10 SECRETS 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
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-
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
These elements can be summed up as the following secrets:
* Look--then try to see.
* Kiss your design.
* Two B's or not two B's.
* Remember nothing.
* Less is more.
* Blow it out of proportion.
* Put on the right face.
* Coloring by the numbers.
* Following the paper trail.
* 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
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
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
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!
This resource is (c) 1996 by, and excerpted from, Direction newsletter.
Pierre Zubrinsky is an artist and freelance graphic designer, who can
be reached at 213-661-4849.