The “Goldilocks Formula” for Just-Right Design

The elements of a mailer – copy, clip-art, photos, white space, etc. – are like ingredients in a recipe. Sometimes there might be too many. Sometimes too few. Today, let’s look at how to balance elements to make sure the page looks just right.

What to do when there’s too much

One of the biggest challenges for you as a designer is getting all the copy to fit. If there’s too much and you stuff it all in anyway, the page will look dense with type and cluttered with images. This discourages readers, because it looks overwhelming. Reducing font sizes isn’t an option either. It makes reading difficult for old and young alike.

One way to deal with too much copy is to increase page count. This can get a little sticky, however, because commercial printers like to print in 4-page chunks. If you add only one or two pages to a magalog, for instance, it increases printing and binding costs, and changes the uniformity of the publication. Better to spread the layout over 4 more pages to stay within standard printing requirements.

You can also manipulate the copy here and there to buy yourself some room. Slightly widen the page margins and text columns.

You might try cropping or reducing the size of graphic elements – photos, clip-art, pull-quotes, etc. – without affecting image quality or disrupting your layout. If you reduce photos, make sure that faces are still recognizable. (A good rule of thumb is for faces to be about the size of a dime.)

You can buy extra space by manipulating space taken up by subheads and the headline. For example, you could shorten a two-line headline to one line or reformat subheads so they don’t take up so much lateral space. You could even reshape some of the information, if possible, into bulleted lists or a sidebar.

However – and this is crucial – you must contact the copywriter and the client before making changes as drastic as these.

If all else fails, you’ll probably need to cut copy instead of increasing page count. Remember, your client will be on a budget. So you’ll want to contact the client and the copywriter to see which copy can be removed without hurting the message.

What to do when there’s too little

Your client needs an 8-page sales letter package, but when the copy comes in and you lay it out it’s only 7 pages long. You know an odd number of pages will bump up printing costs for your client, but don’t panic. There are some simple things you can do to fill that extra space.

Your first reaction might be to boost the font size a couple of points. This may work well if the font doesn’t get too large and look clunky. You’ll also have to go back and see how well it fits into the text columns. Larger type will create more white space at the end of each line, which can look unbalanced.

Before you resort to manipulating the font, see if any additional information could be added in a couple of sidebars. How about getting more testimonials from your client and sprinkling them through the copy in pull-quotes, putting them in sidebars, or making one page all testimonials? Not only will this fill up the extra space, it’ll ramp up the credibility of the product.

You could also add more clip-art and photos to the existing pages, or enlarge the graphics you already have there. On a couple of different pages, you could add one large, central image accompanied by a few smaller, subordinate images. This will fill space, while adding interest and balance to those pages.

You can also try making the margins and text columns just a little narrower, increasing the white space between paragraphs, and increasing the leading between the lines of copy just a bit.

Graphic designers are fortunate today. With layout programs like QuarkXPress and InDesign, it’s easy to experiment with elements until our design is JUST RIGHT!

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Published: November 15, 2007

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