How to Design a Product Catalog Part 1

Layout and Functionality

By: Mitch Rhine

This is part 1 of a 3-part series dedicated to the design of a product catalog. In part 1, I’ll be discussing the importance of the functionality and layout.

How to design a product catalog: layout and functionality

In my 25 years of doing catalog design and layout, I’ve seen a lot of different kinds of catalogs. Some were laid out in Microsoft Word and others in Adobe Illustrator. These types of programs are not very cost-effective when it comes to laying out a catalog. It’s very cumbersome to revise text, images and even the design itself. If you ever plan on updating your catalog, I would steer clear of creating them using these types of programs.

When laying out a catalog, you should always use a page layout program such as Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress. These programs are made specifically for laying out catalogs as well as other types of documents with large page counts. They allow you to revise the text easily, update images with a click of your mouse, change the common elements on the page, and apply those changes to all of the pages in your document via a master page. This is a huge time saver!

When first starting out, I like to think of the catalog pages as a blank canvas. You’ll want to make sure that your design is creative, but more importantly, that it is functional. What I mean is that your customers have to be able to find what they are looking for quickly, and easily. I’ve listed some of the elements below that you need to consider when laying out a catalog.

Each of the following sections should be standard in the design of every product catalog. They help to visually sort and organize the products, and allow readers to find what they are looking for quickly.

Catalog design sections

Section Header

This is a header, usually at the top of the page, that quickly lets you know what section of the catalog you are in, and what type of products are on the page.

Footer

This goes at the bottom of your pages, and should include an ordering phone number, fax number, web address, company logo, and any other information that you would like customers to have easy access to. It’s important that you have some kind of contact information on every page, so that if a customer would like to order, they can effortlessly find a way to contact you.

Tabs

These are usually placed on the left and right sides of the pages, and can be color-coded, placed in descending order, or both. The nice thing about tabs are that, when the catalog is closed, you can clearly see each section by looking at the side of the catalog.

Page Numbers

If you’re designing a large catalog with a lot of pages, you can add a prefix to the page number. For example, the first section would start with page A-1, then A-2, A-3, and so on. The next section would start with page B-1, then B-2, B-3, and so on. Again, this would only be used when you have a lot of pages with large sections in your catalog. You can use a regular page number scheme for smaller catalogs, which is more common.

Design

Now that we have the content and functionality out of the way, we can begin to design the page. When designing pages for catalogs, you want to make sure that you leave as much room as you can for product presentation; after all, that is what you’re selling. You can design around each product display to make the presentation more visually appealing.

catalog design template

After you’ve added your design element to the page, you can start adding your products and begin to layout the pages by styling the product name, text, ordering blocks, and any other elements that will be standard to your page design.

Catalog product layout

Once a standard page design is complete, you can create style sheets for the headlines, subheads, body copy, image captions, and any of the other standard elements that will be on the pages. This will be key in the production of the catalog when you have multiple production artists working on the catalog at once.

If you’re interested in learning more about catalog production, stay tuned for part 2 of our series! I’ll be talking about designing the section intros and specialty pages of the catalog.

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