If you are in a hurry, and frankly not that interested in the details, feel free to skip the entire blog and just read the last paragraph. For the rest of you, I will try to explain why some choices are good ones, and some are horrible. One of the most common uses for LED display technology is messaging. Most messaging is heavily dependent on text to clearly communicate the content. Text is also a significant portion of most KeyNote or PowerPoint presentations used at corporate events. When we use LED screens at sporting events, such as on the PGA Tour, Rodeos or NASCAR…the scoring information is crucial, which means the fonts and text sizes we choose must be ideal or we fail in our mission to deliver the client’s content to the audience. Like anyone, we’ve learned from trial an error. It doesn’t matter whether the text is STILL or in motion as part of a video, the following information applies to either. Unfortunately, we are not always the ones designing the content for our screens, and this is left up to designers who are used to creating for the desktop…or worse, print. Of course when we’re responsible for the content, the stuff looks great. More often than not though, our clients, or their clients already have a designer, or have content “in the can.” That’s a topic for another day (Can we re-purpose existing content for the big screen?). Nothing makes us happier than when we are handed some files that make our hardware look awesome, and nothing is more disheartening than preparing for a show for 2 months, driving 1000 miles, erecting a complex screen, only to have your client hand us some garbage that is completely wrong for the screen product or screen size that they have chosen.
If you follow these few tips I assure you that your layouts or videos will read “loud and proud” on any LED Screen. There has been a lot of talk about coming up with industry standards for designing content for the big screen. I have seen something from InfoComm about a “how to design for projection” guidelines coming soon. (When I see it, if its relevant, I will post it here). The first thing you need to ask is, “What is the pixel pitch of the screen you will be using?” The second question is…”How big is the screen, physically and what is the actual pixel resolution.?” The last question should be…”What is the average viewing distance for my audience?”
We are fighting multiple problems when it comes to text. The first, choosing a font size that is too small for the viewing distance. No matter how sexy that font is, and how informative your slide is, if it’s too small to read from where most of your audience is positioned, it fails in its mission. The next problem is the Font Style choice vs. pixel pitch. The higher the number the lower the resolution. The less resolution you have, the less pixels you have, which means you have less detail. That beautiful font may look great on your desktop, but when you use it on an LED screen, it is possible (because of a lack of pixels, or the size you choose), that a lot of information needed by the human eye to see that font will be missing.
I hate to give you all of this info and then just drop a very simple rule on you. Seems kind of counter productive, and anticlimactic, but the title of the blog was not “awesome ending !” The preceding info was for those designers that need to understand the mechanics of everything they are doing. This is as simple a rule/tool as you are going to find. This is probably written on the wall of some 1950’s Ad agency that specialized in billboards, but here ya go. When I say “slide” you can also assume this rule works for motion graphics.
Design your slide on an average sized desktop monitor. Lets say 17”-26”. Step back 20’, and I don’t mean 10’, I mean a legit 20’. Can you read all of that text? Is the message getting across, or is it lost in the “squint?” That’s it, step back 20’. Make it work from 20’ and it will translate to the big screen. Making it look good at 30’ is even more challenging, but even more rewarding if you are designing for an outdoor screen with long viewing distances. Your audience will appreciate it. Here is another word of advice to you designers. I’m sure you are familiar with the term “horsey” when used to describe someone’s layout, and you know its not normally used as a compliment. Challenge yourself, you can still deliver a gorgeous refined layout or motion graphics piece while going big. Embrace the horse!