The Buzz at Huzz

Bringing Design to Rating Plate Labels

If you’re like most manufacturers, you probably don’t think too much about your rate cards.  As long as the information is correct and they meet compliance requirements, you’re good to go.  Right?  Well, maybe not.  Most rating labels are located on the outside of your merchandise, and you invest a lot into making sure your product looks great.  Why blemish it with a rate card that is simply correct.  A great product shouldn’t be marred by a good-enough rating label, but instead should be enhanced with thoughtful design.  If you don’t have designers on staff, we will redesign your labels for you with these concepts in mind.

The Difference

So whats the big deal, our labels look fine?  In today’s industry, the ubiquity of devices like smart phones and tablets has not only democratized good design, but has elevated user expectation.  Gone are overdone gradients and garish drop shadows, even Microsoft  has moved on and is really innovating in the field with Windows 8, though the jury is still out on whether it was a bulls eye or a total miss.  The point is that design matters.  People notice, and its becoming a more common topic in public discourse.  Good design evokes instant trust from a potential customer and has even been shown to increase satisfaction.  People no longer want to use things that look and feel tacky.  Good design is unilaterally beneficial, and worth the investment—unless you’re looking to elicit a sense of cheap and bargain from potential customers, which is an entirely valid approach, but probably not one you’re going for.  A little aside—in some cultures, good design is seen as an unnecessary expense, which is why you see a lot of places like cheap Chinese takeout restaurants using intentionally bad logos, names, and design.  The sense is that ‘we saved in every way we could, and that savings has been passed on to the customer’.  But lets face it, if you’re building products that need rating plates, you most definitely don’t want to your products to come off as cheap and built on cutting corners.

Lets take a look at a label that we redesigned and go through a little bit of our process.


The Process

Let’s detail a typical design process at Huzzard Systems.  Below is the source label from the example above, which a client sends us to undergo redesign.

Notice there’s a lot going on here, and a lot of it is dictated by regulation so there’s not anything really drastic we can do with the formatting—but we can still make this look a lot better.  Before we do begin, we need to spend a little time with typography.

The Typography

Rating card labels must be legible and scannable, but the label size is often restricted by the surface that it will ultimately be attached to.  The source image used Arial, a common enough choice for a sans-serif.  We can immediately improve upon this font selection simply by using Helvetica instead, which is sort of the ‘big boy version’ of Arial.  (In 1982, Microsoft opted to make their own copy of Helvetica to include in Windows instead of licensing it.  All the changes they made to it were, ultimately, for the worse. )

After choosing Helvetica for our typeface, we moved to a condensed, heavy-weight version.  We did this because these labels are going to be printed on direct thermal printers, and heavier fonts tend to reproduce with a little more regularity.  We want to maintain legibility at all costs, so we opted against using the standard, thinner weight.  The decision to use a more condensed version was twofold – we wanted to fit as much information as we could in as small a space as possible while maintaining whitespace to allow for optimal readability.  We also wanted to imply heavy-duty and industrial with our type selection, and the nice, bold Helvetica does a good job of that.

Arial (top) set against Helvetica (bottom, condensed black)

Arial (top) set against Helvetica (bottom, condensed black)

The Grid and Scaffolding

We have a lot of information that we need to fit into a small space, and we want to do it in a way thats not overwhelming.  Because we are working with information that is legislated and must be presented in a certain way, we don’t exactly have a lot of freedom in layout.  As a solution, we designed a 6 column grid system with gutters all around the bounding box to allow for slight tolerance during label production.  This allows us to organize with information with strong visual structure and hierarchy, and allows us to present tabular data in a way that allows the reader to quickly scan and find the information they need.

Our 6 column grid system during development.

Our 6 column grid system during development.

Our scaffolding system works closely with our grid, and we opted to remove as many of the lines as possible while remaining in spec.  We worked to simplify the label as much as possible, and worked to thicken lines to provide visual hierarchy and clear sectioning. Again, the aim here was to enhance legibility by removing unnecessary design elements.

Our design (right) opts for thick, simple divisions instead of boxy sectioning.

Our design (right) opts for thick, simple divisions instead of boxy sectioning.

The Finished Product

Finally, we recreate the new label using our new visual guidelines restricted to the specified label dimensions.  Our secret weapon is our in-house label printer, which operates at 600 DPI and allows us labels with crystal clear text and high resolution images.  The final product is visually similar to the original, but is more refined in every way.

The final label.

The final label.


Need some labels?

Do you want to enlist our label design and manufacturing services?  Contact us and let us know more about your project.


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