Mastering the Secrets of Magalog Success,
Part 3 of 3: Using Columns

[Ed. Note: See Part 1, and Part 2 for more information.]

A critical aspect of magalog design is the use of columns. Using columns properly makes the difference between having an easy-to-read magalog … and one the prospect won't read.

The human eye has difficulty scanning across 7 or 8 inches of copy. Columns make the copy easier to read by decreasing the distance the eye has to scan.

An added benefit of using columns is that they make the copy look easier to read – a crucial consideration when formatting promotions.

Using 1 Column Per Page

It's not always good to break copy into multiple columns – when, for example, you're formatting the front page of a magalog that's intended to look like a letter.

If the copy starts out with “Dear Friend,” set it up so it looks and feels like a real letter from someone the prospect wants to hear from. To convey that personal feeling, I use a 1-column format on the first or opening page or on the front cover of the magalog.

Keep the width of that single-column letter thin enough so the reader doesn't have to move his eyes too much to read the copy. A good width is about 4 inches (equal to about 24 picas).

If you begin a magalog with 1 column, switch to 2 or 3 columns after a page or two. TIP: make the change on a right-hand page and use a photo or two to break up the difference in the format.

Also, use a deep enough indent at the beginning of each paragraph (like 2 picas or .33 inch) so the prospect knows where the paragraphs start.

Watch how each line breaks, and pay attention to any hyphens. I try to avoid any hyphens. But once in a while, they're necessary to keep from having a large white space at the end of a line. This can make the reader pause and possibly even put down the magalog if he feels it's hard to read. In the end, this could mean a lost sale.

When starting out with a 1-column format, think about the best typeface for it. You could use a typewriter font like Courier or Prestige Elite. American Typewriter is also a good choice. It has bold, regular, and italics – making it helpful for emphasizing words.

I also use the Times Roman family or Garamond when working with letter copy. They look friendly and are easy to read.

Use a good leading increment. Don't use 12-point leading with 12-point type. It's too tight and hard to read. Standard leading for 12-point type is 14.5 points. Most layout software (like InDesign) has an auto-leading option that will suit your needs in many cases.

Using 2 Columns Per Page

The 2-column format looks best when you allow at least 0.75 to 1 inch of white space (no copy) so the text doesn't go right up to the edge of the paper.

Give sufficient space between the columns. If the columns are too close, the reader's eyes don't know whether to keep reading across the page or go down to the next line. I like to use 1.5 picas (approximately .24 inches) between paragraphs.

Normally, I don't use justified type (where all the lines of copy are exactly the same length across the column). This can leave areas of white space within the column. It can also produce “rivers” (vertical lines of white space) in the copy. This makes the copy more difficult to read and is distracting to the reader.

However, we recently got a huge winner by using justified type. Instead of a flush left/ragged right format (like IFD), I went for a “newspapery” look and justified the copy. I also created a faux masthead – similar to the one on client's website but with more punch and a friendlier design.

The whole look and theme was a big success in the mail. And the new design is the NEW control!

Using 3 Columns Per Page

With the 3-column format, a magalog looks like a newsletter full of important information, rather than a sales letter. If you create a faux masthead for your front cover and do 3 columns, the reader will feel like he is reading a familiar, monthly newsletter that just arrived in the mail.

Be sure, in this case, to keep adequate white space around the text and between the columns. Use easy-to-read fonts as described above.

And always, whether you're working with a 1-, 2-, or 3-column design, make sure it is easy to follow, easy to read, and friendly looking.

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Published: February 11, 2006

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