How might a printed catalog become something more than a boilerplate product list that wastes paper and takes up space? How might it serve a design-driven company and their clients in ways that the web cannot? How could it become a keepsake that resonates with landscape architects? How could a company in the midst of great change use such a piece to show their continuity with the past and plans for the future without alienating or confusing existing customers?
When Anova commissioned me to conceive and design a new printed catalog, these questions were our point of entry. The company had recently undergone a complete rebrand and repositioning; they even had a new name. Since 1970, their reputation had been built on high quality, comfortable outdoor furnishings and excellent customer service. Those attributes weren’t going anywhere, but they had begun to pour their energy into growing as design leaders and strategic partners for landscape architects and property developers. The catalog was their most important printed marketing tool, and we had an opportunity to show Anova’s amplified commitment to design while also assuring customers that the company they knew and trusted was changing for the better.
Sometimes the best way to invite a reader to open the front cover is by leaving things out, or as industrial designer Dieter Rams says, by using “as little design as possible.” So what did we do? We proposed a cover for a product portfolio that had no products on it. Abundant white space, spartan typography, and a mix of glossy and velvet textures invite the reader to see what’s inside. A subtle pattern of clear varnished dots hint at steel patterns in Anova’s benches and tables. To my surprise, the CEO said yes – though it took a little gentle persuasion.
Product and narrative
It was evident that attractive layouts and photos of tables, benches, chairs, and the like would only take us so far. Those products have no story to tell in an of themselves. After a while, people get bored and the catalog is tossed away. In order to increase the likelihood of a sales conversation actually taking place, an additional layer of meaning was necessary. We needed a human element that would break up the product content and reinforce Anova’s new design-led philosophy.
I interviewed accomplished designers and creative leaders, asking them to talk about a product they love and why they love it. With the help of expert writer Penny Benda, we transformed these interviews into single-page essays that are scattered throughout the book. The final essay was a candid conversation with Anova CEO Eric Gilbert.
During the rebranding process, Anova had identified five brand pillars that would drive every decision in their business: beauty, comfort, quality, responsiveness, and integrity. I told them that these five values were their x-factor, or rather their 5x factor. That concept was tied into the designer interviews; they could talk about any commercial product as long as it embodied all five values. Before each essay, we unpacked one of Anova’s five x-factors. This allowed us to reinforce their values throughout the book in a way that wasn’t overwhelming or annoying. And with the help and guidance of Anova’s creative team, we commissioned new photography of workers in one of Anova’s two Midwestern production facilities. These images of steel, sparks, and cardboard balance the more staged product photography.
To differentiate types of content and enhance the tactile qualities of the book, we paired contrasting paper stocks. Products jump off the page thanks to smooth glossy paper, and everything else is made perfectly legible by a lightly textured uncoated stock.
Designed for longevity
Rather than printing hundreds of thousands of brochures on crappy paper, we printed far fewer with nicer, more memorable materials. Instead of showing every single product and churning out a new catalog every year or every quarter, we designed this portfolio to last for two years, and to focus on highlights and bestsellers from each collection. We simply prompt readers to visit the website for more.
In order to create the most value within Anova’s budget, I designed layouts for six product collections ranging from small to large. These served as templates that Anova’s in-house design team used to flesh out the remaining 23 collections. Since this portfolio was introduced in 2012, Anova’s designers have used the same format for the main catalog as well as new product supplements.
This catalog has been very well received by landscape architects, and has proven instrumental in demonstrating Anova’s commitment to making furnishings that are designed for people and built for life.
Finally, this work would not have been possible without design support from Jason Tasso. This case study is also dedicated with gratitude to Eric Gilbert, Katherine Wilson, and Jared Stinehagen – some of the best clients a designer could ever wish for.
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