Pretty pictures, tiny type

anthropologie-catalog-3I’ve been noticing for some time a trend for catalogs to treat copy as extraneous. Product descriptions are often set in minuscule print, far away from the item photographed, and with no clear method of showing which bit of text corresponds to which image. Is the “essential top” the yellow T the model is wearing? Or the collared shirt she has on top of it?
Coincidentally, this week Dragonfly principal Sam Enslen mentioned that she’d received an Anthropologie catalog that made her crazy. She showed me a spread depicting three couches, photographed together. On the far opposite site of the spread were listed three names: Amalie Sofa ($3,298), Battersea Sofette ($2,998), and Patrizia Sofa ($5,998). There were also two rugs shown — one called a Plush Football (?) Rug ($598), and the other the Caspian Plateau Rug ($998).
But which was which, Sam asked? And if buyers are being asked to spend a thousand bucks for a 4×6 rug, or six thousand for a non-Ethan Allen sofa, should they really be asked to figure these things out themselves?
I told Sam I’d do my best to help unravel the mystery of the fine print. Here are her questions.
Q: Lexy, what is the deal with the tiny print in catalogs? Is it supposed to be more artistic?
A: Yes. It is just an unfortunate trend. It could be calculated to drive people to the website for more information. Clever, if so, but risky. Consumers are likely to be annoyed by cryptic copy.
Q: This seems like the classic example choosing form over function.
A: Precisely. If you want to send out a branding piece, to inspire or to incite curiosity, great. But don’t call it a “catalog.”
Q: Does the fact that this drives me crazy mean that I “just don’t get” the designers’ vision at Anthropologie or J. Crew — that I’m just an old fuddy-duddy?
A: No, not in my opinion! A catalog by definition should provide data. Vague or indecipherable descriptions frustrate rather than inform.
Q: Would it kill them to just put an “A” over one sofa, with a corresponding “A” next to the text that describes it?
A. Ha ha, obviously, no. It works because it’s clear and non-intrusive. Furthermore, it’s what people expect. Why take it away?
All we can do is hope that this trend will run its course, and we’ll someday get back to catalogs that inform rather than mystify.
Alexis Nesbitt is Dragonfly’s Art Director. She is the recipient of numerous ADDY, Marcom, and Hermes Creative Awards, including for her identity for Dragonfly. She is based in Dayton, Ohio, and recently bought a Rowe sofa, not one from Anthropologie.

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