Spice Up Your Publications: Design Brochures, Books, Direct Mail
The first complete season of
the television show Northern Exposure on DVD comes wrapped
in an adorable miniature orange sleeping bag with blue type.
This is good marketing. I’m sure it was expensive
to produce, but I’m also sure that many people who
had never heard of Northern Exposure bought the product
just for the packaging.
Or consider direct mail.
You have only a few seconds to grab your reader’s
interest when your promotional piece arrives—unsolicited—in
your reader’s mailbox. Your prospect will look for
any reason to throw it away. How can you keep this from
The bottom line is
that if you’re doing the same thing from one marketing
campaign to another, or if you’re producing the same
books and book covers repeatedly, you will lose your audience.
If you’re not excited, they won’t be either.
Personally, I learned design
by observing. I learned to look all around me,
to pinpoint the design work that really turned me on and
then articulate why it did so. You can do the same.
If you’re designing a
book, go to a bookstore and look at all the covers.
- Take the books off the shelves
and look at the design grids, the typefaces.
- Think about the paper used, the
coatings on the book covers. Are they dull or glossy?
- What does the paper feel like in
the books you especially admire? Think about paper texture.
- What images are on the covers and
how are they rendered? Duotones, process color? Sometimes
a book cover with a black-and-white, selectively hand-colored,
or sepia-toned photo can be far more dramatic than books
with four-color covers.
- Consider the dimensions of the books.
Do they have an unusual shape or size? Are they more rectangular,
oblong, square, larger or smaller than the other books
on the shelf?
For ideas on designing a direct
mail piece, go through your own mail for a week
and throw out everything you don’t love (except the
bills, of course). If you’re like me, you may find
one piece a week you consider attractive. Then ask yourself
- Is the photography unique?
- Does the image get you to think
about a topic in a different way or see an object or event
through new eyes?
- If so, how? Is it the way the photo
is cropped? Sometimes an image that is tightly cropped
or that bleeds off the page in an unexpected way can capture
your interest. Sometimes less is more.
- Think about how your eye moves
across the page.
- Think about the visual expectations
the piece sets up and how or whether it thwarts these
expectations (like point/counterpoint in music).
- Is the piece humorous? Why?
- What about the typefaces?
- Do the letterforms work as designs
in themselves? Are they informal, intimate, or brusque?
- Think about the paper. When everything
else in the mail is on gloss stock, a thick, uncoated
sheet with a texture that makes you want to run your fingers
back and forth across the paper can really set a piece
apart from the rest.
Other sources of samples—and
I’m a great believer in maintaining a “swipe
file”—include printers’ samples, images
from the Internet, printing and design magazines, and samples
from paper merchants. Sometimes these last are far more
interesting than printers’ samples because these are
the paper manufacturing professionals putting everything
they have--from their copywriting skills, to their photographic
skills, to their design skills, to their paper-selection
skills, as well as lots and lots of money--into persuading
people to buy their product. Also, I look at signage and
displays in shopping malls. New print design trends show
up early and powerfully in clothing stores frequented by
teens and young professionals.
Wherever you get your ideas, when you’re
looking to adapt them to your own uses, ask yourself the
following questions: Is it good/unique design/production,
and how did the designer achieve the desired effect? If
you’re worried that a particular effect will be costly,
such as a cut-out (diecut) section of a printed piece, just
ask your printer or paper merchant. Probably, he/she will
have a sample showing how someone else achieved a similar
effect in a slightly different way, an economical way that
fits your budget.
It’s all about getting ideas,
and they come from diverse sources. Go to a museum. Go to
a mall. Learn to look. Then learn to turn a concept into
a printable piece. Keep a swipe file, but also learn how
to adapt an idea to your particular design problem. Think
in terms of the building blocks of design and production:
type, grids, color, paper. Analyze what you see and like,
and break it down into its component elements. And expect
this to take time—and be exciting and inspirational
Remember two final things.
nothing is new. Everything that looks new is built
on something old. Take something you find and do it slightly
differently. Marry an old concept with a new design technique.
remember that you are designing for a specific audience,
not just for the love of design. If your typeface is very
small and your audience is made up of senior citizens, you
will lose them: If they can’t read the brochure, they
won’t buy the product. If you’re trying to persuade
teens to buy something, and your design is stodgy, you will
lose them as an audience, too.
You must understand how your
audience thinks and feels, what the features and
benefits of your product or service are, the design elements
that facilitate communication with your audience, and the
technical aspects of print production that make your brochure,
book, or signage able to be produced for your budgeted cost.
[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]