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Digital Billboard Design Tips


Digital billboards. Despite existing for over ten years, they still strike us as something out of science fiction. No matter how many times we pass them by on our way to work, digital billboards catch our attention and remind us we’re living in the world of the future described by science fiction writers of the past.


Okay – we’re not quite there yet. There are no flying cars, no ambitious efforts to send people to the outer reaches of the galaxy, and no funky fashion trends that signal that times have changed. Yet, things like digital billboards strike at the heart of what it means to be alive in the 21st century.

Similar to designing the passenger compartment of a “horseless carriage” or assessing the priorities of the personal computer when the only computers you know are the behemoths used by corporations and industry, designing the layout of a digital billboard display is not a simple matter of taking what you did before and applying it to what you’re doing now. The rules have changed in accordance with the changes in the medium.

With that said, successful digital billboard design still comes down to the same fundamentals dictating the design of traditional outdoor advertising: Grab attention, get to the point, and make the most of available space in the process. Whether it’s digital Arizona billboards or those elsewhere, design is crucial. Otherwise, you’re wasting an opportunity to reach out to potential customers.

The following serves as a substantial guide for those attempting to understand what it takes to design a digital billboard that fulfills its purpose:

Go big

Acclaimed filmmaker Alfred Hitchock once said, “The one thing that the [film] student has got to do is to learn that there is a rectangle up there – a white rectangle in a theater – and it has to be filled.” While film is different from advertising, the same principle applies. A digital billboard is basically a blank canvas that you need to fill in an effective way. Start by going big; you’re trying to grab the attention of people situated hundreds of feet away from the billboard and presumably moving past it in a car. The images, words, and everything else must be BIG to catch their attention and get the point across.

Go bold

The dynamics of digital billboard design are fairly straightforward. Do the same thing you do when designing similar layouts online. With this in mind, pastels and other light and subtle shades are a no-go. When it comes to thematic color schemes and fonts, stick to bold colors and clean lines. Doing so ensures the display is legible and visible from long distances, ideal for billboards positioned alongside major highways and thoroughfares.

Use sans-serif fonts

Most people will go their entire lives without ever knowing the difference between serif and sans-serif fonts. But for designers, understanding the distinction is essential. Simply put, serif-style fonts are ornate and decorative in nature. The curvature of the lines and dramatic display of the taper are dead giveaways. Meanwhile, sans-serif style font is minimalist, simple, and straightforward. Since the details of serif font will be lost when presented on a digital billboard, do yourself a favor and stick to sans-serif, otherwise known as non-serif. It might seem uninspired and boring, but it’s key to designing a dynamic digital billboard.

Make it simple

Once again, the core rules of advertising apply to billboards. A cluster of images and words will be virtually indecipherable. Keeping things limited to a basic layout of images and text will be essential. The easiest way to do this is to examine your design from several feet away (assuming you’re viewing it on a computer monitor.) Is it understandable from afar? Good. If not, keep working on it. Apply a minimalist approach. Less is more!


Once again, we feel compelled to remind readers of the similarities shared between digital billboard design and traditional web design. You’re basically tasked with designing a giant outdoor web page, albeit more rectangle than a square. With this in mind, sticking to RGB color files will prove effective in orchestrating a truly effective outdoor advertising. When in doubt, design the same way you would a website.

Use scale to your advantage

Let’s go back to Hitchcock and his thoughts on filling an empty frame. Put your filmmaker hat on for a moment and think about how small and seemingly insignificant objects and visuals can be made to look stunning and imposing on the big screen. Compare that with the way large objects are dwarfed when portrayed on screen. The takeaway is that if given the choice, opt for visuals that highlight objects we normally don’t see at that scale. For instance, let’s say you’re designing a digital billboard for a shoe store. An image of a giant shoe speaks volumes, while an image of the storefront falls flat.

Follow the 1:1:1 ratio

When it comes to the layout of a digital billboard, it never fails to abide by the 1:1:1 rule. One image, one logo, and one line of text. Generally speaking, this works as a reliable guideline for designing digital advertising that gets the point across without bombarding the viewer with an onslaught of information and graphics.

Limit white space

Empty white space is traditionally viewed as a positive attribute for advertisements. But that’s not true for digital displays. Pure white will effectively overwhelm the colorful visuals.

Designing a digital display can be a fun experience. But it can be intimidating too, especially for those lacking the experience. With that said, if you’ve successfully designed web content, you can do the same for digital billboards. It’s essentially the same concept with a different setting.

Julie Steinbeck is a freelance writer from Florida. She enjoys covering topics related to business, finance, and travel.