Design Tips for Outdoor Advertising
Provided by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America

Creating Award Winning Outdoor

While there are no hard and fast "rules" when designing for the outdoor medium, there are a few basic guidelines that should be considered to ensure success. There are always exceptions. However, breaking the guidelines requires an appreciation for the rudimentary principles of good outdoor design.

Outdoor advertising presents limitless options and approaches for creative design. There are dozens of sizes and shapes, endless locations and boundless opportunities for designing effective outdoor advertising.

The Creative Challenge

Designing outdoor advertising is visual storytelling. The expression of an idea can surprise viewers with words or excite them with pictures. Through the use of humor or drama, outdoor designs can influence consumer decisions and sell products. However, designing for the outdoor medium is a challenging communication task that requires the expression of a concept with clarity and austere focus. When outdoor advertising is well designed, it will entertain and intrigue consumers with arresting impact.

Basic Rules for Design

The outdoor viewing audience is mostly mobile. People travel swiftly in vehicles or walk at a brisk pace while they perform the activities of daily life. Mobility limits the potential viewing time of an outdoor message to only a few seconds. Because of limited exposure time, outdoor designs require a disciplined and succinct creative approach. However, high frequency is a fundamental strength of the medium and repeated exposures will ensure that a message is absorbed and retained over time.

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Guidelines for Legibility

  • Color
    The spectrum of full color, vividly and faithfully reproduced, is one of outdoor advertising’s distinct advantages. Designs bursting with brilliant color can evoke emotional responses that will inspire lasting impressions.

  • Typestyle
    Fonts selected for outdoor designs must be easy to read from variable distances. Adequate spacing between letters, words and lines will enhance visibility. The relative size of letter characters is also an important consideration.

Tactical Design

The world is a hectic and busy place. Outdoor advertising reaches people whenever and wherever they travel outside of their homes. Over time, outdoor advertising can consistently reinforce a message with crisp immediacy.

Location, Location, Location

Outdoor advertising conveys the right message, to the right audience, at the right time, in the right place. Understanding the dynamics of the marketplace is essential for designing effective outdoor campaigns. In the case of Apple computer, the side of a bus was the only logical place to feature an image of civil rights icon, Rosa Parks. Finding the relevant and hidden relationships between the message and the environment makes the advertising smart.

Although many outdoor panels have a horizontal format, some displays are vertical. The physical orientation of an outdoor unit will significantly affect the placement of design elements such as product identity and the headline. Orientation will also affect the overall balance of a design. It is important to remember that geography, demography and the orientation of a display are all necessary considerations when designing for the outdoor medium.


Outdoor advertising is a frequency medium that provides multiple exposures to a message throughout the full duration a campaign period. Recency is another important factor. Defined in the book, When Ads Work" by John Philip Jones, recency reminds people who are already in the marketplace that a brand, store or service is a good choice. Consistent and repeated exposure to an outdoor message over an extended period of time will maintain high levels of advertising awareness and recall. To avoid memory decline, multiple design executions for a campaign can be implemented simultaneously or introduced at appropriate intervals during the campaign period.


AdView is an easy and economical method for pre-testing outdoor creative designs. Using the Adview guide, accurate outdoor viewing distances are simulated so that the readability of an advertising message may be evaluated and altered, if necessary, before final production commences.

AdView is intended to help designers answer important questions when designing for the outdoor medium:

  • Are the fonts easy to read?

  • Is the letter size large enough?

  • Does the spacing between the letters, words and lines aid legibility?

  • Do the colors properly convey a high contrast of value and hue?

For an overview of the growth of the outdoor industry, as well as a brief discussion of the advantages of outdoor for promoting public service causes, read the article "Outdoor - A New Medium for New Audiences" by Bill Goodwill.

For an article describing a brief history of the outdoor industry and types of OOH placements, go to the GoodNews newsletter and read the story "Reaching People Where They Work, Live and Play,"