If you’re wondering how to create the best catalog layout design possible for your product line, or simply need some killer product catalog layout design inspiration and ideas, you’ve happened upon the right blog. First, however, let’s look at how the catalog has been misunderstood by many retailers in the digital age.
It may surprise many to learn that digital Millenials love print catalogs! In fact, recent research has revealed that a great number of Millenials respond better to printed materials because of the growing scarcity of it. According to Neil O’Keefe of the Data and Marketing Association, the data shows that Millenials respond to physical mail a good bit better than any other age group, and appear to love looking at the images in a catalog, especially in niches where they shop online. Moreover, the response rate to physical mail like catalogs has been documented as on the rise with Millenials year after year.
Fast forward to how that impacts your catalog. If you’re hoping to grab the attention of Millennials, you’ll do well to put out a print version, even if its limited edition in the first trial run. This is not to say that you shouldn’t have a digital catalog website. Of course, you should do that. This is the best way to get the order after the perusal of the catalog section of choice, in fact. And unlike your print catalog alone, your website is the best place to capture all those juicy analytics on conversions, including how they got your your catalog website – via the catalog vanity URL (the special easy-to-remember URL that tells your analytics where they came from).
Now, let’s explore how to optimize the design of your catalog for all-around engagement, conversions, and brand-experience.
How to create the best catalog layout design:
Consider the audience
Catalog layout design templates may not be able to do justice to your audience, not to mention your brand vision. Moreover, advertisers want to feel the professionalism is there before investing in your ad space. For these reasons, assume you’ll need to design from scratch.
Your catalog layout design should match the audience. If it can include Millennials, it probably should. But what are their interests? What is their typical view on technology and politics? Whatever you do, don’t cross them on any of that unnecessarily. Flow your design motifs and energies with the views and feelings of your key audiences.
Starting with the look and feel, then moving on to the content design itself (the type and tone of the content you choose to approach the audience with), speak directly to who your audience is, not who you want them to be.
Size and format to win love
Your product catalog layout design and its success will utterly depend on your sizing and format choices, so choose wisely which is to have priority. If it’s essential to make your product catalog small enough to stash away in a coat pocket, then innovate on the catalog layout design with your small aesthetic and utility in mind, but consider how you might go full-page for product images instead of going too small. After all, we know Millennials are loving those print glossy images over their sugarless sodas, lattes and white wines.
Only use high quality images in your product catalog layout design
Images of any sort should be at least 300 DPI in resolution. Also, consider the difference between printing a PDF versus how it looks on the screen.
Screen colors use RGB-based pixels, while print uses CMYK dots per inch. The difference is one of reflecting light (dots) versus emitting light (pixels), which is why blacks and whites don’t get produced in the same way.
Innovative with catalog design layout via themed covers and features
One of the ironies of postmodern life is the evolution of the product catalog as part of imagining the self. Catalogs allows us to shop for that perfect, ever-elusive lifestyle tweak that will heighten our enjoyment of our lives and help us to become of the self we want to be. Simply put, people shop catalogs as a way of lifestyle enhancement first and foremost, and only often incidentally is the focus on fulfilling the original imagined need.
According to Streng, about 70% of shoppers feel that the print catalog itself stimulates their online purchases. Print catalogs typically point the end-user online for the sale after the dreaming process has reached a culmination. So, your catalog should embody the brand vision that is to enable that dreaming in the prospect. This requires innovative approach to connecting with your prospect’s imagination. Not just imaginative design, but visionary perspective on the upwardly-mobile, carefree lifestyle is the aim.
Engaging catalog examples
Inspire the prospect to dream
The Ikea catalog is a perfect example of this. And not only do Westerners love Ikea, Asian countries also love it, from the modernesque furniture, dishes and utensils right down to the Swedish-sourced salmon.
In the above Ikea cover example, the cover depicts lifestyle choices that work. It imparts a sense of upwardly-mobile, utilitarian high style at affordable prices. The catalog layout is many ways is an extension of the winding storefront layouts in Ikea’s showroom store locations. The colors of the walls and the design of the carts embody the values of the products represented in the catalog. Continuous, yet subtle communication of the brand is the result. The entire brand is a merging of showroom storefront and catalog.
Themed or bold colors, fonts and images help to connote lifestyle
The catalog perusal experience is indeed a lifestyle quest. Your use of colors are not only a psychological cue as to the mood you want to convey in that quest, but helps to create an entire thematic ecosystem in which to immerse the reader. One trend is to use daring and vibrant colors to stand out, but this works best if your brand is about a lifestyle where these colors could emerge in the idealized surroundings of the prospect’s own imagination. Another is the use of hand-drawn elements or headline text composed as part of the design.
Play off the product images within a natural usage context. Consider arranging the products within a natural context like a room or workplace environment. Also take time to imagine grouped item layouts that combine products you sell and go together with lifestyle or stage-of-growth indicators like “dads and grads”, which is sometimes used in catalog layouts to pair April-mid-June coincidence of Father’s Day and many graduation ceremonies.
On the other hand, if dealing with not tens but hundreds of similar-context products, you may need to focus on the product in isolation. In that case, go with framed images, pristine white or bright solid-color backgrounds, clean lines and squares. For back to school for young kids, bold, basic colors may be the right approach. Earthier tones like blood red, black, brown, tan, gold, aqua blue and rust tend to communicate an ultra-modern and cross-cultural aesthetic. Stylized Asian or African backgrounds may capture a more eclectic approach to incorporating “world” cultural elements. But above all, be true to an aesthetic or style that your brand actually sells in the catalog. Never emulate an approach that doesn’t speak to what you sell and who you sell to.
