Andrea Lawson Gray: If “authority” is integral to your positioning, you’ll need longer copy blocks and larger photographs, perhaps with insets, to show product details, features, or benefits, which results in fewer products per page. But if value pricing is important, you can use shorter copy blocks, though you may want to add graphic elements to your pages to tout specials.

You may also need to design other creative elements into the catalog to support your positioning and product. For instance, outdoor apparel cataloger Patagonia uses snapshots of real people using its product in rugged environments, adding authority and an “up close and personal” customer communication.

Square-inch analysis can help you determine page density. If you have one or two “hero” items-products that because of their selling potential, profitability, or identification with your catalog warrant extra space-make sure that they can support themselves (see “Using square-inch analysis,” right). Consider adding an item to a presentation if the numbers don’t add up.

Designers typically believe less is more-and with good reason. White space creates a catalog that is easier to read and to shop from. But you can effectively increase density on a spread-by-spread basis, with themes such as “12 Great Gifts Under $25.” Driving density in this way can allow more open spreads elsewhere in the catalog, creating pacing while adding up to the marketing dollars you need.

Robin Glat: When determining how creative can support marketing requirements, you need to address three areas: positioning, communication vehicle effectiveness, and ease of shopping.

A clear and consistently communicated position is the springboard for all creative decisions. Page density must reflect the positioning. For example, high density-showing many products and lots of copy-creates a bargain-basement feel. You can alter this “no frills” feeling by adjusting the white space. Regardless of your positioning, though, density should change from spread to spread to create and keep interest, and highlight key items.

Communication vehicle effectiveness includes selecting creative to increase response rates, average order sizes, and number of units sold per order. This means considering which products will complement each other to increase sales. The idea is to make each page work hard. Density is affected by marketing’s and merchandising’s responsibility to give the customer enough items and the right combinations on a spread to pique interest and encourage the sale.

Ease of shopping focuses on the customer’s needs by making the offer clear, concise, and organized. A dense book doesn’t have to be hard to shop. It just needs to have a well-planned design strategy, with calculated density and focal point changes to maintain interest while fitting within an overall design framework.

Jean O. Giesmann: Before we start to design a catalog, we look at several things: square-inch analysis, cost per book, page counts, dollars per book, and product winners and losers. This information provides us with parameters for space allocation and contributes to the resulting design and product density.

But you also need flexibility in space allocation to achieve certain visual strategies. Often the products dictate the density; some need extra space to “tell the story” and show detail. Crowding the page with product limits our ability to show off detail and pizzazz in a photo. It’s up to the creative team to ask for more space to sell certain products effectively.

Varying the density from spread to spread keeps the pace of the book lively and keeps the customer’s interest. One spread may have a full-page photo to show off a $5,000 piece of furniture, then the next five pages may sell 25 accessories. A merchant may argue about giving a whole page to just one item, but a hero item helps to sell the 25 accessories as well.

Depending on the catalog, we also look at space devoted to brand position. Larger photos let us create an image our customers can relate to. Mood, ambience, and emotion can be difficult to convey in a small, closely cropped photo.

It’s important to periodically test presentations. Take your best sellers, blow them up, reshoot them in a different setting, or change their position on the page. Try it with some marginal items too. Be sure to track the results accurately. But remember, space allocation and product density needs to be a group decision among the merchants, the marketers, and the creative team.

* Determine the hero products for each spread and prioritize them to estimate the number of square inches each item will use. A spread with nine items, including heroes A, B, and C, might require 1/2 of a page for A, and 1/4 of a page each for B and C.

* Based on marketing costs, determine how many units of Hero A, B, and C you’ll need to sell to pay for the allotted space. Base your assumptions on historical data of similar product.

* Look at the marketing costs to be allocated over the balance of the items selected for the spread. Divide the costs by the remaining items. If the dollars per item meet the average demand per item based on history, you should be able to meet marketing goals for that spread.

* Use spreads rather than pages to distribute your item count, except for the center spread, where the order form falls; that should be merchandised and designed as two separate pages.