Leafing through a pile of architects' brochures you'll see a plethora of photographs and drawings of buildings, interiors and landscaping accompanied by text. Sometimes the images and words are distinctive. More often they are not. In fact most brochures, regardless of their different sizes, lengths, shapes, colours, paper stock and presentation, are much of a muchness.
A brochure is a tool, a marketing tool. If you regularly pitch for business, if your marketing activities include sending out information about yourself, the chances are you use a brochure, or some form of printed material.
But there are brochures and there are brochures. Having established your need, there are many different ways to fulfil it.
Your brochure is a visual and verbal statement about your identity. It can be regarded as a necessary evil or a brilliant opportunity. Because your business is design, the design of your brochure is of paramount importance. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well.
Working out your needs is a crucial part of the brief. You may need to update your material. You may need to communicate changes and developments within your practice. You may need to focus on different messages about yourself in response to your clients' changing needs.
The design process will force you to think. Your purpose and objectives will have to be defined. The usual questions - who are we? what do we do? how do we do it? - must be answered. But other, more penetrating questions should also be asked.
What is the real purpose of your business? What is the real reason for this brochure? Who do you want to talk to? What do you want to say to them? What effect do you want to have on them? How do you want them to respond? What do they really need to know? What do you have that they didn't even know they wanted?
These questions are active, immediate. They are simple, yet probing. They evoke the spoken, rather than the written, word. They invite conversation, rather than bullet points.
Indulge a bit. Talk about yourselves. Why do you do what you do? Who do you do it for? What are the passions that drive you and your business? What are your dreams? The responses may reveal dimensions you never knew were there. They lead to the essence, the core. They drive the brief. They are the starting point for the type of images chosen and the way they are used. They also inform the content and language of the text.
Language is fundamental. Words and language are very powerful communicators but too often little more than cliched standard texts are used in corporate copy.
Turn your focus inside, celebrate the quirkiness of who you are and what you do. Engage the reader, tell a good story with wit, incisiveness and originality. A brochure can be a real page-turner, like a cracking piece of fiction.
You don't have to list or show everything you do. You don't have to dig up some concept of differentiation. Forget about the competition for a moment. Embrace the reader. Provoke their curiosity. Intrigue them. Give them something delicious to chew on. Offer a taste, not a meal. Stimulate their desire. People will come towards you because they like the sound of you, get a good feeling from you. They will join if you radiate something attractive and intriguing.
Research shows that in live presentations tone of voice makes more of an impression on your audience than content. Tone is about feeling. It manifests itself in print through style of language and image. Too often the text is lengthy and boring, the images obvious and unimaginative and the marriage of text to image is lacklustre. Choose words and images that evoke emotional as well as intellectual responses. Appeal to your readers' humanity.
Consider the analogy of a supermarket shelf groaning with bread, headed by a picture of a variety of loaves and the word 'Bread'. We are not stupid. We know it's bread. We do not need to be told. So why say 'this is bread' with a photo of bread beside it. Talk instead about the joys of bread. The smell of a newly baked loaf. The moreishness of a warm loaf. Show the joy with which friends sit round the dinner table and break bread between them, their enjoyment of the sharing and passing of bread. Make the customer's mouth water. Make them participate. Pull their heartstrings. Invite them in. Make them want to see and hear more. You've got their attention. They are actively engaged.
Use daring combinations of words and images. Make the reader pause and reflect. Help them to think laterally. Set minds racing. Do the unthinkable. Take a few risks.
The result can be as beautiful, subtle, wacky or aggressive as the people who work alongside you. Whatever your character and composition, the rigorous process of investigation is crucial. And remember that simplicity coupled with clarity goes a very long way.
In this electronic age, why should we bother with brochures at all? The answers are subtle and all too human. Apart from the obvious reasons of high-quality reproduction, the tactile experience of handling a superb piece of print is always a pleasure. Despite the plethora of media sources, people will always read printed material. It's sensual and rewarding. The book is a design classic; functional, portable, durable, accessible and requires no power source whatsoever.
Your brochure has about 10 seconds to hook a potential client. They are busy people and bombarded with material. If you can make an informed, attractive and idiosyncratic impression, you will be remembered.
Giulia Landor is managing partner of design consultancy Spencer Landor. She may be contacted on 0207 269 6880. Spencer Landor collaborates with copywriter Tom Lynham.