“Flat” design covers and product category images bring out functionality
One of the underlying reasons flat designs have gained importance over recent years is that flat designs step outside of hierarchical or “leveled” approaches to imagery. This is particularly attractive to demographics favor a more urban and progressive appeal. Flat designs allow the function to emerge out of context, which can be useful for items that sell based on function. Style can be brought out by color choices in background and layout and stylistic flourishes can be mixed in to combine function with style.
Patterned arrangements can bring out functional design strengths
When planning modular furniture arrangements or playing the office interior decorator, logical, open-ended patterns can help the thinking process of the buyer. In this thematic example, a more geometric, interlocking approach can allow the inner designer to take over.
In this above example, modular beige couches are positioned to highlight the plug and play variety one might find in a lounge or salon environment. It is actually somewhat reminiscent of the Ikea showroom experience.
Infusion of stylized illustration and/or text
One of the ways that images of people and clothes can be extended to a theme is by creating stylized illustration elements into the frame. More than suggesting a lifestyle, this approach is more deeply psychological and delves deep into dreaming self-projection of the prospect.
The above de-centered collage example and the product-feature below both bring out inner psychology via similar use of colorful splashes of a youthful mood of spring. In the bottom example, we can see their approach to how to accommodate the feminine focus on color with that of variations on a theme. A matching spring-friendly color can be used both for dog and dog owner, in this case. Again, we see lifestyle choices on offer, not merely a product.
“World” or (“multilocalism”) appeals to many upwardly-mobile consumers
According to the Global Business Policy Council, multilocalism should probably find a place in your brand image. Reflecting the pull in recent decades to experience and identify with and/or financially support the actual local community cultures in travel to foreign locales, many product catalogs take care to represent this perspective.
Multilocal imagery is somewhat eclectic in feel, emphasizing local markets and local street culture over poolside umbrella drinks and glamourous self-indulgence.
In the example above, it’s more about how the clothes will fit into the authentic travel experience than about creating a pristine fantasy of opulent luxury.
Authentic, outdoors or everyday imagery as product backdrop
Many brands attempt to appeal to a more down-to-earth, pragmatic audience resistant to commercial imagery. For these consumers, the brand embodies an attainable lifestyle they actually live. Class lifestyle values, real-world concerns and fun are more likely the demographic appeal in these choices. This tendency is more than often employed for brands like L. L. Bean, for example.
The attainment of a weekend outing goal with friends can be a very rewarding experience for many with busy school, work and family concerns. Being prepared is part of how such goals get achieved. Happiness is an outcome of the right way of looking at and planning such outings. The clothing, like the outings, are often repeatable, variable, reversible, interlocking, layered, and in some ways interchangeable depending upon weather, mood, and chance.
The themed product imagery here bears out how an intelligent, technical-minded focus on achieving a team goal can bring out the desired result in any outdoor adventure. Inclusion of diversity allows some inspiration for multiple demographics, as well as a potential focus on group dynamics such as couples, friends, workmates or classmates on the weekend off.
Track catalog performance by device
Your catalog is an excellent top-of-funnel resource for prospects to get to know your product line and fall in love with your brand. Without tracking and reviewing performance indicators, however, your magazine circulation and readership can’t grow or reach new prospects. Make use of available data points to gain the most out of your magazine production budget, time, and effort.
It’s essential that you differentiate your analytics by devices. This can be done by using Audiences in Google Analytics. You can also create specialized dashboards which emphasize a single device. Just be sure to include a separate and fully-representative dashboard for each device.
Pull out all meaningful data metrics as well as at least 1-2 special Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for each. These are the metrics that matter most to expanding reach and conversions for that particular device’s audience. Most importantly here, think of your niche when forming your KPIs. A fashion catalog layout design may invite different CTA actions than a meditation product catalog or a coffee catalog would.
Analytics checklist for online catalogs
Use web analytics (such as Google Analytics) to determine how colors, layout, copy, image selection/size and CTAs all play a role in conversions like adding an item to the shopping cart and then rapidity with which cart items get purchased, as well as raw ietm sales.
Use A/B testing tools like Google Optimize or Optimizely to make quick, easy optimizations in the above on-page elements (see this year’s top-rated tools).
Use conversion funnel analytics like flow charts and click analytics on each successive page to determine how visits progress toward or away from conversions, and why.
Use Google’s Search Console to understand and drive your SEO for your online search visibility on SERPs (search engine results pages).
Use SEMrush for competitive intelligence (CI) on what is driving traffic best for your competitors.
Review your Google Analytics traffic stats quaterly to see what’s working for your company, what you’ve learned and what to change or tweak next.
Analytics checklist for print catalogs
Note the catalog positions of the best selling items. Is there a correspondence here?
Note the worst-selling items and their corresponding catalog positions. Is it just the product? Or the placement?
How could your product listing layout go beyond the limited confines of ‘ideal placement’ within the catalog itself?
Does your product catalog layout design inspire quick sales just after publication?
Can the reader expect to be genuinely surprised and inspired by your latest edition? What do sales think of the catalog?
How do different covers impact product sales?
Review quarterly for possible tweaks based on print-triggered catalog sales and conversions.
By following the above plan, your product catalog layout design can wow the prospect and achieve more points for your bottom line. To accomplish this, you have to inspire the prospect, not just to shop, but to dream.