The 10 Principles of Display Design

The importance of carefully considering and following the principles of display design should not be underestimated. Research indicates that a potential customer will express interest in a well-designed display in just eight seconds. The individual elements of a display design should combine in such a way that they effectively target the particular type of customer you seek, portray the image of your business in the best possible way, convey your message efficiently and help to reinforce the reason that customers should choose you over similar products or services in the same sector. In order for a display to achieve these aims it should adhere to the following 10 principles of display design.

1. Impact

The design of a display should compel a viewer to want to find out more by arousing their awareness and curiosity at first sight. Impact results from the creation of a focal point for your display, placing emphasis upon a particular message or image. Impact can be created via the appropriate use of colour schemes, lighting, and the position and repetition of the focal image or message.

2. Balance

Balance is essential to the creation of an efficient display. The use of too much text and too few illustrations, for example, may provide an information overload for the viewer causing them to ‘switch off’ before your message has been communicated effectively. All aspects of a display, including text, graphics, contrast, colours and layout should be balanced in such a way that it is appealing to the eye, easy to navigate and creates the desired response. Note that balance does not necessarily equate to perfect symmetry; whilst the ‘weighting’ of the elements of two sides of a display should roughly balance this does not mean that they have to be laid out identically.

3. Hierarchy and flow

Once you stimulated interest with the initial impact of your display, what would you like the potential customer to do next? Is there a logical path they should follow in order to gain the most from display? Giving a display a hierarchical structure which subtly leads the viewer from the information you want them to receive first, second, third, fourth and so on should keep them engaged and end with a call to action which provokes the desired response. Hierarchy and flow can be achieved by grouping similar display elements into themes, by overlapping elements, and by the use of lighting to suggest a progression from one element to the next. For an English-speaking audience, a hierarchy and flow which leads from left to right is instinctive.

4. Harmony

Where balance is the equal weighting and distribution of display elements, harmony is the principle of display design which brings all of the disparate elements that form a display together into a single, cohesive and consistent whole. Harmony is achieved by choosing display elements that naturally contrast or complement each other, whether display furniture, colour schemes, lighting, fonts or products. Nothing should be jarring to a potential customer’s senses; a lack of harmony can create a feeling of uncertainty or discomfort and undermines the effectiveness of a display.

5. Use of Colour

It is well-documented by psychologists that different colours stimulate different human responses and emotions, both positive and negative. The choice of colour or colour combinations used for a display must be considered carefully. Shades of blue and green are cool, calming and encourage conversation. Red subconsciously draws the eye and is stimulatory, but is also innately associated with danger. Yellow and orange are perceived as warm, friendly colours. These draw attention and can instil a sense of vibrancy and exhilaration. Brown is considered both relaxing and warm. Shades of purple conjure up associations with royalty and therefore prestige and sophistication. Grey, however, is generally associated with gloom and depression.

6. Illumination

Humans, like moths, are naturally drawn towards light, and the correct use of illumination in a display can hugely increase its effectiveness. Lights can be used to emphasise a product or message or to create a subconscious pathway directing viewers through the different elements of a display. Dimmed or coloured lighting or the creation of shadow can be used to create a particular atmosphere. Blue lighting, for example, can create an atmosphere of cold that would be perfect for a display focussing on refrigeration or winter sports. Note that proximity of a display to a source of natural light such as a window may have a bearing on the effectiveness of any illumination used. Spotlights, whilst excellent for highlighting display elements, should be positioned with care; temporarily blinding potential customers is not recommended.

7. Accessibility

The most effective display in the world will have failed if it cannot be fully and easily accessed by its target audience. Display design needs to address not just physical accessibility, which involves the elimination of barriers such as steps, clutter or anything else which hinders access to the display, but also non-physical considerations such as the ease with which your message can be read and understood by all viewers and the availability of sufficient assistance to answer questions, provide guidance and so on.

8. Appropriate signage

Display signage should be concise, accurate and unambiguous. Signage should be placed where it enjoys maximum visibility and, if appropriate, be printed on both sides. Signage should remain consistent in size, colour and font throughout a display. If signage relates to a product or service, keywords relating to the benefits should be used, but information should be brief: effective signage should do nothing more than direct a viewer to take a particular action such as enquiring further about a product or service.

9. Interactivity

Designing a display to incorporate a degree of interactivity for the viewer can significantly increase its effectiveness. Whilst human interactivity is the most obvious element of an effective display i.e. the availability of one or more approachable and friendly representatives who can answer questions, provide demonstrations, hand out product or service literature and generally engage the viewer, interactivity in display design can also include elements such as video display screens, audio commentaries and demonstration products which can be used ‘hands-on’ by potential customers.

10. Attention to detail

As with any kind of design, attention to detail is a key principle of display design. Display materials should be in good condition; free from stains, scratches, dust or dirt. This also applies to the display area itself; litter, dirt and items that might compromise health and safety such as trailing electrical cables should be removed. Signage should be correctly placed, and the display should be viewed from every angle from the customer’s perspective. Any promotional material or literature that is given away as part of the display should be in adequate supply. Even the location of the display needs to be carefully considered to ensure that maximum benefit is gained. If sufficient attention to detail has been given in a display design, nothing will have been left to chance.

John studied interactive design at Bournemouth Media School and is currently working for Just Displays, a design firm in London specialising in banner stands, displays and large format printing.