When you have a car and you are willing to ruin the paint job by sticking a bumper sticker on the car, you obviously have something to say. It may be something temporary, such as “Vote for Gus Gusterminendorf for Sheriff ’02,” which looks a tad dated in 2012, or it could be something eternal such as “Life! Live it!”
But generally speaking, a bumper sticker message should be brief. Brevity is desirable for a number of reasons, such as:
- Size. Your standard bumper sticker is about a foot wide and about four inches long. Some are larger, some are smaller, but the size alone dictates that the message shouldn’t include the entire text of the Magna Carta, to take one example. (Though that would be way cool.)
- Font size. Related to physical size is font size: letters on a bumper sticker should be seen at a distance. While cars spend most of their lives parked (instead of automobiles, they should be called semimobiles), they don’t attract a great deal of attention when they aren’t moving. When they are moving, cars are dangerous, and you should pay attention to them — but from a distance. Hence, the need for a decently large font size.
- Attention span. Since you pay attention to cars when they are in motion, but mostly from a distance, this dictates that you generally do not have the time to examine them in detail. For most of drivers, other cars are generally lumped into one of two categories: threats, and non-threats. Threats are vehicles that may, in the next 30 seconds or so, kill you or dent your car or delay you from whatever you were trying to do. Non-threats are all other vehicles.
- Competing distractions. Related to attention span, driving is complex. Not only are there other vehicles trying to kill you, but there are (depending on where you are driving) magnificent coastal vistas, or beautiful mountains, or torrents of rain falling from the sky, or neon lights flashing brightly, or flurries of signs (especially on weekends) announcing every home in your neighborhood seems to be “For Sale!” Your bumper sticker should stand out from the noise, even if it is on a car that is not immediately in the threat category.
Given the competing design considerations for a bumper sticker, this sticker:
“We must all rise above — aiiie!” Crash. Photo taken by Lawrence I. Charters with an iPhone.
- Size. The size of the bumper sticker does not match the message.
- Font size: the font size is too small for anyone to follow at a safe distance. This, combined with being entirely in UPPER CASE, makes it all but impossible to read by anyone not standing immediately behind the parked car, as I was.
- Attention span: this is way, way too long a message for a bumper sticker. In fact, at 108 characters, it is on the longer end of the average Tweet. While it might fit nicely on a giant billboard, trying to read it while driving would be a challenge.
- Competing distractions: It is a green bumper sticker on a green car. “Hey! Look at my bumper sticker! It is cleverly hidden on my car somewhere!”
- Neatness counts: Note that the bumper sticker isn’t exactly evenly applied. In order to fit on the vehicle, it starts in an area that is reasonably flat, crosses over a ridge, and descends into another area — but even then the right edge is not cleanly attached.
For contrast, consider the Nissan Leaf. The Leaf is an embodiment of the “less is more” movement when it comes to automobiles. It isn’t particularly large, and it doesn’t use up much gasoline. Or diesel. In fact, it doesn’t use any at all: it is 100% electric. While it lacks the iconic body style of the Prius (possibly because the Prius is a priori?), you can’t drive one of these without proclaiming “I care about my children and don’t want to use up 100% of the world’s oil in my lifetime.”
Nissan Leaf: a moving bumper sticker for conserving resources. Photo by Lawrence I. Charters, taken with an iPhone. And yes, I was parked; the light changed just as I pushed the button.
Admittedly, it is something of an understated message. The “Leaf” name is not particularly large. There is no giant logo shouting this to be a petroleum-free vehicle. Yet the style is sufficiently different from most cars to make you wonder “What is that?” And after you discover it is a Leaf, you might notice the bumper sticker stuck in the corner of the back window: “This is what the end of gasoline looks like.” Or, from a greater distance, you might notice the license plate: “GAS SUX.”
On the whole, while the message on the bumper sticker is perfectly fine, I’d rather have a Leaf.