Graphic design advice for handouts and pamphlets
August 8, 2007 2:37 PM   Subscribe

I work at a University in a department that produces a lot of handouts and pamphlets for students. The problem is that they're horribly laid out and look dated. I'm going to have an uphill battle to convince my co-workers that they need to be changed, so in preparation can I get any advice about what is involved in producing good handouts and pamphlets? Any answers that involve why MS Word clipart is bad are welcome.
posted by supercrayon to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Additionally, any answers that involve letting me know how to use MS Word clipart in an awesome way are also welcome.
posted by supercrayon at 2:38 PM on August 8, 2007

If it's in your purview, go out on a limb and redesign one of the simpler pamphlets as you see fit, then see if that initial effort sparks any interest. It's a lot easier to find a receptive audience if you're offering a solution than if you're pointing out a problem. Jump on it and see what happens!
posted by littlegreenlights at 2:52 PM on August 8, 2007

Could you get a hold of any student-produced material and use that as a comparison point?

Sadly, 'horribly laid out' and 'ugly as a pamphlet that was made from the ugly tree' are different problems. A useful pamphlet can be boring. Ugliness can be distracting from the message, though. What you want is that the message gets across and is accessible to the student that needs it. If there are actually problems in layout that make it less useful - eg, large chunks of text are generally bad, at least at the beginning of a pamphlet - then address those first.

LGL has the right idea: do a short one, rework it, and offer it as a comparison as well.

The younger generation processes information very differently than older generations - more visual, more interactive. I don't have links to back this up, but it seems like general web-design knowledge.

People are afraid of white space. Fill that white space with an empty box with a title 'Notes' if you like, because I know I've scrawled notes all over informative papers that didn't actually tell me something related that I needed to know.

The key to clip art is to use it like a condiment, not a side dish. Arrows, dividers? Fine. But never use clip art with people. The 'people' in clip art are aliens from the Convention Center Dimension, and human students can't relate to them.

PS: I feel your pain. I try to redesign museum exhibits with people who are afraid of diagonal lines.
posted by cobaltnine at 3:01 PM on August 8, 2007

Find some good examples from other departments or institutions. Most people have trouble imagining what something better would look like - you need to show them.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:07 PM on August 8, 2007

One thing I've noticed is that in amateurish looking pamphlets there is often a lot of crowding and too little white space on each page.

If you follow littlegreenlights' good advice, you might want to specifically highlight the difference that more white space can make; i.e., take a crowded pamphlet and redesign it so there's more clean white space on each page. Then let your co-workers compare them and see which is more readable.

In my opinion, that's one of the evils of MS Word clipart; it's not that there's necessarily anything intrinsically wrong with it, but having access to so many images means that people tend to cram way too many of them on each page.

[I am not a graphic designer, just someone who has also had to redesign ugly university pamphlets.]

On preview: cobaltnine's got it.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:08 PM on August 8, 2007

Show them what other departments like yours at other universities are doing. Show them what other departments at your own university are doing.

Also, I'm willing to wager that there's a university design/publications office at your institution that can help you with this. They could not only coach you, but even re-do them for you.

You don't have to say they're ugly, but explain that they could stand to be refreshed to keep up what kids these days are expecting. I think there was a thread about this a little while ago, and the basic idea was to show them something poorly designed, compared to something well-designed, and let them really see how it affects their perception and reading of the information. That's how their clients (students) will react too.

(on preview: joe's spleen)
posted by ml98tu at 3:11 PM on August 8, 2007

WHen I was a student, I had a job re-writing pamphlets and creating new ones. Go to your school's learning disability centre (or whatever). See if you can get some feedback from a couple of counsellors there. They will probably talk about how language, readability, whitespace and so on make it easier for students with disabilities. Then go to the centre for students with disabilities and ask for suggestions on how to improve it. Then dig up some information on branding and how it improves someone's likelihood to take information seriously (or to read it at all). You can probably find something in the Chronicle for Higher Education, too, in terms of making health / education info accessible to students. Present it all in a clean, crisp business case -- no more than 1-2 pages. Estimate all costs. Try to predict outcomes, if you can.
posted by acoutu at 3:23 PM on August 8, 2007

I think the main reason people rely on MS clip art is because the only "layout" program they know is Word, and clip art is easy to find/insert. Quark, InDesign, et al are intimidating to a lot of non-graphics folks. I'm not sure if there is a simpler alternative to these, but if you can train them on another program, you might get better results.

Else, set up a template in Word and encourage/mandate that they stick to it.
posted by desjardins at 3:27 PM on August 8, 2007

I'm not sure if there is a simpler alternative to these, but if you can train them on another program, you might get better results.

I am cringing as I type this, but MS Publisher might be a better option for your colleagues than Word or a more professional package like Quark/InDesign. I've never used it extensively but it seems relatively intuitive, particularly if you are familiar with Word.

Maybe some free stock photos would look better than the clip art. That might be a good start too.
posted by ml98tu at 3:32 PM on August 8, 2007

Do you have MS Publisher? Tooling around through their templates can help you define a style you're looking for. Likewise, pick up any print product, decide what you like or don't like about it and why. That's how I began my Marcom training with my boss. This isn't, strictly speaking, a graphics issue. Googling around for examples of or info about Marketing Communications or Print Design will help you more. Here's your new vocabulary.

Here's one guide to check out. I googled for booklet design tips.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:49 PM on August 8, 2007

See? Publisher. It's okay to use Publisher. I have the Adobe Professional Suite but I love using Publisher for casual jobs (as in, not the marketing materials for a money manager than I work on the rest of the time).
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:51 PM on August 8, 2007

Buy this book: The Non-Designer's Design Book

It's basically tons of simple tips like those have been posted, but with lots of illustrations of before and after employing them. The subject matter is mostly simple text based things like flyers and business cards.
posted by smackfu at 4:16 PM on August 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Does your university have an institutional design and/or PR service?

I work for the communications office at a large university. We have two arms: the editorial or PR side, which does releases and the facstaff newspaper, etc. (the more day-to-day news) and the creative side, which does everything from athletic posters to the course catalog. Our top priority in all situations is to help the university present a professional, CONSISTENT face to the public.

Because I work directly with the head of the whole operation, I can tell you that nothing drives us more nuts than someone who has the opportunity to use our services but didn't, and now has an inferior product. This goes mostly for news strategy, etc., but we see this every day in (especially) the junk put out by the police department, which is pretty much just like what you've described. One of the most important departments on campus, one which ESPECIALLY could benefit from having a consistently good public image, and they rely on Typestylers or something.

So contact your PR/news office and ask them who they use. Even if they go to an external agency, your department will benefit immensely by standardizing your efforts with those of the rest of the college. You'll gain a lot more respect, and I guarantee you that the PR folks will thank you.
posted by Madamina at 5:00 PM on August 8, 2007

Oh, yes, your internal communications department may be a good move. I had assumed there was no budget for use of it, though. YMMV.
posted by acoutu at 9:04 PM on August 8, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks all, I'm printing this thread out to use as ammunition at our next meeting!
posted by supercrayon at 4:15 PM on August 9, 2007

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