Creating 'At-a-Glance' Comprehension

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This is part two of a two-part column.


Last month in DM News I addressed hot spots as well as the selection and placement of type in part one of my "At-a-Glance" column. In this installment, I address such factors as organization, photography, lead-ins, icons, insets, call-outs, bullets, creative talent, research and consultants.


Organization plays a key role in comprehension. One of the easiest ways to make overall design more decipherable is to organize the presentation so the reader achieves an immediate grasp of what they're looking at on a spread. This might involve a variety of applications, including:


· Creating features and sub-features, so that everything doesn't have the same weight.


· Using columns with keyed copy for easy-to-find product descriptions (as opposed to the "hunt" for a copy block).


· Employing a "grid" (invisible or with rule lines) to help organize dense spreads.


· Applying universally understood design tools (page number locations, footer content, headlines at the top of a page, etc.).


Photography should provide a clear depiction of the product. There is no time for guessing if the barbecue grill has a side burner, how big the vase is, or if this dress has pockets. Why crop off the bottom of the pants so the reader is left guessing how the pants fall? And dramatic lighting is not worth it when the fabrication texture or design is diminished. Photography needs to supply a maximum amount of information, immediately. Your art director and photographer need to know this and take responsibility for achieving it.


Lead-ins should be identified with a key letter (married to the photograph) and they should describe the product or benefit. What a waste to start a copy block with "You'll enjoy your day more when …" Someone might turn the page if they get to a line like that. Once your reader has shown an interest in the product, they're going to go to the copy. You don't want to make them hunt to find it, nor do you want them to work hard to get to the relevant information.


Icons can be a wonderful tool to communicate features or benefits "at-a-glance." To be effective, they should look like what you're telling the reader. For example, if you've got a non-iron shirt, you might use a picture of an iron with a slash through it. TravelSmith is a master at using icons that are meaningful for their clothing. They've developed wonderful, easy-to-comprehend icons, whether it be to demonstrate non-iron, water-resistant, machine washable or compact for packing.


Insets, call-outs and bullets are all ways to communicate detail, construction and quality. A clean picture of an office chair is no match for the same product that uses call-outs to show the mechanisms and inset shots to show the fabric close-up. High-priced products and complicated features usually benefit most from these treatments. FrontGate would never be able to sell a $5,000 grill without completely dissecting the product and calling out all the features.


The suggestions listed above reflect some of the basic applications that catalogers can use. However, every cataloger has the challenge of applying comprehension to a variety of aspects in their catalog, as well as to their unique positioning and brand. To do this, there is a certain amount of interpretation that needs to take place on a more strategic, case-by-case level. As you evaluate comprehension in your own catalog, consider factors that will ensure your success:


· Creative talent should have a keen understanding of the strategic applications of creative, as outlined above. They should be able to marry good design and effective design. This means employing experienced catalog designers and writers who have a familiarity and knowledge base in creating effective direct mail catalogs.


· Research can help identify the level of comprehension your customers are experiencing with your catalogs. Catalogers are most often too close to their catalogs to recognize areas where comprehension is difficult, especially people who work on the books every day. Sitting around a focus group, participants are not shy about sharing how difficult or easy a catalog is to shop. These groups can also provide feedback regarding new concepts you are considering.


· Consultants experienced in assessing creative and comprehension elements can usually provide commentary and direction that will help your team or agency. This might be done as a discussion or as a report. It may be suggested that concepts be developed to reflect the recommendations that are made.


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