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... Sales Brochure Design

10 Secrets On How To Create Money-Making Brochure Designs

We reprint with permission some very pointed comments by Pierre Zubrinsky about brochure design, particularly when used in direct mail. From reading Pierre's comments I'd say they apply to general adver- tising brochures as well.

In reviewing this excellent article, the thought occurred to me: Why should any reader of Direction be even prompted to read it if he/she is not directly involved with sales promotion? When someone presents this material to you for management review, this will give you a good basic feel for what constitutes good design and make you less susceptible to feelings of inferiority and intimidation when reviewing brochures, ads other materials..

"Appearance isn't everything" goes the old adage, and it's quite true --except when it comes to your brochure where it's of vital importance. Every day we're bombarded with an ever-increasing quantity of printed matter. More and more graphic material comes flooding into our mail- boxes, clamoring for our attention. This visual competition makes it imperative that your brochure stands out from the rest of the pack. Its impact on your prospective client must be both immediate and striking. There will never be a second chance for you to make a great first impression.

And just what is it that give us a great first impression? Simple. A great design. The only mystery in designing a great brochure is that so many people think that designing is a mystery. There is no mystery. We are all designers and make design decisions every day. Choosing a green and white striped tie instead of one with polka dots is a design decision. So is the way you arrange your bookcase or the way you comb your hair. We are all born with a certain sense of design. In most of us, it remains rather undeveloped. But with practice and persistence, you can develop these design skills. If you have common sense, learn to pay more attention to detail, and aren't afraid to experiment, you, too, can create great looking, effective, money- making brochures.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to good design. What works well in one design may be totally inappropriate in another. Yet there are certain elements which are essential in the creation of a well-designed brochure.

These elements can be summed up as the following secrets:

  1. Look--then try to see
  2. Kiss your design
  3. Two B's or not two B's
  4. Remember nothing
  5. Less is more
  6. Blow it out of proportion
  7. Put on the right face
  8. Coloring by the numbers
  9. Following the paper trail
  10. The Devil's in the details

Secret #1: Look--Then Try To See Take the time to collect and study the brochures you like and don't like. Try to see just what it is that looks appealing to you in one design and not another. The more accustomed you become to analyzing and seeing what you are looking at, the more you will develop your sensitivity to good design.

Secret #2: Kiss Your Design: Keep-it-simple-silly! So many great brochure designs have been torpedoed because this simple element was overlooked, ignored or forgotten. Incorporate only that which is essential to the effective communication of your message. If a particular graphic element is serving basically as ornamentation, ask yourself if it is helping to direct or focus the reader's attention or if it's actually distracting him.

I once had a client who was advertising hand-painted Easter eggs. He originally wanted a design that consisted of an Easter basket with his hand-painted egg inside. Working together, we eventually came up with a beautiful straw basket lined with some exquisitely rendered pieces of straw. After studying and admiring this composition, however, we realized that the basket was stealing the show and distracting attention away from the eggs. We ended up creating a piece that con- sisted of only one close-up view of a finely detailed, hand-painted egg with two concise phrases positioned underneath.

Secret #3: Two B's Or Not Two B's Be parsimonious with your bars and boxes. Don't get me wrong. Boxes, borders and bars have their uses, such as directing one's attention and separating busy areas--but too many can make your brochure design end up looking like...well, a box of BB's--dense, packed, heavy and static. Let those BB's out. Let'em roll. Let'em bounce. Let'em dance!

Secret #4: Remember Nothing. This is one of the most unappreciated elements of graphic design. Nothing is all those empty spaces between and around graphic objects as well as lines of text that define their relationship to each other and bring into focus their distinctness on the page. The amount of "nothing" in a design affects its overall tone of lightness or heaviness. Nothing provides the eye with anchoring and resting places as it sweeps across the "somethings."

Secret #5: Less Is More. You've got to get your message organized and crystallized to be able to create an effective brochure design. Put as much planning into your brochure as you would any other important project. Carefully define its purpose and create a hierarchy of the various components of your message. The clearer you are about their sequence and impor- tance, the better your designs will be. Make sketches and move the various elements around. Don't be afraid to experiment. Repositioning one element can radically alter the design. And remember to KISS it constantly. Be ruthless as you prune down cute but unnecessary blah, blah, blah that doesn't help to clearly communicate your message.

Secret #6: Blow It Out Of Proportion After you have made a hierarchical list that establishes the relative importance and sequence of the particular components in your message, you will be ready to consider how to treat each of the components in your message. The most important items at the top of your list should obviously receive more of your reader's attention. They would, there- fore, be larger, bolder, brighter, or in some other way made to stand out from the rest of your message. It is this constant tension between the consistency and symmetry of the whole versus the contrast contained in the objects selected to stand out that gives movement and life to the design.

Secret #7: Put On The Right Face Is your message humorous, formal, authoritative, classy or friendly? Choose a typeface that expresses the "feel" of your message and doesn't interfere with the clarity of its communication. Avoid using more than two or three typefaces. Too many are distracting and con- fusing to the eye. The type size of individual design components should be determined by their relative importance in the brochure. The space between lines is as crucial as the words and lines them- selves. Stay away from excessive underlining. It can cause clutter and interfere with legibility.

Secret #8: Coloring By The Numbers Color increases the numbers of your budget's bottom line. Some of the most effective brochures are done in only one or two colors. Black and white can often be more dramatic than color. There are hundreds of paper colors available. You can use a dark blue or green ink instead of black that can be applied in different shades to different parts of your brochure, thereby giving it a lot more variety and richness.

Secret #9: Following The Paper Trail Paper comes in all sizes, colors, textures and coated and uncoated. Coated paper will give more depth and brilliance to your colors. Ask your printer about recycled and synthetic papers. There's quite a lot of it available, and it's quite beautiful. Recycled paper is good for your business and good for trees. (Editor's note: But using recycled paper can add to your brochure cost because it is generally more expensive than regular paper.)

Secret #10: The Devil Is In The Details Minute differences in line weight, color and spacing can make the difference between a mediocre brochure and a great one. And remember -- you can't proofread your final design enough before sending it out to be printed. The best designers in the business have at one time or another let some silly mistake slip past them. Once your brochure goes to the printer, it's too late to correct it. All you can do then is kick and holler. So proof and proof again!

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