03 June 2017

Use black on black for fashion, not posters

Wearing black make you cool. Everybody knows that. But while black on black makes an awesome fashion statement, it is a terrible communication statement.

I saw a poster earlier this year that had its title – the thing that is the only thing most people at a conference will see about your poster – in this colour scheme: dark green text on black.

Rather than posting a picture of the poster itself, I used the eyedropper tool to copy the colours from a picture I took of it on the board. Keep in mind that the colours you see might vary, depending on how the image is positioned on your screen. But I doubt anyone will look at that and think that colour combination makes for easy scanning.

Let’s put the same dark green text over the black, as it was on the poster, and white for comparison:

You have to enlarge and squint to read that text over the black background. The white background makes the text almost infinitely easier to read.

The authors of this particular poster weren’t done, though. They ran with their colour scheme, and used black and green again for section headings. Plus ten points for commitment, minus several hundred points for practicality.

This colour combination is a tiny bit better than the title, but again, it would be easier to read over straight white:

If you liked the black background, you could go the other direction with the text, and lighten the words up:

Forget that black on black looks cool. Your title needs to be high contrast. People have to be able to read your title, at a glance, from a distance.

Journalists call it “burying the lede” when a story sticks the key point of information way down near the end. This poster didn’t just bury the lede with its dark on black colour choices, it buried the lede in an unmarked grave in the woods at night.

Top picture from here.

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