Fliers and Legibility: If it can’t be read, why would anyone come?

I was being a typical Seattle scenester and grabbing a fancy coffee. While waiting in line, a guy put a small handbill for an upcoming show by the espresso machine. I thought this was awesome. Get a lot of eyeballs from people waiting in line for a venue that’s nearby.

However, I realized I couldn’t make out anything on the flier without really scrutinizing it. Check it out.

Handbill 1

Handbill 1

Why would someone put scribbles on a very small flier? The goal is to get people out to a show, and you only have a split second to catch some one’s attention. Also, a side goal of fliers and handbills is to have people recognize the name of your band. I know I’ve gone to shows just because I keep seeing a band’s name mentioned around town so many times.

So I looked for a better example, but, instead, got this:

Much more legible than the last one, but they used black on black background for the lettering with only a slight red/pink outline. My guess is they had a larger, full-color version, and just made it smaller and in black and white. So, you have to strain your eyes a bit to see the names of the bands.

Sorry, I was hoping to find a good example of a flier, but these were the only two I saw. However, I do have a few tips.

Readability over art

Make a flier and a handbill. If it’s a handbill, turn down the lights and hold it at arm’s distance. Read it for only a couple of seconds. Now, did you see the information or did you see the weird turtle creature you drew?

If it’s a flier, stand 10 to 20 feet away. Can you read any of it? Now walk past it really quickly and only glance casually at it. What stuck out?

Even though you are creating a work of art and trying to make the flier awesome looking, if people can’t read it in an instant or from a distance, it’s a failure. I’m not saying the artwork shouldn’t be there, but people need to be able to see all the info at a glance. The artwork is an additional enticement to read.

Where, When, Who, and How Much

Keep the date and location easily readable. Then, make sure the most popular band that will bring the most people is listed prominently. (And definitely make sure your band is very legible.)

And definitely make sure to list the time if it’s before 10pm. Call out if it’s all-ages. List the price, so people can actually afford your show. They’ll get pissed if they expected a $5 show, and they get charged $15.


Make it an event. (“CD Release Party!” “Freshly Toilet Trained!”) Also, list the genre of music for the night. If no one knows the bands, they might come out if they like the genre of music. I’ve gone out to shows just because it said “Metal Night”, and I hand nothing better to do.

Make handbills pocket sized

This one’s simple. If you’re handing out fliers, make sure it can fit in a pocket. If it can’t fit in a pocket, it’ll fit in a trash can.

People read left to right (in the US at least)

Before getting super artistic on that flier or handbill, remember people read from left to right. So, when you want information to get into someone’s brain quickly, make sure it’s presented in a left-to-right format. Otherwise, it will confuse the brain, and people won’t register what the flier is intended for.

What do you think?

Do you have any better suggestions? What’s your experience with handbills and fliers? Do you think I’m full of shit? Leave a comment.

(If you like the posts, I’d appreciate some help. I’m trying to move this blog onto a dedicated web host. Even a dollar would help. Thanks!)

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15 Responses to Fliers and Legibility: If it can’t be read, why would anyone come?

  1. Kyle says:

    Good insights! In response, to the Donate button, you should consider implementing Flattr into your blog, I just read an article about it on hypebot.


    • I saw that article, but I didn’t give it much thought. Looked like something I’d have to pay into, so I was a bit skeptical. I’ll give it another look, though. I think my “Donate” buttons look cheesy. Heh-heh!

      • Okay, I signed up for Flattr, but I don’t think I’m going to use it. It doesn’t really make sense to me. Too much potential to lose money on the service. I don’t like having to pay. Plus, I could lose money if not enough people like what I do. The system they have will require people to lose money in order for others to make money. For instance, my post here can’t compete with a Hypebot post. Nor could it compete with a Ludicrous download. So they’ll get all the Flattrs, and my money will go to them.

        Maybe I’m missing the point of the service, but I’ve learned to steer clear of things that my brain can’t make sense of or just seems a little off. I could be wrong, however.

