Today’s marketing is increasingly personalized. In a personalized piece, marketers use data about the recipient to personalize text and images to create a more relevant communication. From a design perspective, designing a piece with variable elements is not the same as designing a static piece. The elements within the piece, whether text or images, can change in size, length, and sometimes even format. Designers need to ensure their designs work with all of the content that can appear from piece to piece in a variable run. Here are some tips to make the most out of a variable design. 1. Know what’s in the database. Although the designer may not be involved in which variables will be used, he or she needs to know what these variables are. The marketing team can choose from an infinite number of variables, ranging from interests, gender, and age, to household income and spend level. This can include text, images, calls to action, charts, or graphs. Any or all of these will impact the text and images chosen for the piece. As a designer, you need to know how to work around the variables chosen. Will you need to design around images? If so, how many? How many variable fields will be used in the text? Will the variation be in name and salutation only? Or will the messaging change, too? If so, what portion? The content and number of variable fields affect how the text wraps, where the lines break, and the length of the paragraphs. You may need to anticipate multiple layouts depending on how many variables are chosen and how they combine. You also need to know how any text fields will be formatted. If the variables will be dates, for example, will they be spelled out (for example, September 1, 2016)? Or will they be numerical (9/1/16)? 2. Size and scale images in advance While there are many parts and pieces of the design process, the good news is that, with a little advance planning, you can simplify it. For example, you can size and scale any images used in the campaign in advance to fit the available space. Ideally, you want all of your images to have the same aspect ratio. This will allow them to be swapped without impacting the layout at all. You don’t want to have long, horizontal bridges and tall, vertical images of skyscrapers in the same variable run. 3. Anticipate maximum and minimum character counts. Personalization in text can be more challenging than images because the number of characters in personal names can vary significantly. Consider the challenges in accommodating both “Al Ho” and “Margaret-Frances Davidson-Smith” in the same block of copy. In variable design, text blocks must accommodate the longest possible string of characters while still looking visually appealing when the segment is short. Even the simplest name personalization presents this challenge. In accommodating the highest possible character count, your design options include:
Accommodations must be made for copy to fit from the top to the bottom of the page, as well. Options include:
Some of these solutions may prove to be less than aesthetically pleasing. The best way to judge that and to refine a variable layout is to proof every potential iteration that can be created for the variables selected. Some variable information programs include tools simplifying that proofing process. Such digital tools help ensure that your designs are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also accurate, functional, and ready for production. These tips were adapted from “Create Relevant Direct Marketing That Gets Results: More Ways to Profit with Digital Printing,” a guidebook available from Xerox Corporation sales representatives, along with insights from Darwill’s designers. For a complete copy of the free white paper, click here to sign up and download.