Backgrounds – how can they be made clearer?

During half term my parents treated my family to a London activity, which issued specially designed tickets for entry. While enjoying a cream bun in the café, we examined these tickets within a graphics point of view.

The first thing which struck us was that it wasn’t easy to read. OK, the wording was reduced in size to fit the ticket’s dimensions, but the combination of the black background and white writing decreased the legibility factor, especially for the more mature audience whose eyesite isn’t as good as it once was. This trait seems quite popular at the moment, as I can think of one programme of events that is totally black with white text – I suppose it’s considered trendy (especially amongst male designers) and is designed to make the pictures stand out more.

Background colours should be carefully chosen so not to swamp any wording (for example a pale grey background and white writing) or make other colours ‘jump’ (put red and green together and see what happens). White is certainly safe, but it can also be boring, and sometimes a nice neutral colour will highlight the contents or design. Also be careful with some colours on a white background, red or yellow for example, as they can make words illegible.

Background images shouldn’t be stronger than the foreground or main content, therefore diverting the reader from the purpose of the publication. Logos or pictures can be ‘greyed out’ or made more faded, with a strongly coloured and catchy title ‘pinging’ out in front. Be careful of intricate backgrounds that distract or confuse the eye, especially with a frequently repeated pattern.

And moving backgrounds (as in websites) are a complete no-no!

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