Catalog Design Handbook

9. Planning for series and updates

It’s always wise to begin a project with an eye to versions, sequels, and follow-ups. Ask and answer some basic questions to help yourself plan. The answers to some of these questions affect the answers to others.

  1. How often do you add new products? Frequently? Rarely?
  2. How often do you plan to issue your catalog? Monthly? Quarterly? Annually? On an as-needed but irregular basis?
  3. How many products do you want to feature in your catalog? Everything you sell? One specific line? Only sale items and closeouts?
  4. Will your catalog appear in only one language? If not, will you incorporate multiple languages into each issue or create separate versions in individual languages? Are these languages written using alphabets, logographic or segmental scripts, or syllabaries? Are any of these languages right-to-left reading? In how many of these languages are you fluent?
  5. Will you need different catalog variations for different parts of the world, reflecting the need to avoid mentioning certain products where they clash with cultural traditions or local laws?

Products and scheduling

The number of products you want to feature, and the pace at which you update your product line, has an effect on how many pages your catalog may need and how often you issue it. Some companies issue one master catalog each year, with much-smaller updates each month or quarter to list new items and feature sales. Others break up catalog support for a full range of products into specific issues for individual product lines. Some limit catalog coverage to the most important product features, and incorporate hyperlinks to direct the reader to the company website for exhaustive feature lists and specifications.

To narrow down these and other options, consider investing some time in at-least informal customer research. Invite customers to participate in a survey that assesses how often they’d like to see updates. Their responses can shape how you make your plans.

Multi-lingual support

It can be easier to create multiple versions of a catalog, one for each language, than to incorporate multiple languages into each version. Many page-layout applications support the use of individual document layers that you can make visible or invisible with one click on an item in a palette or dialog box. In multi-lingual typesetting, it’s common to devote one layer to each language, and to change layer visibility to produce language-specific catalog versions.

One language-based consideration should dominate your decisions about multi-lingual catalog development, however, and that’s the issue of the differing lengths of the same message in various languages. If you view one sentence in your native language alongside translations of that sentence into other languages, you quickly discover that the same thoughts and concepts require many more words in some languages than in others, and that even the words themselves may be longer depending on the translation.

For example, English is a relatively compact language, whereas a French, Spanish, Italian, or German translation of an English sentence may require much more space to accommodate additional linguistic structures and longer words. Planning one catalog version for each of these languages would mean using as much space as the lengthiest translation required for items in all languages.

When your language support shifts from alphabetic to non-alphabetic languages, however, your typesetting demands increase exponentially. First, you need a page-layout application that can handle non-alphabetic and/or right-to-left languages. Second, you need to adjust layouts for languages that may write vertically as well as others that write horizontally. In these cases, you may discover quickly that your work will be easier if you create separate versions of your catalog that are optimized for languages with diverse writing systems.

The demands of translation

It’s always easier to support multi-lingual catalog development when you are fluent in all the languages you plan to use. Translating catalog copy into other languages opens up the prospect of mistranslations that offend native speakers or leave them laughing at obvious language-to-language errors.

Machine translation can help you understand the gist of a passage written in a language that’s unfamiliar to you, but it simply cannot produce text that passes muster when a native speaker reads it. Likewise, partial fluency isn’t enough to create material for native speakers. To produce translations suitable for catalog use, you need access to translators who know your original language as well as they know the target language in which you want to communicate.

Choose your translators with care. A friend or relative may agree to provide translation services at little or no cost. If native speakers reject that “free” translation, it can do your reputation more harm than good.

Note on prodalist: easy updates is THE key of prodalist. Changing the product section in a complete catalog is achieved in seconds by simply saying use column D for product description instead of column C. Moreover, prodalist will help you to automatically translate the complete said column into another language -with help of external online services-. Although automatic translations make huge progress, it will still require proofreading. From our experience, is is well adapted to short phrases used in repetitive catalog descriptions texts (“price”, “size”, “packaging”, colors …).

Translation must meet even more specific and demanding standards when you must describe your products using scientific or technical terminology, or when your product fits into a field that involves the use of culturally individualized slang or jargon. It’s one thing to speak and write fluently in two languages, as translators must do. If you market scientific or technical products, your translator also must understand the vocabulary that applies. For products that fit into popular culture or that use generational or societal slang, you’ll need a translator who can speak “teen,” for example, or who understands the cultural context of items such as lifestyle goods, at leisure items, personal hygiene and cosmetic products, and so on.

Prices and updates

Along with language support, you need to plan for how you present and update pricing information. Creating a catalog can involve the automated insertion of product and price information using page-layout plug-ins that make live connections to spreadsheets or databases. This process resembles a word-processing mail merge function on a truly grand scale.

Note on prodalist: once more, easy updates is THE key of prodalist. With prodalist, a complete change of price throughout all the catalog, is simply multiplying an MS Excel like column by -let’s say- 1.02, or just saying instead of using column “B” for prices, use now column “C”.

Pricing data represent a list of catalog design considerations. First, some catalogs omit pricing altogether, either because the company manufactures products that it sells through distributors who establish prices above wholesale, or because the old saying “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it” applies to premium goods and the inclusion of price information would create a distraction. Some catalogs include pricing but restrict it to a small boxed area on the page or in the back of the book. Price updates also can raise concerns about the amount of text space required to represent cost data. If your inaugural catalog edition prices a sequence of items at $99.97, for example, you must plan your design to accommodate prices with three digits in front of the decimal point so increases above $100.00 don’t disrupt your fundamental layout.

Tip: When you include price information in a catalog, remember that your competitors will see your work and may use it to adjust their own pricing. If your industry engages in substantial amounts of price competition, consider displaying list prices and communicating a customer discount in a separate document, such as a cover letter.

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