Readable Signage for Drivers

Whether it’s with a digital billboard or another kind of digital roadside sign, you want to make sure that drivers are getting the message.  How long should a message be displayed, and how many words should you have on your sign?

DBCalculations for the size and layout of signs can actually be very complex, and there’s a full set of guidelines and formulas here from the United States Sign Council.  But the great thing about digital signage is that you usually can change things without too much grief, which means that there’s some room for trial and error.  With that in mind, here are some guidelines and figures to help you out.

The average adult can read about 300 words per minute, or 5 words per second, but when your target audience is drivers, you’re working with less.  Drivers’ main focus is the road, not your sign.  If your sign is too hard to read, drivers will have to stop reading—not just out of boredom, but out of concern for their own safety.

At high speeds, such as on billboards along highways, you need to have fewer words and make your text bigger.  At locations where traffic is slower (for example, a digital marquee outside a local business), you can have more text and it doesn’t need to be quite as big.  However, especially if the message is changing (perhaps to advertise two different sales), you still need to make sure that you’re giving each message the right amount of time.  Aim for a speed that will work for a slightly slower-than-average reader, but don’t go much slower than that.  If the sign changes too slowly, drivers are going to be gone before the second message shows up. This is where brevity becomes very important: when you’re targeting drivers, your message needs to be short and sweet.

Though digital signage aimed at drivers is becoming commonplace, many signs are missing the mark. Make sure your sign enhances the driving experience instead of detracting from it.

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