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Planning a catalogue design

Catalogue design examples

Catalogues were an important part of the shopping experience in the 70s, 80s and 90s. These days, most retailers have swapped their “big books” for the ecommerce websites, however, in B2B environments, the printed catalogue remains a handy tool, even if customers now place their orders online, by phone or email rather than by post.

Even if your business has a relatively modest product range, producing a catalogue can still be quite a time consuming process, so it is important to ensure the time you invest is worthwhile. Whilst it may be tempting to jump right in with collating photographs and text, a bit of reflection and planning beforehand can pay dividends later.

Here is a list of things you might want to consider before opening up your chosen design package.

What do I want my catalogue to do?

The short answer to this might be that you want it to sell your products, right? Well yes. But *how* do you want to sell those products? The answer to this question will determine the type of information you will need to include in your catalogue.

Outcome 1:

Customers are able to place an order directly with you as a result of seeing a product in your catalogue.

If this is the case you will need to include enough information to clearly indicate which product, any related options and cost of the item they intend to purchase. The easiest way to do this is to include product codes. If you don’t already have a product code system in place you will need to come up with a system which works for you, and stick to it!

You will also need to decide how you want to receive your orders. In person, by post, telephone, email or online. If you wish to receive orders by post you will need to include an order form along with your catalogue. Make sure you include contact details for any other sales routes.

Outcome 2:

Customers are able to place an order with a sales rep or distributor. For lower value items, where a purchase decision is likely to be made without needing further input or advice from an expert, all product information should be included in order to remove any ambiguity about what is being ordered. An order form may also be appropriate. For higher value items, or where advice might be needed to make a purchasing decision, less information may be needed in the catalogue itself but might be shown on a separate price list which is retained by the distributor.

Outcome 3:

The catalogue makes customers aware of products, and while not intended to drive sales directly, should generate enquiries, either directly with the catalogue representative or with a licenced distributor.
In this case, less technical information is needed, but all options or features which might encourage the reader to make an enquiry should be included.

In outcomes 2 or 3, the relevant contact details for the chosen sales outlets should be included, or at least a space for a distributor stamp or sticker.

Who will use it?

Is the catalogue intended for retail or B2B? How much knowledge will the reader have? Will it be used by the end user or a distributor? Again the answer to these questions will inform your decision on how much technical information should be included, the type of language which should be used and whether or not to include prices. Later these answers will also help inform the “tone” of the design.


The lifespan of your catalogue may be determined by the nature of the product you are selling. A Christmas card catalogue lifespan will only be a couple of months, and whilst Christmas happens every year, shoppers will expect to see new products next season, and prices etc will have changed. Even if your products are not seasonal, you may choose to make the catalogue part of a seasonal promotion. If this is the case, you may choose to vary the design of the catalogue accordingly. You should consider the cost implication of this, and other related expenses such as distribution costs.
Or you may decide that the catalogue should be a longer lasting reference piece. If your products are subject to significant price fluctuations (for example due to currency exchange rates on imported goods) you may decide not to include prices in the catalogue.

What to put in my catalogue?

  • All products
  • Products related to a season
  • Products from a particular product category
  • Products pertinent to a particular section of your audience

The answer to this will depend on the desired outcome for the brochure and resources (time and money) you have at your disposal. Generally, the larger the project the higher the cost – both in financial and manpower terms. An all-product catalogue project will require much more planning and organisation than a 10 product seasonal promotion. However, in the long run, it may take more time and money to produce and distribute lots of smaller different catalogues rather than one big one.

How best to organise the information

This is a question of 2 halves.
1. How to organise the information within the catalogue itself.
2. How to organise the information for the professional catalogue designer or in-house colleague who will be producing the catalogue

Generally, on large projects, products will be separated into categories. These may be related to the type of product, or the type of audience.

The way the products are displayed will often be determined the nature of the products themselves. For example, for an item such a circular saw blade, there may be many options related to diameter, machine compatibility etc, however the product itself might not vary a great deal visually. In this case, it may be appropriate to display one main product image, and then to include all options and product information within a table or list. For items such as women’s shoes, it would be more appropriate to show a photograph of each model/design. For items where the visual aspect is less important than the technical detail, it would be better perhaps to allocate more page space to a written specification or technical drawing.

You should also consider how you would like to display the information. This will often depend on 2 factors – product type and budget. Whilst you may wish to dedicate a full page to each of your products, on a large scale project, this would be expensive and would result in a unwieldly publication. You may decide to allocate equal space to each of your products, or to give more space to items which are top-sellers or high-profit.

Once you have decided how best to organise the finished publication, you should use this as a reference when collating your information.

If you have an ecommerce website which allows you to export all your product data, that is a good starting point, however your designer is unlikely to thank you, if you supply them with a spreadsheet filled with raw data, and organised by product code rather than product or end-user type.
Be sure all your product information is accurate and up to date, and only give the designer the information you want them to include. Make clear reference to product photos (ideally name your product images the same as the product itself). Your designer is not an expert in your products and may not be able to tell products apart at a glance.

Give the designer instructions if a product is to be displayed in a certain way “hero product” etc. – or needs a sticker or stamp adding for a promotion/USP.

On large projects a spreadsheet can help organise all the data in a clear fashion. Your designer may have preferences about whether all content should be supplied at once, page by page or section by section. Images can be sent using online services such as ‘Wetransfer’ or shared storage like FTP or cloud storage such as Google drive/dropbox.

