Directing reader attention

What constitutes good eyeflow in a catalog? KATE BOWLES: From a copy perspective, good eyeflow is all about hierarchy – offering texts of various sizes and weights – to coax the reader into the copy and to move the customer reader through and across a spread.

You can draw the eye to specific copy by using increased type size, weight, and positioning. Ideally, this primary copy would appear at the top of one of the pages of the spread. Copy with a “second tier” weight, slightly smaller and less bold, would be used partway down the opposite page. This helps grab the eye as it scans naturally across the spread.

Another eyeflow technique involves creating further hierarchies in the text with layers of bold type used on lead ins or subheads throughout the page – copy that can snag the attention of “skimmers” and entice further reading.

Of course, these techniques work best in a catalog with extensive copy. But many catalogers don’t have the luxury of space or the need for such an expanded copy presentation. In a situation with multiple items per page and a corresponding copy block for each, you can adapt this technique by choosing one or two “hero” items that would get larger, bolder product headlines – again, one on each side of the spread, one high on the page, the other lower. Product headlines are almost always more effective than generic spread headlines.

You can also make it easy for the reader to identify which copy block goes with which item. Few things lose a potential buyer faster than the irritation of having to hunt for a copy block. Your best approach is to nest copy adjacent to the photo, wrapping the copy around the silhouetted photo, if possible. Alternatively, bold arrows pointing from the copy to corresponding photos work well. Keying copy – labeling a photo and the corresponding copy block with the same letter – is slightly less effective, as it tends to entice designers to separate text from product image. Every moment of effort you require of your readers could be a moment they decide to turn the page – or turn on the television instead.

JULIE HATLEM: There are three essentials to effective eyeflow:

– Energy. Every page of a catalog starts with the same basic elements: images, headlines, copy blocks, graphics, color, and white space. Yet some catalogs seem to create “movement” among the static elements on the two-dimensional page. Good eyeflow uses our tendency to read from top to bottom and left to right. It uses dynamic balance among competing graphic elements to create a sense of movement.

– Brand identity. Proper catalog eyeflow creates an experience that reflects your brand identity. It’s like the difference between walking through Wal-Mart and walking through Nordstrom.

For example, the Betty Crocker catalog, one of our clients, has a spread of kitchen essentials in which each product is silhouetted on a white background. The eye moves around the page, jumping from item to item. Clean and functional – that’s a Betty Crocker kitchen.

Compare that with a full-page Pottery Barn lifestyle photograph, featuring a fully equipped kitchen that invites you in and moves you around the various products within the room. Inviting and well designed – that’s a Pottery Barn kitchen.

– Control. Accomplished designers will guide eyeflow comfortably within the structure of the page, allowing readers time to absorb all of the important elements. Visually, the layout works as a unit. Underlying grids can help add consistency to your catalog and control the eyeflow, which will keep the readers on the spread longer.

Here are a few eyeflow tests you can try with a tissue layout at a light table or a window:

– Fill in the photos with solid color so that you see where the image density or visual weight of your layout is the greatest. A heavy spot in the layout will attract the eye. Make certain it pulls the eye in the direction you want it to go.

– Turn the layout upside down or reverse it to its mirror image. Where is your eye drawn? Which way creates more energy? If the eyeflow pattern in a layout is strong, you may be able to use it to create four distinctly different yet related spreads: 1) the original, 2) the mirror image, 3) upside down, and 4) upside-down mirror image.

JOHN SCHWARTZ: Good eyeflow is about the total vision of a catalog. It results from exceptional art direction, merchandising, and copywriting – in all, a successful interpretation of the brand itself in print.

Where do you want the customer to look? Everywhere! It doesn’t really matter where he or she looks first; the underlying design objective is to enhance the overall shopping experience. The idea is to keep the customer moving from spread to spread by using appropriate spacing and appealing presentation, and by ultimately allowing each catalog product to be seen. Eyeflow is more of an art than a science and therefore cannot be distilled into one pat formula for success.

While the upper right corner of the right-hand page is traditionally regarded as the hot spot on a spread (think in terms of spreads, not pages, because that’s how customers view the catalog), it’s not necessarily where customers start to read, and it’s certainly not where we want them to stay. We want our customers to experience our products, not simply to see them. Their eyes roam the spread searching for a surprise, a resting place, something to fall in love with, something to learn. Consumers regard catalogs as a source of information, inspiration, and relaxation – a leisure activity to be enjoyed. We’re in the entertainment business. For fast-food shopping experiences, they can go to your Website. If they want something to savor, they’ll curl up with a good catalog.

