FEATURE : Do your print materials make sense in a web-driven world?

This fall, the Convention Center in Baltimore hosted a College Fair with over 300 colleges and universities. These types of fairs continue to be a popular means for parents and their children to get an overview of a wide range of institutions and begin the process of narrowing the field. Visitors leave the fair toting bags filled with college literature that they’ll review later at home.

We’ve taken a peek inside one of those bags, collected by Theresa, our pre-press manager, for her college-bound daughter. We expected the materials to focus heavily on the Big Idea—the defining statement that separates the college from its competitors and that sends the reader to the website hungry for more details. Surprisingly, few of the materials achieved that goal. In fact, we saw print pieces that could have been designed for a pre-Internet audience.

We’ve prepared a list to help you think through the role of print materials in a web-driven world.

1. Say one thing, and say it well. Remember that your university has a website chock full of details your readers need—details that can be updated the minute something changes. Let your publication deliver one important and memorable message. If you do that well, audiences will remember your institution and visit its website to learn more.

2. Complicated folds are not a substitute for an idea. Extreme, complicated folds rarely help deliver a message (unless your message is, our institution is a confusing place). Why make your readers work so hard? Our job is to engage, not frustrate. Keep the folds—and the ideas—simple and direct.

3. You need a reason to make it big. Oversize publications do not guarantee you will be remembered. When Cornell designed an oversize publication with the words “The Big Red Book” on a solid red cover, they hit the mark. If size helps you deliver a message, then go for it. Otherwise, you’re just shouting—and squandering your communications budget in the process.

4. The cover has to be great. The cover is the gateway into a publication and your opportunity to grab the reader’s attention. We loved this cover copy on the financial aid brochure for the New York Institute of Technology: “If you have a rich cousin who’s going to pay for your college, you really don’t need to read this.” Nothing less than your best thinking, writing, art, or photography belongs on the cover.

5. Logos are not cover solutions. Displaying your college name or logo on a cover, with or without a campus shot, is the quickest way to be forgotten. (See item number 4.)

6. Kids want clarity, too. Teen culture may seem complicated, but publications that appeal to the college-bound student still need to communicate clearly. It’s never a good idea to run tiny type around corners and into busy areas of a photo, or to set copy in hard-to-read fonts and colors. That’s not edgy. That’s just wrong.