Contents page vs index

A contents page is very much a content-centric way to stimulate browsing. The contents page(s) usually go at the front of the document. It can be formatted to go with the brochure design (usually it helps to introduce the design theme via fonts and colours). An index is a more user-centric way to stimulate browsing as it allows the user to search for a term, and go straight to the information (rather than browse through the whole section from the contents page). Generally, an index goes at the back of the document and is more functional than it is pretty. The index can contain more detail than the contents page because it can contain information such as related search terms and synonyms which wouldn’t normally be presented in a contents list. If your catalogue is very large, you have a lot of products and your budget allows, you should consider using both contents page(s) and index pages.


The question of whether or not to display prices will depend on who you are selling to, and how they normally buy. A catalogue which is destined for the general public should contain prices.
A catalogue designed for B2B may or may not contain prices. If you have discount rates for your customers, you may still choose to show the standard list price alongside a product code. This can then be used in conjunction with a price list. Or perhaps you sell through a distributor, in which case it may be more appropriate to just include product codes. Your distributor will manage prices through their own price list.

Catalogue Format

Firstly, is the publication going to be printed, or is it for online use only? Maybe you would like both options? The decision to print, or not to print will largely depend on your audience and your distribution resources. If you sell B2B it can be very useful to have a printed publication. Not only can it be a valuable resource for the recipients, the physical presence of your publication in an office or depot is like having a permanent advert in your client’s work space. The printed format displays your branding, and becomes a natural part of their working day.

If the document is to be printed, you will also need to consider page size. You may have thought about this already when compiling your content and working out the approximate flow of content. However, it could also be helpful to consider things from a user point of view. Does the user of this publication tend to have a large space to store such items, do the products have lots of options which need to be clearly displayed in tables, what is the competition doing- is it usual to have large glossy publications or are they kept small and to the point? A bespoke sized catalogue may stand out and ensure that your catalogue is always at the top of the pile!

The release of a new catalogue can also become a marketing event, and is a good reason make contact with customers you may not have heard from in a while.

If your catalogue is just going to be online, then page size isn’t so much of an issue. Your reader can zoom in using their PDF reader in order to read smaller details more easily. That said, your pages should still look enticing and be easy to navigate. After all, the aim is (usually) to get the reader to buy your product, and they will only do so if their research stage is made as easy as possible.

Online catalogues have the advantage of being able to contain internal hyperlinks. So a reader could go straight from the contents page or index to the desired section of a single page. This is really handy for anyone who is short on time. It does, however, affect the amount of exposure to secondary product or content that reader will have. It becomes all the more important to ensure you have clear contact links or calls to action on every page.

How will they get your catalogue?

In person, through a distributor, in the post, download or attachment from an email, download through the website… you may have your own ideas.
If you are planning on posting your catalogue, you will need to bear in mind postage costs. The cost will depend on the overall size and thickness, and the weight. The weight is determined by the amount of pages and the density of the paper. Make sure your budget will cover everything you have planned.

If you are planning for people to access the catalogue online or via download, you should think about whether you want them to view it online through an animated flipbook, as a plain PDF or another digital format. Flipbooks are typically hosted by a third party, having the advantage that the file is not stored on your server and therefore taking up space, however this means you have less control over the online format. They are nice to flick through and have some good features, however, some require your device to have certain software in order to show properly. This could be a barrier to potential viewers.

Plain PDFs are easy to use, can be stored on your server and do not require software for online viewing. Most browsers will offer a PDF reader. These have advantage of being more content centric than experience centric. That is to say, without the pretty effects of pages turning, the reader can focus fully on your message.

The amount of content and images will affect file size, so make sure your designer knows to resize images accordingly before preparing final files.

If you intend the downloaded file to be printed out, it is worth bearing in mind that lighter colours and less photos will use less ink. You want your reader to get the whole catalogue, not run out of ink part way through because your design has a black background on all pages.

Now all the content has been considered

Once you have decided on the best products and layout of your catalogue you could be forgiven for thinking that the preparation is complete, however, there are still some aspects which are worth consideration

How will the reader place their order? If you intend for a customer to place an order by post or by telephone, you should include an order form (a separate sheet or part of the document) and make regular reference to it throughout the publication. The design of the form should relate to the catalogue completely to make it easy to complete. The form should be simple and have enough room to write product info easily and clearly.

If you intend the reader to place an order through a distributor you need to make sure they know to do so, and how to do so. Any contact details should refer to the distributor, and not to you. The order form should be separate from the catalogue (you want your distributor to place more orders than they have catalogues!). The order form should still be easy to fill in, but you will likely need different sorts of information on the form.

If you plan for the reader to use the catalogue for research, but place their order through the internet, then you should ensure that the instructions for doing so (web address, security credibility, payment options) are clearly stated at regular intervals throughout the catalogue.

You should also include clear indications of lead times and delivery times, returns procedures and aftersales care. These things will reduce buyer anxiety if making a large purchase, and will reduce the number of presale calls/emails you receive.


In summary, there is a lot of preparation work involved with creating a catalogue of any size. Once you have one under your belt you will have some experience of what worked well for you, and what could be done better next time. What is clear, however, is that the time you invest in the planning stages can really pay dividends when it comes to the overall success of your catalogue project.

Visit our Catalogue design page for further details about our catalogue design service.



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am:pm graphics is a graphic design partnership based in Buxton, Derbyshire. We offer a range of quality, affordable graphic design solutions for print and web, helping our customers achieve a consistent professional identity across a variety of media.

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