  2. thekai says:

    I’m really into your blog. Keep it up!

    Do people actually pay attention to flyers for a bunch of bands they’ve never heard of? It makes sense for more well known bands, but if you’ve never heard of the band then why go? Or, are you hoping that people have heard of the other two bands? I think the artwork may be a clue here.

    Bands make a lot of effort to have the right kind of design on their poster. Perhaps it’s a subtle way of saying “this is a show for people into the occult” or “this is a show if you like electronic dance music”. Then perhaps only the place and time matters. But I haven’t seen any data either way, and have just given up on making flyers all together.

    • Hey, Kai. I think part of the point of fliers is to get eyeballs on your band name. Brand recognition, if you will. But you need to put them in the right place. At the place you will be playing, in front of bars where people smoke, at the bus stop, etc. I’ve definitely had the experience of having a bad show because I didn’t flier appropriately.

      Handbills are more for interacting with people. Arguably, a few handbills and a great interaction with someone will get them to the show. A future experiment I will conduct is always having promo material on me for the band. Fliers, stickers, a CD. Stuff to give away and get people interested.

      But I see what you’re saying with the artwork letting you know what type of show it will be. I won’t argue that. Just when the artwork gets in the way of the information of the show, that’s when it’s bad. Also, I’ve personally spent hours making artwork on fliers just to realize a simpler design got more people’s attention.

      If no one knows the bands, I think that’s exactly when you need to flier the most. My opinion, though.

      • thekai says:

        Okay, I definitely get what you mean about interaction and handbills. I definitely don’t do that enough.

        One of my bands paid a service to plaster Seattle with flyers for a year, and didn’t see any difference. Only our friends ever showed up. If flyers are useful, then there is a very difficult skill to it. But perhaps you’re right about the location of flyers around building a longterm brand. Maybe if I keep plastering the same bars with flyers, people will start to remember. Anecdotally, my friends and I have never seen a flyer and thought, “oh, there’s a band I keep seeing flyers for. I think I’ll go”.

        • Yeah, it’s hard to cut through the noise with fliers. Especially when I see 30 fliers on one light pole. I’m trying to figure out a way to “test” the results of fliers. The only way I can think of is to make the show an “event” or have a raffle contest for the show. (Win a package of t-shirts and CDs of all the bands that night!) Then the flier would have more than just unknown bands, but actually stick out.

          Otherwise, I agree. Spending way too much time on fliers might be a waste.

          Thanks, Kai. If you don’t mind, I’ll use your comments in a follow-up post.

          • thekai says:

            Sure, once they’re on the internet, I can’t take ’em back! 😉

            Really enjoying your approach to this blog. Despite being skeptical about flyers, I’m now reconsidering based on some of your observations.

  3. Pingback: Are fliers for a show even worth it? | How To Run A Band

  4. Jon Fletcher says:

    Legibility is important, but making it easy to read isn’t necessarily so good- if you can see straight away this is a flyer for a gig with some bands you’ve never heard of in a venue you never go to, it takes all of 0.5 seconds to look and ignore. On the other hand, if you have to work to make sense of it you’ll remember it better. Of the two flyers above, the harder to read one had my attention for much longer, if only to work out what it said. Incidentally there’s some research that seems to back this up: see here

    • Good point. I guess there is a line between legibility and good artwork that grabs attention. (I consider fonts to be artwork.) That article does bring up a good point about “ugly fonts” aiding memory. There’s only one criticism I have with it in regards to fliers: the research setting. In the study, people were required to read material and probably knew they’d be tested on it. Fliers exist where people are not required to read them and have little incentive to memorize them.

      Fortunately, this actually CAN be tested with a band, but only online. Create different fliers with different fonts, and analyze the hits each one receives. Yet another experiment! Thanks, Jon!

  5. Pingback: Are Fliers For A Show Even Worth It? Pt. 2 | How To Run A Band

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