Screaming at the Car Wash

There are a few constants that clients share. First, they have tight budgets and not much time. Of course, what kind of fool would say, “I’ve got tons of cash and all the time in the world.” Second, they always give the wrong assignment. This is because clients can only suggest a solution they have seen before. In reality, a 4” x 9” brochure is not the best answer for every project. And finally, they want every message to be important.

The problem for us, as designers, is to work within budget and time constraints, solve the bigger issue, not just the symptom, and determine which messages take priority. I know this last point seems easy, but even I, after a ton o’ years doing this, find myself besieged and confused when told that every message on the page is more important than the next. Falling into this trap leads to the kind of design typically seen at the car wash. I know some people will say, “That’s a vernacular idiom that demands appropriation.” Okay, but to me these ads scream,” Look here! No, over here! No this is more important!” So how can you avert this fall into disgrace?

I have a simple rule about typographic hierarchy. We can prioritize information in many ways by changing the following:

What I do is to pick one of these, and only one. For example, if I’m using 12 point Univers 75 and I need to highlight the headline, I change the size to 24 point. But that’s it. I don’t change the font, style, weight, and color. Now if that’s still not enough, I might be crazy and add color. When I explain this to a client, I pull out one of the car wash ads as an example of hierarchical chaos. And I reassure them that every message is important, and people respond best to being spoken to in a reasonable tone, not like, “LOOK HERE YOU STUPID SOB!!!”