General Web Ad Production Guide

Janis Yee  

Designing ad units for web is no arbitrary task. There is a process to it. Keep these simple tips in mind next time you go off on a tangent for web creative, no matter how ‘pretty’ it becomes.

Designing ad units for web is no arbitrary task.  There is a process to it.  Keep these simple tips in mind next time you go off on a tangent for web creative, no matter how ‘pretty’ it becomes.

Clear message / Purpose

Ensure the reason for the ad is clear.  The concept should be driven by this purpose.

Consistent Visual Branding Cues

The look of the ad needs to match what the user clicks through to, no matter how cross-eyed the client’s website looks. You can take liberties with cleaning up the typography and polishing with a grid layout as long as the feel of the ad is the same.  This helps to build user trust and expectation that they are directed to the right place.

Do Not Reinvent the Client’s Logo

Unless you are directly working on the client’s brand campaign and redesigning all the customer touch-points, do not change the logo style or design.  Always try to include the assets the client provides. No matter what, you need to design for the user and client in mind, and not necessarily for yourself.


Use fonts provided by the client for the ad. If these and a style-guide are not available which is almost always the case – as painful as it sounds – use a font that is close enough in look and feel for the sake of time.  90% of the time, clients will not know the difference.

Clear Call to Action

While it is seemingly bad practice to include the words ‘click here’ into the ad, not including something along those lines is like giving Lego to a child without motor skills.  The assumption among many designers is that the click-through is implied, via the ‘show not tell’ theology.  This is not always the case.  If you are selling seats for a show, it is quite alright to use the words “buy tickets”.  It provides users with a reason to click on the ad.

Visual Hierarchy

Many designers sometimes concentrate too much on the details of the creative and not stepping back to look at the bigger picture.  Prioritizing the information clearly is of utmost importance to convey your message.  People have the attention span of flies. It takes less time for a user to turn away from a web ad than to decide on whether to toss a direct mail ad. You’ll want to have them at ‘hello’.

Keep Layouts Simple

This may seem like a very difficult task if the client is asking for everything and their dog on the tiny banner but it is your job to mow the clutter and deliver the message in a clear and concise way. If the message is long, spread it out amongst many frames.  The animation will catch the user’s attention, and allows the banner to spoon feed the message back to the user.

Follow a Grid System

Whether it be the rule of 9ths or 3rds, the grid is the best way to keep information organized. Hands down. Isn’t it nicer to have all your socks split by a grid of dividers than strewn throughout the drawer? ‘Nuff said.

Work with the Client

Don’t be afraid to ask for more assets or questions from the client or sales person. They are available for assistance to ensure the campaign goes off without a hitch so should be more willing to provide as much as you need.

Use the Publisher’s Specs

Design with the IAB specs in mind. These are internet standards set by a committee which most corporate site owners adhere to.  Before submitting creative, see that these specs are met first.  Your client may incur extra charges for the Publisher’s in-house designer to make modifications.

Use Common Sense

Flashy web ads are a thing of the past.  It died – or should have died 20 years ago – with the blink CSS property a long time ago. The purpose of the ad is to persuade the user to click not to annoy them away towards an ad-free world where no commerce can be had.

Online advertising has come a long way and pays for much of the content we consume so we don’t have to.  Many users are more willing to sit tight through a 15-30 second for a preroll ad than pay for content. Why not make it more bearable? After all, designers are end-users too!

Janis Yee is the National Web Designer for Rogers Digital Media, Radio Division for almost 4 years supporting the growing sales team.

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