10 tips on Catalog Design

Your product selection may be fantastic but if the way items are presented in your catalog is not, sales are likely to go nowhere.

1. Make sure your catalog reflects your brand identity.
If your catalog looks different than your store, which looks different from your website, you have a problem. Customers should enjoy the same brand experience wherever they shop. That demands more than just using your corporate colors. Translating your brand personality across all media helps assure customers that they will receive the same quality and service everywhere. Coordinate the efforts of your retail, graphic and web designers to ensure that they consistently reflect your brand personality in their designs..

2. Don't take square-inch analyses too literally.
Many companies determine the success of a catalog by calculating the sales per square inch on a page. This ratio provides useful insights, but it should not be taken at face value. Cramming more merchandise on a spread doesn't add up to higher sales if the effect is off-putting. Those who want a spread to "work harder" may find that overall sales will actually rise by featuring fewer items.

3. Think in terms of the whole, not the pieces.
A common mistake is focusing on what goes on a page rather than the visual impact of the catalog as a whole. This can lead to tedious lookalike spreads. Like a musical score, catalogs benefit from pacing and surprise - simple silhouetted images, closeups of details, wide angles, full-bleed photographs, lifestyle shots and the like sustain viewer interest and keep them turning to the next page.

4. Know your customer.
Understanding who you are selling to is essential for selecting your merchandise, styling your photographs, describing the product in the right tone of voice, and developing your mailing list. It will determine the image you present, whether urban or rural, high-style or wash-and-wear.

5. Don't look upon feature copy as lost "selling space."
J. Peterman's chatty product descriptions. Williams-Sonoma's useful recipes. Neiman Marcus' brief features on designers. Text may invite customers to enjoy the catalog in a leisurely manner and make the product selection seem more meaningful and unique.

6. The most expensive product doesn't have to be the biggest object on the page.
Keep in mind that the goal is not to sell one product, but to make the whole catalog sell. By making the editorial concept of the catalog more interesting, people spend more time with it and, as a result, more things in the catalog tend to sell.

7. Avoid making pages overly complex.
Most catalogs are by nature busy - with eight to 10 products per spread. If you shoot all products with complex propping, you magnify the busy-ness and confuse the reader. So when presenting complex photographs, limit the number used and make them large enough to be clear.

8. Don't rely on supplied photographs.
Cutting costs by using manufacturer-supplied product photographs usually ends up with a mixed-bag of lighting, styling and photo quality. The catalog looks disjointed and, sometimes, less reputable. It may show the product, but it doesn't support the brand. The look and feel of the design must reinforce who you are. Individual products will come and go, but the survival of your brand depends on communicating in a cohesive and consistent voice.

9. Include an order form.
Since so much actual ordering is done by phone or on the company's website, some catalogers believe that an order form is unnecessary. But research has shown that shoppers like to use the printed order form to list and organize their purchases and gather the information they need. Especially for phone-in orders, this allows the operator to handle calls more accurately and efficiently.

10. Don't sacrifice production value.
Catalog shoppers can't examine merchandise firsthand, so they base their trust on what they can feel and see-the quality of the design, photography, paper and printing. When budgets get tight, these details often get cut first, since companies reason that if the products are the same, people won't notice. They do. Keep in mind that presentation communicates the integrity of the products and the credibility of the brand and, ultimately, has the greatest impact on sales.