“It’s All About the Sale. It’s All About Readability”

[I had a great conversation with Lori Haller last week. (If you’re not familiar with Lori, she’s in the top echelon of working graphic designers today. Big name clients such as Boardroom, National Geographic, Time Warner, and Forbes wait 6 to 8 months for her to become available.)

We were talking about AWAI’s copywriters, and how more and more of her clients are choosing copywriters that understand the basics of good graphic design. It saves them time and money when it comes to getting a new package in the mail, which can also mean higher fees for the copywriters.

After our call, she sent me the below email. I thought it would make an excellent article for you, but didn’t want to lose anything in translation. So I’m pasting it below, “straight from the designer’s mouth!”

– Katie Yeakle]

From: Lori Haller
Sent: Thursday, November 15th, 2007 2:27 PM
To: KYeakle@awaionline.com
Subject: It’s all about the sale. It’s all about readability.

Great talking to you today, Katie. You know how passionate I am about this topic. I firmly believe the more we can get copywriters thinking about the graphics of the letters they write, the better it will be for them … the designers who work on their letters … and their clients.

So here are some more thoughts on the subject – from my designer’s perspective – I’d love for you to share with your members.

When you start to write your package, there are a few important questions you have to ask about the overall look and feel your client wants created. The format choice is important – is a letter, lift note, and order form in a #10 envelope the best choice, for example … or does this product need a maglog or an issuelog self-mailer?

After you and your client agree on the format, the next BIG question is – how many columns will serve the copy in the most readable way?

Here is a good guide to follow:

  • 1 column gives the look of a personal letter.
  • 2 columns looks important and easy to read.
  • 3 columns looks like it is an actual newsletter or journal.
  • 4 columns almost looks like a newspaper or magazine.

The graphic artist typically decides this … but as the copywriter, you too should be concerned about which layout is best for the feel of the copy you are writing.

If a one-column “letter” look fits the copy best, make sure that you have plenty of useful subheads to break up that “wall of type” syndrome that can easily happen and keep the reader interested. The subheads should be able to “tell the story” as you skim through the pages. Make sure to also choose a width that is not too wide or cumbersome for the reader – this can really slow them down … meaning you’ll be more likely to lose them before you make the sale.

A two-column format is both attractive and important looking PLUS it is easier to read if done properly. It also seems to just chop up the type and break it so it’s presented in easy-to-digest chunks. Lengthy, hard to read paragraphs that seem to go on and on forever can lose them quickly, so keep that in mind.

I like to set the width in my 8 1/2 x 11 letter document so there is at LEAST .267 space BETWEEN the columns. If you set the columns too close together it becomes hard to read. Our goal is to make the best selection in column width and placement so the reader just goes right through the copy lickety-split … on to the last page, and then signs right up!!

I like to lay out my copy and then look at it page by page to see if a subhead is needed in a particular place. As we all know, when we are writing copy, we can not tell WHERE it will land exactly. Many times when I work with a writer and find a large area of running type that looks like it might get too scary, I will just key in the words “Subhead Here Please About This Long” and the writer knows that we might need to add something in that area to make it LOOK more interesting.

You want to make sure that you leave MORE SPACE between a running paragraph and a new subhead – and less space between the subhead and the copy that it goes with. Again, once we get to the design phase, it’s our goal to make the copy as easy to read as possible.

With two columns you also have a better chance of making subheads read well EVEN IF they are really long. In some financial issuelogs, I find that the subheads come in so long that they just really would NOT look right in a three-column format for design. The whole column would become a subhead, and that look gets in the way of the reader wanting to keep on going.

Make sure you indent the first line of copy the proper distance as well. I like to use either .18 or .23 – those are my two favorites. It is distracting if the indent is soooo huge, it makes me turn my head back and forth. Become the reader, try two or three looks, and then print them out and SEE which is the easiest to read. I do this 3 or 4 times until I get it just right. I know going that extra mile is what keeps us getting huge winners again and again.

Hope this helps!

All the best – HALLER

P.S. This is just the tip of the iceberg, Katie. I would LOVE to share a few more tips with you all. How about next month in another call?!

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Published: November 17, 2007

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