Catalogs are our face forward to the world, our sales force in customers’ mailboxes. Every choice we make in catalog design has an effect on sales, for good or ill. Improving catalog design isn’t simply a matter of aesthetics; it’s a matter of profits.
In preparation for this month’s Let’s Grow, I reviewed several dozen gardening catalogs, looking for the most common problems and biggest opportunities for improvement. Five in particular stood out:
Front Cover Too Busy. Your front cover has only one purpose: to get the reader to open the catalog. It sets a mood, makes a statement, gives a clue as to what’s inside.
Some catalogers try to turn the front cover into a visual representation of every product category. One Slim Jim catalog I looked at had no less than 14 photos on the cover, plus a logo, offer and complete contact information. The visual overload made me feel like I was entering the store through the storage basement, not an inviting front door.
No Dominant Image. When every design element has the same weight, the reader isn’t sure what to focus on, and ends up losing interest altogether. Every catalog spread should have a dominant image, which is usually the best selling product on the spread. There should be a visual hierarchy that leads the reader’s eye from the most important elements, to the next most, to the details.
Inner Pages Too Similar. All too often, page after catalog page uses an identical design template. If everything is always in the same place, the reader starts to feel, “If I’ve seen one page, I’ve seen it all.” Break up the pacing with occasional changes – a departure from format, new backgrounds, or noticeably different number of products per page.
Hard to Match Items and Descriptions. Only a few catalogs I reviewed suffered from this problem, but when it happens, it’s maddening. Readers expect to see product descriptions below or to the right of the photos they relate to. Any other location requires work to figure out which description goes with what photo. Every now and then, a bit of separation between the photo and description may be unavoidable. If it’s the norm for the whole catalog, it’s a sales-killer.
“Ransom Note” Design. You know those ransom notes in the movies created out of cut-out magazine letters so no one can identify the handwriting? Combine too many elements on a single page – a medley of type sizes, fonts, weights, bursts, call-outs, insets and the like – and your catalog page will have all the cohesiveness of a ransom note.
Producing a well-designed catalog is a complicated process. The tips above focus on common mistakes, but are only part of the story. Just remember to keep your designs clean and easy to follow, and always make the product the hero, and you’ll be a long way towards producing a catalog that really sells.