Monday, May 19, 2014

5 basic tips on creating effective printed materials

We have just had a clear-out of old artwork files that are more than 10 years old and sent almost a skip-load of old samples and worksheets off to the local recycling tip.  The chances of ever using this artwork again are minimal as techniques and quality have improved beyond recognition over the last decade.  However, there are some basic principles that should have been consistently applied then and still apply now. 

Here is a very short summary of the 5 key rules for any budding designer to follow:-

1. You only get a second to catch attention.

We are all bombarded by sales messages from every form of media every day and we “switch off” to most messages unless something immediately grabs our attention and makes us interested to continue to read or listen. 

This magic “hook” usually is something to do with relevance or personalisation of the message.  The headline is the usual “hook” for the written message.  It is often stated that the headline or title is the most important and difficult item to create. 

It is worth spending a lot of time testing different headings for all your promotional or marketing materials to see whether some work more effectively than others. 

2.     Keep it short and sweet.

In a world where we are all so short of time, we expect things quicker, faster and neater. 

Do not try to include too much written information – just the most important points in a way that is relevant to the recipient.  If you are making a sales point it is important to always convert the copy for extra emphasis by considering what it means for the recipient.  Make a list of sales points, then another list of the benefit for each sales point and finally a third list entitled “which means that” – for the basis of your copywriting.

Good copywriting is a real skill.  No one is prepared to read heavy text, which is why some believe social networking sites like Twitter have been so successful.  Keeping communications down to 140 characters is difficult for most people of my generation!  Trying to fit too much text on any printed page is more likely to be a ‘turn off’ and whatever is produced in terms of quality and feel will probably end up in the waste bin. 

Using graphs and charts and infographics is a great way of communicating anything and helps to keep text to a minimum.  Eyes that would glaze over tables of figures or long sentences, suddenly find a new fascination with the data and words you are trying to communicate.  In terms of sentence length – keep them as short as possible.  A good piece of advice is to imagine you are writing for “The Sun” rather than “The Times”.

3.     Use colour and photographs effectively.

A considerable amount of research has been undertaken on the impact of colour in terms of improving communication.  The conclusion is that effective use of colour improves impact and recall by up to 80% for all types of printed materials from promotional literature through to training materials. 

The human brain accepts and interprets messages received in colour significantly quicker than those in mere monochrome.  However, there are good and poor combinations of colour and selecting the wrong combinations can be a disaster.  Always think of the application – for example, menus are often read in dimmed lighting and always require good colour contrast. 

Effective use of vector or photographic images is almost always essential.  Be aware that a photograph is only “worth a thousand words” if it is relevant to the message you are trying to communicate. 

Some products will look dramatically better with the use of high definition photographs only available from stock libraries or if you have a sizeable budget, professional photographers.  Low quality, pixelated images downloaded from a web site or from a camera phone will usually do nothing to enhance any quality image you are trying to project. 

Rapid developments in digital photography over the last decade have, however, have given most of us the capability to produce fairly high resolution quality images very cost-effectively to use in literature and on web sites for most small businesses. 

4.     Plenty of white space and consistent text layout.

Formatting is very important and the use of sub-headings, paragraphs and spacing can help in absorbing the message. 

White space doesn’t have to be white; it just has to be blank so that it draws the eye to the text and makes it easier to read and comprehend.  The process of creating white space is very important in all aspects of design for business printing and promotional printing. 

Another good technique is the use of lists, numbering or bullet points that help to keep sentences shorter.  They also contribute to more white space and make it is ‘easy on the eye’ to visually scan and digest the information. 

Always use a legible and good- sized font (never go below 10pt).  Do not mix too many fonts and styles and apply consistently throughout a long document.  Extra line spacing or leading should be employed wherever possible – and this is particularly critical in legal and academic documents.

Try and avoid the use of upper case text and underlining.  If extra emphasis is required bold text can be very effective to highlight the key points in any sentence. 

The use of QR codes is a great way of providing a lot more information in a limited amount of space – as they can be scanned by a mobile device and linked to all forms of digital media or simply to the relevant page on a web site.  Their application is now common in many industries such as estate agency – where it works well in combination with expensive advertising space in local newspapers.

5.     Content and call to action.

Last but not least is the actual content or message you are trying to get across.  It must be relevant and meet the specific objective of the printed materials – whether to sell, inform, advise or encourage a call to action. 
The latter is the easiest way to determine the effectiveness of the material – which is why offers are a vital element of any marketing communication. 

Needless to say any spelling errors will have a detrimental effect on the communication – yet we still see examples every day of spelling mistakes by companies of all sizes.

Finally, software such as “Direct Smile” and digital printing have revolutionised the quality and effectiveness of promotional literature – resulting in less wastage and better targeting and personalisation.
Variable data is being applied across many forms of company communications from statements, sales messages to e-broadcasts.  You can find good practical examples in the motor trade where text and images can be easily manipulated for effectiveness.  

A typical application is in some sections of the motor trade.  When you walk into a new car showroom the salesman is trained to build up a picture of what you are looking for – usually by asking a series of subtle, yet pertinent questions on the desirable features and extras you are looking for in a new vehicle.  

The data is sent to a central print production site and then, within a couple of days a personalised brochure is delivered with photographs and text to matching the car’s specification you have requested!

One last final piece of advice is to encourage feedback from as many people as possible and then try and use this constructively in the design of your next printed item.  If possible, leave anything you write for at least 24 hours.  A fresh look and read through usually is very worthwhile.
And if it all too much – you can use the services of our own copy writers and graphic designers.  Simply contact our Customer Service people during normal office hours free on 0800 0346 007 and we will discuss any particular project with you.

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