you might want to be cautious with big solids, which can turn out streaky. ~Nani

  • Stefan

    September 8, 2009 at 7:13 am

    There is always better and good from what we have from before. Sadly being creative was just part of your field in designing, other people can get your concept in an instant they see yours, therefore you should always aim for the best and do not stop.

  • Steve – Eightyone Design

    October 18, 2009 at 8:48 am

    Good article Tracey! Love the photo of the Hungarian bill board – very funny!

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