Branding: the enemy of legibility?

A nationwide franchise operation has recently rebranded - strong visual, communicates core message well, distinctive, modern. The predominant colour is a shade between maroon and a deep pink. So what’s the problem. The problem is that their brochure has the text in white with the pink/maroon as the background colour on glossy paper. Look at it from a distance and it’s attractive - try to read the copy and it’s a struggle.

Further to this, they have settled on one of the complementary colours being a pale grey - not a problem in itself - but a complete failure when used for the contact details on the business cards (as they have done). Nice form, zero utility.

Reverse text is always somewhat problematic from a legibility perspective as it needs extra font weight to achieve the same visual weight. The kiwibank logo is a classic example where the reverse text “kiwi” is in a heavier weight (”bold” if you like) than the “bank” to create an overall balance.

A contra example is on the Labour Party’s new election website labour08.co.nz where the white text on the red background in the middle panel of changing messages is very tough to read. As it turns out - it’s worse than that - the text which matches the current item is white and the other three items are pink. You can actually click on those items to show the relevant info in that panel. How the average punter would know they are clickable (no visual link or button cues and the cursor doesn’t change) or why they would even want to is another matter. A clear case where the text needs to be of heavier weight to be legible.

Brands and visual identity are powerful tools for shaping perceptions of an organisation. However, when branding makes information difficult to access the customer’s perception will probably not be what was intended. Skillful design first focuses on and retains that focus on utility then on aesthetics.

Leave a Reply