Best Catalog Design Practices Part 1

What makes a catalog successful? Is it flashy, gorgeous graphics? Fancy embossing and varnishes? Colors that pop? Riveting product copy? Simple and straightforward organization? Method of delivery? We would claim that all of these factors must be taken into account, plus many more. There’s so much to consider, it’s no wonder many catalogs completely miss the mark in some crucial areas. Here at Streng we’ve been designing and developing catalogs of all kinds for over 30 years, and with time comes experience. We’d now like to share some of what we believe makes a catalog succeed with “Best Catalog Design Practices” and our two-part series.

1. A catalog is an extension of your brand
A catalog isn’t just a catalog. This may sound like the beginning of an ancient Chinese proverb, but the fact is all marketing collateral is a channel to tell the world who you are. Catalogs are part of the brand and should support the message. A successful catalog doesn’t just convey a company’s products; it leaves the consumer with a clear understanding of what the brand stands for. This is accomplished primarily through visuals and copy. A catalog should never get so focused with cramming in product details that it forgets the unique voice of the brand behind it. This is especially true of less established brands, which must employ effective naming, compelling visual identity, and a standout brand personality.

2. Design with the audience in mind
Your catalog’s design should appeal to the intended audience. A catalog for Millennials ought to have a different look than a catalog for Baby Boomers. Make the style of your catalog match the style desires of your audience. The first impression should make an impact. The cover must be aesthetically appealing, but also convey to the consumer what they’ll find inside. Depending on the industry, an offer or hook can pique interest, but really the most important aspect is the visual.

3. Make it easy to navigate
Ever lose something and couldn’t find it? We bet you didn’t like that. Once you get the consumer to keep the catalog in their hands and open it, don’t blow it with a bunch of messy, jam-packed pages. Catalog interiors should take full advantage of information design and employ user-friendly organization. Copy readability is paramount. Avoid the desire to play around with fancy fonts for description text. Stick to two or three fonts for a clean, consistent look. Part numbers, codes, and pricing should be presented in easy to read tables. Large catalogs with multiple sections may have a table of contents, color coding, or tabs. And remember, white space is good!

4. Organize for sales
This seems obvious, but more often than not top-selling products are buried on a page with many other similar items. When we say top sellers, we mean the products that generate the most profit over time, not the items with the greatest profit margins. One tactic is to put important items on the outside edges of the page. Readers most commonly begin by looking at the top right corner and then sweep back across the page to the left side. You can also give your most appealing products more space on the page or make them larger in size. Also, use opportunities to cross sell between products with copy, callouts, or putting products together on the page. Suggesting companion products can increase sales up to 15%.

5. Photography will make or break you
The best catalogs are highly visual, allowing the consumer to get a sense of the brand personality and products being sold with minimal effort. Photography is critical because it supports the visual experience. We could go on and on about what makes a great photo, but for the purposes of this post, we’ll keep it simple. Environmental photography, or imagery of products in real-life settings, is most effective. Ideally, the people in the photos are interacting with your products. Some companies attempt to save money on photography by grouping items together in photographs. This often results in poor sales because in such a photo no product stands out to draw the customer in. It is better to show items individually or in very small, related groups. Straightforward product photos are still a necessity, but when possible, make product secondary or equal to environmental photography. That also means product copy and callouts should be secondary to photography. Always make your product photos the centerpiece.

6. Make ordering easy-peasy
Mobile and tablet devices are making it very convenient for consumers to order products anywhere and anytime. Your catalog should give several options for purchasing, including toll-free 800 numbers (ideally with a memorable number), website URL, or mail-in form. Snail mail-in form use is declining, but should still be included in your catalog. Remember, it’s possible that your audience may prefer this method. Many buyers will fill it out while looking through the catalog so they can keep track of things. The 800 number is useful for buyers with questions. Highlight ordering options on every spread. Don’t make the consumer struggle to find out how to buy.

So, do you need a catalog expert?

Streng is a full-service creative agency with decades of experience in catalog planning, design, and production. Call 630-584-3887, today!