Keep it clean.
Be clever with how you use the space available.
And never make it hard for readers to spot the buy button.
That's the advice Xindao's Senior Graphic Designer, Agnes Heinrichs, has to give retailers designing online catalogs for digital spaces.
And she knows what she's talking about.
Agnes, an educated marketer who started designing for fun (creating leaflets for discos) is now an accomplished graphic designer in her own right.
She's worked at Promotional Products Supplier, Xindao, for the last 16 years and oversees the production of two big catalogs per year, plus several smaller productions in between.
"Usually when it's time to make a catalog, I'll think of a concept and then the four person graphic design team realizes it," says Agnes. "I make sure everything is coherent, that while every designer has room for their own style, overall there's a unity throughout the catalog."
Maybe it's the decades of experience that sets Agnes' sense of style and catalogs apart, but she insists inspiration can come from anywhere.
"It can be anything," Agnes explains. "A detail I spot on someone's clothes, a color that catches my attention. But always, at the center of my focus is the fact that we're in the business to sell products. So we need to be strategic about how we tell our visual stories."
After every catalog the team gets feedback from the sales department, with sales numbers, conversions and social engagements. That way the graphic design and marketing team evaluate every production, every catalog and consider how they can improve on the next one.
Create As Much As You Can Yourself
Agnes recommends keeping as much creative control of your retail catalogs in-house as possible, to make sure the look of the catalog is more coherent.
"We have a freelance photographer who comes in, but otherwise it's all us," Agnes insists. "We even do all our product shots here in the office. Sometimes, when we need atmospheric shots we need to go as far as pushing desks aside and making the place look like someone's house."
Trust Your Instincts
Agnes' catalogs are actually fairly easy to spot. Her style is minimalist, new and there isn't a stock image in sight.
But any graphic designer can tell you that one of the biggest challenges to designing a catalog is keeping your vision intact and all the various stakeholders happy.
"This might sound bad but, when I'm designing I have to like the look of the catalog first and foremost, the audience comes second," says Agnes. "Because in many ways, you have to speak for the product and let it sell itself to the audience."
"Sometimes it's hard to handle all the opinions and comments from different directions," she adds. "Especially if you're convinced about your work and think it'll work as a design. But that's the fate of graphic designers, you're vulnerable when you create something. It's not easy. Still, sometimes the feedback actually points out something you didn't notice."
Be User Friendly Or Don't Bother
"My best advice to fellow designers, people out there who also create catalogs, is to be as user friendly as possible," she says.
Note the 4-grid layout of each page in the Xindao catalog below, which is especially good for mobile users.
Also important, insists Agnes, is not to bombard readers with a lot of content at once, "Be thoughtful about what you include and what you don't so you give readers a clear message. And make sure you have your search optimization in order!"
Have Fun With It
"Once our catalogs are uploaded to iPaper, it's really like a playground. Our main focus is how to make the catalogs as visually appealing as possible," Agnes explains. "What's great about it, compared to the print catalogs is that it allows us to include our product videos and animations and so forth. Of course, the idea is pretty much the same, both in print and online, we are trying to tell a story. The strength is being able to tell the story in different mediums."
"My advice is that there's no point in looking at how other businesses or companies do things. We all have our own style, every brand has its own voice and its own way of doing things. The best thing to do is just focus on making your catalog as good as possible. Focus on creating your own atmosphere."