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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: Whole Foods Equals Great Branding

After a medical procedure today and nap during which I slept like the dead, I stumbled downstairs and grabbed the mail on my desk. I could barely see anything. My eyesight wasn’t right yet. But I knew by its colors and its feel that I held in my hand the new Whole Foods Market catalog/brochure—even if the address panel of the folded marketing piece didn’t contain the Whole Foods logo.

Now that’s good branding. So here’s a breakdown of what Whole Foods is doing right (in my opinion).

Branding: The Logo and Signature Colors

First of all, this 8.5” x 11”, 12-page, saddle-stitched print catalog comes to my fiancee’s and my house regularly. (Literally, at the same time each month.) This is important because it sets up an expectation in the reader. I think that the intangibles of a brand (in this case, reliability) are just as much a part of the brand as the shape and color of the logo.

When you open the wafer seals (to keep the folded piece small enough in format to mail economically: 5.5” x 8.5”), the first thing you see is the Whole Foods logo in the top left, bleeding off the top of the page. This is relevant because the eye starts at the top of the page and goes down. Why? Because that’s how we’ve been taught to read.

That said, there’s a large silhouette of an apple tart in the bottom right, also bleeding off the page. (That’s important because bleeds make the printed piece look bigger than it is. This is because your subconscious thinks there’s more of the apple tart—in this case—that exists beyond the edge of the page.)

The green logo at the top of the page and the apple tart capture the reader’s attention and link the Whole Foods brand with the visceral experience of culinary delights. This in itself could be their mission statement.

Branding also involves the paper choice: in this case a less-than-bright-white, uncoated press sheet. The more subdued look and the tactile feel, along with the presumption that fewer chemicals were used to bleach the paper, highlight the Whole Foods brand as being sensitive to the environment. This value draws in the clientele, who presumably feel the same way.

Page Layout

The brochure designer (who is masterful, and from whom I can learn a lot about design) continues the design through the remaining eleven pages within the following structure.

Photos are large and contain groups of delectable food products. In some pages, the photo takes up one and a half pages (bleeds across the gutter), leaving the balance of the two-page spread for a column of type. Alternatively, a photo of multiple products on a light background contains chunks of copy describing the products. (Actually, even the large photos that extend across the page spread have ghosted boxes for product descriptions. There is an air of sophistication in the way you can see the plates of food through the text boxes overlapping them.)

The designer also contrasts large and small images. (Contrast in size of visual elements creates interest—a rule of design. It also makes the large photos look larger and the small photos look smaller.)

Product prices are larger than the text type and therefore easily identifiable. (The reader’s being able to scan the booklet quickly makes product sales more likely.) Red ink highlights the word “SALE” when it appears throughout the booklet (enhancing reader expectation through repetition of similar visual elements).

Also, periodically, the signature green of the Whole Foods logo appears (for example, in a circular burst that says “New”). The circle of the “New” burst reminds the viewer of the circular green Whole Foods logo, and the repetition of the color and shape adds consistency (unity) to the catalog/brochure. (Unity is another principle of design, crafted through repetition of colors, images, typefaces, and such.)

In many cases the food (apples, for instance) appear to have been tossed around at random on the light background. (This is even true in some cases for the bottles of product on a white, randomly-patterned tile wall.) All of this lends an air of casual movement and excitement to the printed piece. (Just as you might toss a salad full of sun-dried tomatoes.)

One page is replete with “Prime” (as in Amazon Prime) member deals, and this icon as well is noted with a blue circle from which the type has been reversed. This hearkens back to the other circular logos, even though it is blue. On this page there’s a three-item by three-item grid of nine products. The structure of this symmetrical arrangement adds contrast to the bottles of sauces in active motion on the opposite page of the design spread.

The Piece de Resistance

I actually remember where I was standing thirty years ago when I was first asked to design a print catalog of government books for a non-profit organization, while including “lifestyle blurbs” periodically that pertained to government but not to the print books. I was behind the times in my confusion.

Within the Whole Foods booklet, there are periodic recipes. This is considered “evergreen” “lifestyle” content. People who read this brochure or print catalog presumably want to affiliate themselves with the brand, in part by expanding the food-shopping experience into a cooking experience. (Granted, even without the branding goal, the recipes are still useful information—which is why they hook the reader. After all, if you like the products and the environment, it makes sense that you’ll want ideas for using the food. I personally read Trader Joe’s marketing materials for the same reasons.)

The Last Page

As a recovering designer, I remember back when I was designing print catalogs like these and was faced with what to put on the back of the booklet (prime selling space).

First of all, you need to follow the postal regulations. I’m sure they’re online now, but we used to get books from the Post Office. These print books covered where to print the address information, where to place the indicia, and most importantly where to print noting at all, since it would disturb the optical character reader (and render the printed piece non-machinable). In your own work, follow these Post Office requirements religiously. If you don’t, at best the Post Office will charge you more per piece to mail the non-machinable brochures. But at worst the Post Office will reject your mailing outright, and you’ll need to reprint the job.

Fortunately, you can ask for a direct market specialist to bless your mock-up (size, placement, tab sealing, everything) before you print. It behooves you to develop a good working relationship with such a USPS professional.

Back to the design of the Whole Foods catalog/brochure. The unfolded back panel has a stack of sliced apple bits on the left, which brings the eye up to some “sale information” at the top and down to more “sale information” at the bottom of the page. When the page is folded for mailing, this stack of apple bits is visible on either side of the page (remember, this is what you see when you get the mail—the mailer and the back panel, not the front of the catalog—so it has to be recognizable and appetizing, so to speak).

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

I can really keep this to one basic concept: Find examples of what you like and then deconstruct them. That’s how you learn. That’s how I learned.

Think about the paper, colors, and typefaces. Think about the overall design grid. Think about the photos. Think about what’s included (like Whole Foods’ recipes) and what’s not.

Use generous white space. It makes the design seem airy, opulent—and it’s easier to read.

Make sure the reader’s eye flows through the printed piece in exactly the way you want it to. (Use color and the contrasting size of the visual elements to achieve this.)

A well-designed brochure, print catalog, or booklet is a better teacher than a “how-to” print book or even a professor droning on in front of the design-principles class. Find designs you like. Look closely. Learn. Then bring into your own design work what you’ve learned from others’ work. If you do this, even a groggy reader collecting the mail will recognize the branding of the piece and associate it with the company you’re promoting.

And that instant of recognition alone is worth lots of money to the company your custom printing product promotes.

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