Direct Mail Design: Layout

Designing for direct mail can be broken up into three segments: layout, color/images and copy. Since this can be a real challenge, we will take on each section in depth to give you a better understanding and some ideas as well as tips to get you started on the path to a great direct mail piece. To start, let’s talk about the layout.

Designing for direct mail can be broken up into three segments: layout, color/images and copy. Since these can all be real challenges, we will take on each section in depth in separate posts to give you a better understanding and some ideas, as well as tips to get you started on the path to a great direct mail piece.

Section One: Layout
So you need to design your next direct mail campaign and are having trouble with ideas. Sometimes the best ideas in direct mail design have already been used.

The first thing you can do is look at the mail that comes to your home or business (or check out some mailpieces at Are there examples that stand out to you? There is no shame in taking a direct mail piece that you received and making it your own. Of course, sometimes the opposite is true and you get inspired by a really horrible piece.

Here are eight questions to ask yourself as you are contemplating design layout:

  1. What pieces do you like best? What about co-workers and family?
    This base will provide you with enough information and perspectives to start.
  2. Does a certain design function better than another?
    Practicality and mail ability are both big factors here. Making sure ahead of time what will work for the post office and what won’t is a real time and money saver.
  3. How were images or color used to draw your attention?
    Note each one and how you feel or interpret what they are trying to convey. Does it compliment the message or detract from it and why?
  4. What language was used to get you curious?
    Analyzing the word structure and your reaction to it is a great way to identify what your word choices should be.
  5. Was the offer compelling?
    Sometimes the offer may be compelling, but if it is not what you are interested or already have it, you will not buy it. Targeting your messaging to the correct audience is key.
  6. Were the important points and call to action organized and clear?
    This is very important, you can really learn what to do and not to do by looking at the offer you receive.
  7. What types of response mechanisms were available?
    The more the better. Include as many as you can and make sure some of them are mobile. People are using tablets and phones for most of their search and buying needs. Plus, you will benefit from instant gratification. They want it now!
  8. How can you make this piece better?
    Make a list of all the things you would change and why. Have others do the same and compare notes. You will gain insight into how your piece should look.

When designing your mail piece, are you taking all of these factors into consideration? Have you looked at your piece through the eyes of your recipient? Remember there needs to be a very strong “what’s in it for me?” for your prospects/customers.

Have someone outside of your organization look at your layout to make sure the message you are trying to convey is coming through. Direct mail is very visual and tactile; you need to capitalize on that.

Author: Summer Gould

A blog about Direct Mail Marketing, tips, tricks and what not to do.Summer Gould is President of Eye/Comm Inc. Summer has spent her 27 year career helping clients achieve better marketing results. She has served as a panel speaker for the Association of Marketing Service Providers conferences. She is active in several industry organizations and she is a board member for Printing Industries Association San Diego, as well as a board member for Mailing Systems Management Association of San Diego. You can find her at Eye/Comm Inc’s website:, email:, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter @sumgould.

2 thoughts on “Direct Mail Design: Layout”

  1. I understand how and why you broke this down into three parts, but you do a disservice to your audience because it implies the three steps are separate and occur in sequence.

    A good designer works hand in hand with the writer and develops concepts based on the marketing strategy and audience the DM piece is to speak to. The copy and layout work together and CAN NOT be separated into part one and part two. The creation of successful direct mail doesn’t happen in separate silos. They must be developed together so that one enhances the other. The artwork, print format, fonts, layout, response mechanism, call to action, offer etc. are very deliberate choices to enhance the concept and message of the piece.

    A good DM piece pulls the reader through the pieces having him or her see the information in a specific order understanding how people take in information. If done well, art, copy and layout enhance the product or service they are selling, not just show it.

    All elements are put together with the recipient in mind. I call it putting yourself in the shoes of the prospect—not many can do this, but it’s critical to the success of the campaign. Too many times people are too close to the product and want to talk features and not benefits.

    I know you are separating this to try and make it easy for your audience to understand, but that’s not how successful direct mail creative works. This is why some creatives are good at direct mail and others are not. It’s why hiring an expert team (copywriter and designer) should be high on your list. There is too much expense with printing, postage and mailing to take a chance not hiring experts.

  2. Great article and tips, Summer! You’re spot on when you said direct mail is very visual and tactile. A well-designed, creative direct mail piece can drive a connection between a brand and a consumer, increasing their loyalty and possibly gaining new brand ambassadors. I’ve got another question to add to your list – are you blending print and digital? In my opinion, some of the most successful direct mail campaigns are the ones that integrate both! Print is becoming more interactive than ever through the use of digital elements, like QR codes or Purl’s, that link smart phones directly to interactive digital media. Increasingly, we’ve seen that it’s imperative for printed pieces to be interactive, cutting-edge and personalized, in order to further drive that important connection. Print makes emotional connections and memorable impressions in this fast-paced, always-on world. Getting your message noticed in today’s oversaturated media world is an ongoing challenge, but a little creativity and a well thought out design can help make it easier to cut through the clutter and reach the end user. – Shelley Sweeney, VP/GM Service Bureau/Direct Mail Sectors, Xerox

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