Large Catalogs: Work Smarter, Not Harder

Posted by on Aug 20, 2010 in Print Design | No Comments

Designing a catalog of any size can be a daunting exercise in organization. There’s the product photography, descriptions, pricing and item specifications to consider. Multiply that by a thousand or so items and the project may look a bit more like preparing to climb Everest.

But, never fear. With the help of a good plan and the right tools, catalogs can come together quite painlessly.

If you’re using a designer for your layout, make sure they are familiar with the “data merge” method of catalog design. This method uses the power of  a  database to do the heavy lifting. The designer can create the layout “rules” for the catalog and then watch as literally thousands of pages build themselves.

Sounds easy, right?

It is. But only if you plan well.

The data merge method relies on your product data and images being organized first. A client can save him or herself many hours of design time by organizing each product into one row in an excel file with a column for each type of data. If you already have a database driven website, you can save a great deal of time by downloading that database and adapting it to your catalog.

large catalog spread

The real benefit to database driven catalog makes itself known when changes are required. With traditional catalog design, a little change like moving from four items per page to six items per page would have to be performed manually. Depending on the size of your catalog this could be dozens of hours. With data merge design, the designer changes the “rules” and generates a new catalog. The same is true if your catalog changes from 8.5×11 to a half sheet. The rules can be changed and the catalog regenerated.

Future catalogs can also be produced at much lower cost since the client can simply remove and add products in the excel document before involving a designer.

A well made catalog will still require some special touches after the big build. You may want bookmarking, section markers, highlights, featured products and more. But with the data merge method, the tedious work can be automated and a framework established for the future.

If your product data is not already in database form, this method of design may seem more of a hassle at first. Rest assured, once you make the effort to organize this way, the opportunities for time and money savings will present themselves again and again.

If you’re a designer and aren’t familiar with the Data Merge method in InDesign, we recommend this video tutorial.