What You Need to Know Right Now About Trends in DM Design
An Interview with Rob Davis

Keeping up with current and future trends in direct-marketing graphic design is key to your success. If you’re able to get in on a wave that’s just starting to build, you can make your client a lot more money.

With this in mind, we asked master designer Rob Davis to tell us what he sees as the latest trends in DM design – and got some answers you might not expect.

IFD: What are you working on right now that’s hot in DM design?

Rob: Direct-mail design is going through some changes right now, thanks to the upcoming 9% postal rate increase.

This increase is driving the entire industry, because it’s forcing direct mailers to look for ways to cut costs. Most of them are doing it by decreasing the complexity of their mailings. For example, many mailers are converting existing flat-rate promos to digest size.

A flat-rate promo is anything that mails flat – like a tabloid-sized promo or a magalog. Digest-size mail, such as bookalogs and #10 envelopes, mail at the lower letter rate. Flat rates have always been higher than letter rates – and now, the difference between the two rates will be even greater.

This postal increase isn’t a one-time thing either. Looking down the road, direct mailers expect increases every year for a number of years.

However, these increases are not necessarily a bad thing for us designers, especially for new designers with fresh vision. What we have to do now is what we always do – develop new, exciting, and low-cost designs that will get packages opened.

IFD: Does this mean the magalog is dead?

Rob: Not at all. Magalogs still do well. They’re easier for older prospects to read, so they’ll probably be around for a while. What you have to look at is ROI – Return on Investment. If the ROI stays up for magalogs, they’ll continue to be an important part of this industry. But that means clients who use magalogs are going to be looking for other ways to save money on their promos.

IFD: Such as?

Rob: Simplifying the design. Reducing the costs on printing. Without going into details on the way large presses operate, it’s cheaper to print a certain number of pages. So designers (and copywriters) will have to find out – in advance – the exact page count the client wants.

Another way of lowering costs is to use images more efficiently – to use royalty-free photos rather than shooting new images, for example. Or to use spot color instead of 4-color. (Although doing this can sometimes reduce response).

These considerations are driving the magalog segment of DM design right now, but they’re important considerations for all segments.

IFD: Since the costs are going up, have you seen any new design or production directions that are catching on?

Rob: A big trend that’s becoming more and more popular, for a number of reasons, is the “white paper” trend. White papers are promotions that look like reports from authoritative figures like doctors or investment experts. They are very basic looking, not overly designed. The idea is to make them as un-direct-mail-looking as possible.

Health and financial are using white papers a lot. The secret here is to tone things down a lot, trying to be less “in your face.” This goes for the writing as well as the design.

Because they’re relatively simple to design, white papers would be an excellent way for a new designer to break into DM.

IFD: What color, font, and graphic trends do you see?

Rob: Everything in the industry is moving toward more simplicity. This is a general trend, and not just because of increasing costs.

Colors are earthier, and fonts are not as bold as in the past. More serif fonts are being used for their lighter look. And the lighter sans serif fonts are popular – Helvetica 65 (a medium-weight font) vs. Helvetica 95 (a heavy, black font), for example – particularly for promos aimed at women.

The most important consideration, though, is to keep the upcoming postal rate increase in mind with almost everything you design.

Keep their other costs down, and you’ll make your clients very happy.

This is going to be the most important trend for this and the next five years.

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Published: February 22, 2007

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