Block caps are a tipping point in the conversation around inclusive design.
The #1 king of all things that need a revolution in brand communications is BRANDS USING BLOCK CAPS.
1. We are SCREAMING at people.
As curators of brands, it’s ultra-important that we think about, and honor, the position of our audience. Empathy. No matter their demographic, BLOCK CAPS IS SHOUTING. And you know I’m right because you just read that in a very loud voice inside your head. DON’T TELL ME YOU DON’T FEEL AT LEAST A LITTLE BIT OFFENDED AT THE TONE OF MY VOICE IN THIS SENTENCE.
When we communicate in all caps, this is what we’re doing. It’s stressful and bad for the brand.
2. Creatives are not the gateway to the audience.
Creatives can mistakenly believe that we are the gateway to the audience. That we get to make choices about what they want to see and how they should be communicated with. We are not the gateway. The customer is. We have to rely on what we know about how people see, read and engage. Science. Studies in this field, laws of UX, and seasoned professionals with good advice. Through experience research and testing, the customer can show us what they respond to and we can follow their lead.
Most creative assets were first generated by a designer of some description. It’s likely that they went through a pipeline including a creative director or measured against a robust brand bible with a prescribed design language. Hopefully, UX errors like block caps will be caught and corrected in that process. Yet quite often, brands either move too fast for this feedback loop or one just isn’t in place. Or worse yet, errors are baked into the brand. So it’s paramount that creatives of all calibers (right down to interns) have this information to make good choices for the brands they serve.
Some designers can rely on block caps because they’re vertically symmetrical and visually appealing. But that’s lazy.
Designers can forget that when they design with text, they’re utilizing a written language. It’s not a design element. It’s a written representation of a language. And it should be treated with the laws of that language. And it should be rendered in a legible font (that’s a post for another day).
3. It takes up to 33% longer to read block caps.
Have you ever seen closed captions in ALL CAPS? No, you have not. Because closed captions are meant to be read at speed. And you know what takes a long time to read? CAPITALIZED WORDS. This is because, as I mentioned, text isn’t a design element. It’s a written language. And when we read the letters that make words, we are not reading the letters themselves. We are reading the empty space around the letters. The shape contrast of capitalized letters takes a lot longer to read and decipher meaning. 33% longer, in fact.
So if you’re making a 15 second Facebook Ad (money to create, money to push out to the audience) you need your audience to take in your message and engage with the content. You can say more in less time if you properly treat the text in your video (and the descriptions & headlines) with the laws of written language. For English, these are:
- Proper nouns are capitalized
- The first characters of sentences are capitalized
4. Audiences abandon the content when you scream in all caps (and I can prove it).
This was a hypothesis I had in one of my recent roles as a creative manager on the brand team for a CPG business. Luckily, there was a digital marketing department in-house and I was able to test this out with A/B testing on Facebook ads. I produced two versions of the exact same video for Facebook. The only thing different was that one had the animated text in all caps (as was common practice for that brand) and one was sentence casing.
The results were even better than I expected. For a 2-week run, the sentence case version did up to 1200% better in terms of viewers watching 100% of the video.
These numbers are the percentage increase for the sentence case version of the video:
- 3-second plays: 300%
- 10-second plays: 500%
- 25% play-thru: 400%
- 100% play-thru: 1200%
- Clicks: 900%
- Reach: 300%
- Conversion: 600%
One thing to note about those drastic results is that the algorithm noticed the sentence case version was more successful and became weighted towards that ad, prioritizing it over the caps version.
5. If everything is huge, nothing is.
If everything is bold, nothing is. If everything in capitalized, nothing is. If you’re already screaming, how do you activate your audience when you have something truly important to tell them? Just make it bigger and bigger and bigger? CAPS AND BOLD AND UNDERLINED? I don’t know. It all just becomes rather unmanageable.
Basically, the only time to use uppercase characters is when you’re actually intending to SCREAM AT THE AUDIENCE which, I’d wager, is rarely or never.
Best practice vs common practice
You might need to be a leader in your business, your lane, or your industry. And it might take a while to be heard. When I objected to the copious amounts (I’m talking, like, 95%) of capitalization in one client’s packaging, website, digital comms…I was told, “this is in line with industry best practice”. I beg to disagree. Businesses are poorly informed about the pitfalls of misusing the written English language in design so we do see a lot of brands making this mistake. This makes it common practice, not best practice. As are many ill-advised things that people, governments, and businesses often do.
The NHS in the UK is one of the world’s leading healthcare systems and they pump millions into research to ensure that everything in the brand is accessible. In their service manual is a section on formatting for text. It’s simply worded:
“We do not use block capitals as they’re difficult for people to read.
We always use lower case, including page titles. The exception is proper nouns.”
Read stats. Follow science. Hire seasoned UX designers and, most of all, bake empathy into your brand and test how your audience engages with the assets you’re showing them.
So you can produce collateral that drives results.