Directing the customer’s attention is a function of the brand. What works for one catalog doesn’t necessarily work for another. A former client, apparel catalog Just Nikki, for example, was designed to appeal to the MTV generation, drawing in teenage girls with a flexible, look-everywhere-at-once format they relate to. Another client, L.L. Bean’s women’s apparel catalog Freeport Studio, on the other hand, uses the open, friendly appeal of its model photography to drive eyeflow.

People are drawn to people. When models look directly at the camera so that their eyes connect with the readers’, they pull the focus to wherever they are on the page. Body language can seduce (think of a model lolling on a bed), repel (picture the same model with her arms folded tightly across her chest), or lead directly to a coordinating product (by pointing at, leaning toward, or looking at the item in question).

Above all, eyeflow, like the other elements of catalog design, must support and promote the brand. For instance, the catalog of gourmet foods marketer Balducci’s, also a client, is a sumptuous feast, with a complex layering of graphics and photography that interpret the warmth and abundance of the brand. At the same time, our client MoMA – New York’s Museum of Modern Art – uses the cool minimal lines of modern design to sell its products within an environment that extends the museum experience. Shoe manufacturer/marketer Aerosoles’, another client, uses edgy fashion copy to reinforce its brand image in its newest catalog effort.

Brand “positioning” is everything, and hard and fast rules can get in the way. Ultimately, you want a clearly defined personality in print – so stop worrying about eyeflow and start concentrating on conveying the essence of your brand.

MIKE WYCHOCKI: With the need to create compelling merchandise presentations and incorporate numerous selling and service elements while meeting tight production schedules, eyeflow is often overlooked. This is too bad, considering the amount of time and money that goes into refining the merchandise, circulation, and operations aspects of a catalog mailing. A catalog that can’t guide the reader around the entire spread in the right order represents a missed opportunity on a big investment.

When reviewing pages and spreads, whether in the design stage or the production stage, an eyeflow critique is a must on every catalog marketer’s checklist. Here are my basic eyeflow rules of thumb, along with a system to make sure good eyeflow occurs on every spread of every book.

– Tell the story through information hierarchy. That is what it’s really all about: Not where the eye goes, in what sequence, and for how long, but actually what story gets told and whether the information unfolds in the right order. The classic sequence is: Set the frame of reference of product category; explain the usage settings; create the need; resolve with a solution; place the call to action; and finally enable the reader to enjoy the product. If the creative doesn’t tell the complete story, or if it tells the story in an improper sequence, then you simply do not have good eyeflow.

– Play Chutes and Ladders with the entire spread. When you review your next catalog for proper eyeflow, imagine a board game template superimposed on it. Watch where your imaginary game piece travels; if it doesn’t cover virtually every square inch of the pages, then do not pass go. Perform a community service for your catalog with a redesign.

– Lather, rinse, repeat. When testing for eyeflow effectiveness, it’s a good start to get readers to follow the information in the desired quence, better if you get them around the entire layout, and outstanding if they cover the material more than once. The best eyeflow, even on the simplest of spreads (typically carried by dynamic photo presentations), will take the reader around the spread several times before it finally loses him. The secret lies in interesting and well-organized chaos – providing structure and organization yet retaining an element of spontaneity. By constructing several layers of interesting information, you encourage the reader not only to get the general take, but to come back around for a second and even third viewing to further discover and decipher more nuggets of information.

– Leave margins, and not just for error. One last critical component is margin space, not only for general framing purposes but also for interacting with the main content.

Margin space traditionally sets up the primary and secondary eyeflow boundaries and gives the reader definitive borders for extraneous information that is beyond the path of the eye’s primary focus. An interesting trend that has developed in the past three to four years is the grafting of magazine and Website techniques of using the margins as areas of high visibility yet secondary importance. A good example is the L.L. Bean Traveler catalog, a client that uses the margins effectively to provide information about colors and accessories while encouraging repeat eyeflow patterns – all of which ultimately delivers more information to the reader in a noncompeting format.

So how do you make sure your eyeflow is working? Make eyeflow an official checkpoint in your review process, and have several individuals evaluate it independently.

First, have someone on the creative staff other than the designers check eyeflow effectiveness. Usually I like to call on the copywriters because, as I mentioned, it’s all about communications hierarchy. It’s also good to involve someone entirely outside the creative process. Give both of them several spreads and have them apply sequentially numbered sticky dots to show the path their eye follows. It’s not as scientific – nor as costly – as retinal laser tracking, but you would be surprised at how often independent sources will confirm certain patterns, allowing you to rebuild much more effective spreads.

Have people check your catalog’s eyeflow ritualistically, and watch what you learn – and also track how your book’s performance improves. You will never again underestimate the effectiveness of solid eyeflow.

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