Designing for Personalization

By | July 26, 2013

As those involved in 1:1 printing know, moving to a dynamic, data-driven workflow requires more than the integration of data. It requires adjustments in design that accommodate the potential impact of variation in the text and graphics being flowed into the template.

For example, when you are incorporating the name of the person into the text or design, you must adjust the design so that it will accommodate the name regardless of the space it requires. A design that accommodates the name “Jane” may not accommodate “Rumplestiltskin.” What happens to the layout if one of the names is unexpectedly long? What happens if it won’t fit into the space provided?

There are myriad issues like this, so whoever is designing the piece must be aware of the issues and have a plan to accommodate them.

The same applies to images. Unless all images used in the campaign have identical dimensions, some may be vertical, others horizontal, and yet others that need to be cropped or the formatting otherwise adjusted to fit the space. Designs and protocols must be set up to accommodate design elements with sizes that will change on the fly.

I’d love to hear your stories — complicated design issues you’ve come across, how you solved a particularly thorny 1:1 design issue, or 1:1 design mistakes you’ve witnessed in other marketers’ campaigns. Please share!

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5 thoughts on “Designing for Personalization

  1. Tim Hennings

    The design issues you identify are especially challenging in the world of print catalog personalization. Every page must be composed dynamically, because the data for each product is unique. There are variations in descriptions, attributes, image dimensions, variants, categorization, and other factors. Many catalogers are facing this challenge, particularly in B2B. You point out the need for 1:1 communications as one of the reasons. We list several more reasons in this article “Why Traditional Catalog Design Software No Longer Works for B2B” (

    I’m glad to see you’re interested in seeing examples. We have many interesting ones, which we will share soon.

  2. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    Thanks, Tim. Some of the other issues you mention in your blog relate directly back to personalization, such as the need for two images of certain products, particularly in niche markets, to show multiple applications for different audiences. That’s a 1:1 issue as well as an automation issue since catalogers would have multiple niche market audiences for the same catalog. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Howard Miller

    We ran into an issue on one project that required some out-of-the-box thinking.

    At first glance, it was a typical, color, variable self-mailer with multiple versions and various personalized options.

    The problem was with the fold. Because of the quantity (over 90,000 pieces), it needed to be trayed for the PO off the folder. But the address and tray separation code was on the underside of the piece as it came off the folder.

    The solution was to variably print the image on the front of the piece. At each tray break, we slightly changed the drop shadow on the front. The effect was subtle enough that the customer never even knew what we did, but it was obvious to the folder operator.

    Personalization is a great separator, but the details are very important.

  4. Diane Dragoff

    We use personalization on pledge cards. These include the person’s name, mailstop at a company, individual processing code, perhaps a company logo if a workplace campaign. The base print has to be laid out so that the pledge card can be scanned and filled in “bubbles”, change of address, credit card numbers can be read. The color of the boxes and bubbles has to disappear when the cards are scanned so that the data can be collected. Much preplanning has to go into each lot.

    In other cases, we will ask individuals to mail back a foldover card whcih is actually pages 3/4 of the pledge card. This has to be laid out so that the address will appear right side up when folded with the fold at the bottom. so that the USPS can process.

    While personalization and regionalization add additional steps in planning, just like every print project, start at the end and work backwards. Tease out all the places that things can go wrong and plan them so that they won’t go wrong. These projects generally take 2-3 times longer to plan than they do to print/imprint. Great planning makes the work go smoothly.

  5. Maria Del Amo

    You are addressing one of the main pain points for marketers and designers using variable data. We have encountered this issue many times, particularly with names and not so much with images. Our Graphic designers tend to work off a framework to make sure that images have the same aspect ratio. But names…that’s a different story all together!

    We often encounter this challenge when designing higher education campaigns because college names and/or student names can be quite long. The best approach to this dilemma is to look at your data field first, to understand the longest string and try to incorporate that variable into your deign composition. I hope this help 🙂

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