Sunday, 17 May 2009

The sorrow and the pity of poor creative

Looking through a small home decor catalogue I received this weekend made me sad. No, not because I don't have the budget to buy any of its wares (though now that I think about it, yes, that does make me a bit woebegone as well). What depressed me was the unfulfilled potential of the brand.

I'm not going to name the catalogue, because I don't want to shame an entrepreneurial effort. But after reading through the entire 36-page book I'd hazard a guess that the owner figured her expertise in merchandising and sourcing as well as her good taste in decorating were all she needed to produce a successful brochure. Alas, it isn't. 

Take the inside front cover: a lifestyle shot showing more than a half-dozen products in a room. The photo isn't high quality, however, so it's tough to make out the features of some of the items. And there's no key--no letter "A" next to an item that corresponds to the "A" next to the product copy. Making matters worse, one of the products--some sort of floor vase or candle holder, I think--is positioned next to the items that are for sale and is featured just as prominently, but it's not described. If it's not for sale, why is it displayed alongside the items that are?

Most of the pages that follow do include keying of the product shots to the copy, but the letters aren't always easy to find. Staring at one photo in search of "C", I felt like I was working on one of those "find the hidden objects" drawings that  appear on the paper place mats at child-friendly restaurants. 

A callout for one of the furniture ranges notes that it is "beautifully finished in black lacquer with a distressed edging detail". The photos are neither large enough nor clear enough that I could make out the edging detail, however. Before I consider paying £490 for a dining table, I want to see that distressed edging, to make sure it's not too distressed for my taste. 

Some of the products appear as silhouettes floating amid white space. This provides no sense of scale. A bamboo stool looks to be three-quarters as tall as an eight-shelf bookcase it appears opposite; looking at the dimensions in the copy, I see that it's not even one-third of the size. 

There's more: A lamp shade is described as "a beautiful gold", but in the photo it looks pink. A tablecloth is said to "come in two neutral colours", but only one shade is shown, and no names of the colourways are provided. Sometimes the upper right corner of a spread is used to show off what I assume is a popular product, in keeping with best practice for the use of catalogue hot spots, but on some spreads this precious real estate is wasted on a list of product dimensions and SKU numbers or on small, awkwardly cut-out photos of generic throws and coasters. A £535 armchair and a £760 sofa are together allotted one-quarter of a page--that may be the result of effective square-inch analysis in Bizarro World, but not here.

Often catalogues that get so many things wrong make me angry; I tend to take them as a personal affront, as if the creators intentionally went about insulting my intelligence and taste. But as I mentioned, this one made me sad. Because it's obvious that the products were lovingly selected and styled; that serious coin was spent on the paper stock; that the company really does aim to please ("We know you just can't wait to lay hands on your purchase, so we do our utmost best to despatch all orders within 24 hours"--how sweet is that?). And yet there's no way I'd take a risk in ordering one of these far-from-inexpensive items on the basis of this weak creative.--SC

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