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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) 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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Brochure Printing: Deconstructing a Promo Brochure

A friend of mine is a print book designer. She designs almost exclusively the multi-column, regularly spaced and formatted print books various government organizations publish to document their work. The consistency of her design is noteworthy, but she also has a flair for simple, elegant page construction that facilitates reading. When I was an art director, I would have hired her in a minute. And I am actually somewhat envious when she sends me page spreads to critique. She is that good at it.

That said, a client of hers needed a brochure recently.

My friend the print book designer had to step out of her comfort zone and learn a new approach to page design. When I saw her finished work, I was impressed. So impressed that I wanted to deconstruct the brochure design to share with you a number of things she did really, really well.

As a side note, I think the brochure design works primarily because it facilitates reading. When you look at the brochure, you know exactly how all elements should function (text, callouts, etc.). You know instantly what’s most important, then of secondary importance, then of lesser importance but still interesting. I think the designer’s success in creating a brochure reflects her breadth of writing and editing experience.

A Description of the Brochure

According to the PDF “properties” search tool, the brochure is a flat 11” x 18” document with six panels, three on each side. It will fold down to 6” x 11”. It is a four-color piece, with two full-color images, as well as area screens of blue and beige built from cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The text is black, and some of the heads are reversed, as are the callouts. Finally, text and heads are set in various weights of one (or possibly two) sans serif type families, with some levels of headlines set in all caps and others set in caps and lower case, depending on their use.

It is a rather large brochure in format, since many similar brochures would be 8.5” x 3.5” when folded down, and would fit in a #10 envelope. This format provides a lot of space for the two images, one chart, callouts, and text. It allows for a feeling of roominess. Nothing seems cramped, even though there are a lot of design elements.

What the Designer Did Right (in My Opinion)

  1. First the designer considered the flat brochure as a single design space, rather than approaching the panels as separate pages. This gave a sense of “flow” to the images and text.
  2. She then added a full-bleed, light blue background, which covers the front and back panel as well as the inner, fold-in panel. This distinguishes the exterior of the brochure from its interior (providing different places for small chunks of information). It also allows for visual contrast between the fold-in panel and the lighter interior of the brochure. This looks good, but it also divides the brochure into distinct “spaces.” And nothing facilitates reading (particularly in a promotional piece) like being given small chunks of information in an easy to follow format.
  3. When opened flat, the interior of the brochure has a full-bleed, two panel background of light blue on the center and right, and a light beige panel on the left. There is a full-color photo knocked out of the light blue screen. This division of space makes it clear to the reader that there are two kinds of information to read on the interior, three-panel spread.
  4. To create callouts, the designer reversed all-caps type out of solid boxes of blue, and then set the running heads (heads within the first line of text) within the callouts in a heavier weight of the same typeface. In some cases she also set a few important words within the callouts in bold type. Overall, the effect is to identify brief bits of important copy that will provide a summation of the entire brochure (everything else will amplify these few points). Since the background of these callouts is blue (principally cyan), they remind the reader of the full-bleed solid on the outside of the brochure, and therefore provide a visual continuity to the brochure.
  5. The designer varied the number of columns of text on the brochure panels (sometimes two columns; sometimes one). She did this consistently and with purpose in a way that reinforces the meaning of the individual text blocks. This provides visual variety, but having only two options within the design grid also gives a form and regularity to the brochure.
  6. The designer considered the activity within the photos when placing them. On the front panel an African woman in traditional garb is looking squarely at the reader. She catches the reader’s eye immediately. On the interior of the brochure, an African woman is shaking out a blue blanket. The image is on the right interior panel. It leads the reader’s eye off the page. At the same time, the blue of the blanket echoes the blue full-bleed solid background of the brochure’s exterior panels.
  7. While all of this may sound incredibly busy, it is not. This is because the designer set up only a handful of visual rules (everything from the grid to the color usage to the choice of typefaces) in a consistent way that groups the text into coherent bits of information.

Here Are Some Things to Consider in Your Own Custom Printing Design Work

  1. Approach the brochure design as a whole. Think about how you want to lead the reader’s eye through all the panels, Make sure the visual appearance reflects the logic, flow, and content of the brochure text.
  2. Use all design elements at your disposal (page grid, color placement, typefaces) as tools to group and present the textual information. Use these consistently, always for a reason.
  3. Choose samples of commercial printing work that you like, and then deconstruct them. Consider what the designer has done and how the visual choices support the promotional goals inherent in the brochure text. “It looks good” is not an adequate reason to make a design decision.

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