Visually Proofing Your Designs

Providing your clients with clean, well-proofed packages is crucial to your success.

Some so-called marketing experts claim that it doesn’t matter if the package is riddled with misspellings, editing errors, and design gaffs. But testing proves them wrong.

Your prospects might not realize they’re doing it, but they do judge the quality of the company sending a DM package by how clean and consistent it is.

There are basically three types of initial proofing that should be done:

  • Spelling
  • Editing
  • Design and layout

Today, we’ll focus on proofing your design and layout.

Initial proofing should be done from printed copies of the project. Create proofs of each page using your ink-jet or laser printer. Never rely on proofing from your computer screen.

Here’s what to look for:

  1. Simple layout

    Successful direct-marketing design is simple design that does not interfere with the sale. To maintain simplicity, decide which elements you can remove without losing the message. Systematically remove visual elements from your layout, one-by-one, and evaluate after edit. Start with the less important ones like borders, rules, or drop caps. Does your design still work? In DM design, the rule is true: “Less is more!”

  2. Hierarchy

    You should also pay particular attention to the piece’s hierarchy and sequence. Are ideas presented in the right order and with the appropriate amount of emphasis? Are there any points where subheads should be inserted? Do visuals like photographs and tables clarify rather than confuse?

  3. Consistent colors and text formatting

    Subtle changes in color may occur if the colors used for text and graphic accents are individually applied instead of chosen from a palette. Some headlines or subheads may be a slightly different shade of blue or the fills behind some sidebars might be darker than others.

    Likewise, unless you’ve created and used text styles for all elements of page architecture – headlines, subheads, body copy, captions, headers and footers, etc. – it’s possible that some text elements may be slightly larger or smaller than others in the same category. One paragraph might use different type size or look “different” because of different tracking or character spacing.

  4. Visually balanced graphic elements

    Where do graphic elements look or feel heavy? Where are they light? Is the spread top-heavy? Or does the weight fall too low? What is the item next to the heavy spot? Is that where you want your reader to look next?

  5. White space

    Pages cramped with text are not only unattractive but also hard to read. Adding white space to your design will assure that your reader does not feel overwhelmed by the text and will give your layout structure. You should think of white space as a design element that you use with purpose.

  6. The design theme

    You want to make sure that your design follows a theme. If you use call-out boxes with rounded corners, for example, all of them should have rounded corners. If you use a certain design element such as check marks or bullets, make sure you use the same style throughout your design.

  7. The overall appearance

    Test your layout by squinting at it. Do you perceive the layout as a single, unified whole? Are there things that just don’t feel right?

    Hold the layout up to a mirror. How does it look now? What’s out of place? See any “holes” or “lumps”? Take a break from your layout. Put it aside for a couple of hours before you look at it again. You will see your design with a fresh eye.

Take these few easy steps and your design will look sharp and professional. You and your client will have more success, because of the small amount of time you invested in making sure the package is visually strong and clean.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

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Published: September 6, 2007

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