The form and function of folds

BY CHUCK GREEN Folds are as important to your brochure design as illustrations, typefaces, and color. A smart layout heightens the drama with which your message is revealed to the reader.

How do you do it? Think of your information in slide show form—a presentation with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning grabs attention—a cover headline gets the reader interested. The middle presents the story—the details of your product or service and your offer. And the end asks for action—a specific response such as a phone call or a visit to your Web. The reader unfolds the printed sheet to reveal each part of your story step-by-step.

Before you begin writing and designing your next project, lay out your presentation by calculating the number of transitions necessary to tell the story. Then choose one of these designs or use them as a starting point to create your own variation. Some simple advance planning will help you maximize the drama with which your story unfolds.

1 > Map your message

Have lots of information to present? A map fold can reduce a large sheet to a compact size. You can recreate this 8-page version or make yours twice the size with double the number of panels. The cover (A) opens to a two-page spread (B) where you begin to develop your message. You might answer the cover headline with a subhead or splash an illustration across both pages. Spread B opens to reveal four pages—two over two.


2 > Roll out the story

If you have information that needs to be introduced a little at a time, a roll fold is the answer. The cover (A) opens to a two-page spread (B/C) where you present the first stage of your message—a subhead and text on the left page (B) and an illustration on the right (C). As the reader unrolls the sheet, the next two-page spread appears. You can add as many pages as necessary to accommodate your message.

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3 > Make the transition

Many of the most interesting layouts provide a transitional spread to draw you into the story. The cover page (A) presents the headline and page B serves as a transition to the body of text on spread C. The back covers of all of these layouts are typically used for the name, address, and other details necessary for getting in touch.


4 > Open the gate

Behind the cover (A) of this layout, is a two-page "gate" (B) that opens to a four-page spread (C). An illustration or subhead and text on spread B makes a nice transition between the cover and the text beyond the gate. Desktop publishing programs are particularly good for dividing text and graphics into all the panels of a sheet.


5 > Reveal the message

The cover (A) of this layout is shortened to allow you to reveal a little of what's inside (B) on the inside back panel (C). If, for example, you place a photograph in the B position, a slice of the photograph would show through as part of the cover (A). That way, the image on the inside also sets the tone for the outside.


6 > Think outside the box

These are just a few of the fold combinations possible. Your local commercial printer can show you many more. This layout demonstrates how something as simple as cutting the unfolded sheet at a slant (A) can produce attention-getting results. Your headline goes on the cover (B)—the rest of the brochure is divided into three distinct sections—1, 2, 3—you could even print the names of three different products or services on the tabs.


It pays to know commercial printers and their equipment. You may find that the press on which your piece will be printed could accommodate a larger or differently configured sheet than you first consider—and for just a marginal increase in cost. Find out, up front, what sheet sizes you have to work with and the design process will be that much more efficient and effective.

I constantly battle my instinct to use a standard approach, a standard layout, or a standard size—the “Everyone else does it that way, why shouldn't I” syndrome. To my way of thinking, one thing that separates average from good designers is the willingness to recognize that barrier and to break it.

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