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The Science Behind the Perfect Poster

The Science Behind the Perfect Poster

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05 Aug 2016

Posters come in all shapes and sizes and can be used for any number of purposes. But whether you’re using them to promote an event at your local bar or as a means to spread awareness in your medical surgery, there’s one thing that all posters should have in common and that’s impactful design.

There’s a science behind effective poster design; a series of elements which, when put together, can trigger a strong reaction from your audience. Yes, your poster might look good, but in order to hold the attention of the viewer, it has to evoke feeling.

To help you hit the sweet spot with your poster, we’ve broken down the design process into 4 key components; all of which, when used right, have been proven to have a positive effect on the viewer…


1. Layout

The primary aim of a poster is to grab the attention of your audience. A major factor in doing this lies in the layout; namely, the sizing, spacing and placement of your content. Everything you put on your poster, from graphics to text, should relate to your overall message. The way it’s presented should be clear and concise so that viewers can take it in quickly without feeling confused or overwhelmed. According to various research sources, the best way to do this is by using any one (or all!) of the following methods…



Studies have shown that using columns to display information is the easiest way to make your message readable. Newspapers and magazines have been doing it this way for decades, so we’re well-adjusted to the format; and as the poster below demonstrates, columns can look great as part of a striking, minimal design.






To ensure your poster has the desired effect, try using a visual hierarchy so that the most important elements are seen first. The most common way of doing this is by laying out your text in size order, starting with the headline as the most prominent feature before moving down to the subtitle, body copy and then the fine print. Using this tried and tested method will give viewers a clear indication of what your message is about, while preventing the information from becoming jumbled up.






As the eye reads from left to right, it’s useful to position your information so that it flows in the same natural manner. Start with your headline in the top left, place the body copy just off center (at a slightly lower spot) and add your call to action in the bottom right hand corner for fast, digestible viewing!






A standard rule of design is to have a good balance of text and images across the span of your poster. Not only does this add stability and structure to your design, but by evenly distributing the information, your key messages are more likely to be delivered clearly.






A study from the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggests that symmetry can help people pay closer attention to the message in front of them. It helps to pull the eye towards the most essential focal points, while bringing about an overall feel of calm, trust and unity.





2. Colour

Next up is colour, which plays a huge part in poster design as it appeals to our visual senses, grabs attention, and can be used to arouse certain emotions which compel people to take action. According to the study Impact of Color in Marketing, researchers found that up to 90% of product-buying decisions can be based on colour alone, so it’s fair to say it’s pretty important, especially if you’re selling something!


Ample studies have been carried out in recent years to investigate what certain colours mean in advertising. An article on suggests that audiences can easily be targeted simply by picking the right colours for your design. According to the site, red is known to encourage appetite, so it’s often used by food chains. It also creates a sense of urgency, which is why it’s perfect for promoting a clearance sale. Blue, however, is associated with peace, calm and tranquility. It provides a sense of security and can help to increase a person’s trust in a brand, which is why a lot of corporate brands and bank branches use it. Green is a great colour to use if you’re promoting environmental causes, healthy products or sporting events. This is because it’s regularly associated with health, relaxation and nature. Warm colours such as yellows and oranges have been proven to increase cheerfulness and optimism, which is why they’re often used in window displays to encourage impulse buyers. As for purples and pinks, they’re frequently used in the beauty industry and are linked to creativity, value and energy.


Colour can also be gender-dependent. Studies have shown that women usually prefer softer colours whereas men prefer brighter and bolder hues. When it comes to more specific colour preferences, we turn to Joe Hallock, who carried out research to determine the favored colours of both genders. Below are the results, taken from his study, Colour Assignments.


Colour Chart.JPG



Additional research around colour has found that our brains prefer brands that are recognizable, and as most big brands use colour to establish their identity (think Coca-Cola red, Tiffany blue and Starbucks green), it’s useful to incorporate your brand colours into any poster you use to advertise your business. Your goal, after all, is to get your audience to recognise you instantly so that they act on a feeling of familiarity and trust, regardless of your message.


3. Typography

When it comes to the text on your poster, a carefully chosen typeface can really bring it to life. The typeface you use should complement your theme and convey meaning, as well as work to draw attention and create focus when your poster is read from a distance. In most cases, typography will be used to pass on vital information, so it’s important that the font you use is clear and engaging. The last thing you want is a bad font choice – it can change the whole perception of your message to the point where it might actually put people off!


You can do a lot with typography. As well as being used as a way to divulge your details, it can also be incorporated into your graphics, much like the incredible examples below…


We love how this powerful poster uses typography to convey its message. The headline becomes lighter until it finally fades away to symbolize the effect that Alzheimer’s disease has on the mind of a sufferer. 


Typography 1.JPG



This typography is both inventive and playful. It would definitely grab your attention if you passed it on the street.


 Typography 2.JPG



4. Imagery

The last component to consider when designing an effective poster is argumentatively the most important. As you don’t always need a stream of copy to get your message across with posters, you can make a statement with imagery alone.


It has been proven that visual aids such as graphs, diagrams and images, increase the effectiveness of research posters. The same can be said of all posters. According to studies, the most effective way to reach your audience is by using visuals that tap into their emotions to make them feel something. As we’re a socially driven race, a good method of doing this is to use faces on your poster. People are instinctively drawn to faces. We tend to associate facial expression with a feeling, so by using a person smiling to promote a music festival or a person crying to raise awareness of a charitable cause, you can easily draw an emotional response from your viewer.


Stephen P Anderson’s Get Mental Notes helps designers apply psychology such as this to the creative process. He explains: ‘To be a good designer in today’s society, you need to have an understanding of psychology, human behavior and … the little quirks in the way people operate. Then you can use them to make it easier for people to engage with your products.’


Simon Norris, managing director of Nomensa, agrees: ‘Psychology is the science of behavior and the mind. When design and behavior match, the design will be superior.’


Of course, you don’t have to use faces alone to create emotion. As the examples below demonstrate, you can express your message using all kinds of imagery, as long as it is in some way relatable.


Food and drink - a direct link to a person’s heart, right?! All of a sudden, we fancy a Coke with dinner - weird!


Imagery 1.JPG



Brilliant use of humour to sell the message…


 Imagery 2.JPG



This poster by Zoo Safari pulls you in using the face theory, but causes you to do a double take when you realise that all is not as it seems! 


 Imagery 3.JPG



So there you have it - a little food for thought on the chemistry of an effective poster! By using all or just one of these components, you’ll be more likely to engage your viewer, and if studies are anything to go by, engagement is exactly what you should shoot for when you want to score results!




Jennie Talbot

About the Author

Hi! I’m Jennie, and I’m the Creative Lead at instantprint. I love using my design knowledge to inspire small businesses to think outside the box when designing their print.