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The Content Dilemma, a story of bravery

One of the biggest challenges for organizations faced with designing a brochure is deciding what content to include. Some companies feel that the brochure should contain every last fact about the company, others try to weave a story that leads the reader through the brochure, and still others approach the brochure as a teaser, providing just enough juice to entice readers to visit the website.

When we were approached by the Richmond District YMCA, they too had struggled with this challenge, with several unsuccessful attempts to get a brochure design completed. We arrived at a solution together, and their willingness to take a risk and step out of their comfort zone impressed me – and the final product went on to impress board members and community members alike.

The Goal

The challenge for the YMCA was that they ran a very large number of varied programs, which they wanted to include information about, but this had always resulted in pages and pages of text, which they came to realize no one would ever read. They needed a brochure that conveyed warmth and the feeling of community, contained enough information about all the programs, AND that people could actually get through.  “That’s impossible!” I screamed, throwing the six pages of text that the board approved up into the air, kicking over my chair and storming out of the room. Ok, that didn’t really happen.

Here’s what really happened:

Our early meetings always seemed to run off-course when photos from the program activities were brought out. They were just a big pile of photos that several of the parents had taken on their own point-and-shoot cameras – some were low res, others were out of focus – but they helped me get a sense of the kinds of activities that were being put on. Too bad we couldn’t use them -  they were precious; kids goofing around with camp leaders, grinning big grins, making stuff out of clay… all good stuff – but the image quality was less than standard.

The Surprise Twist …

We all soon realized that these pictures would tell a much richer story than those six pages of text could ever hope to communicate, so we decided to scrap the text in favor of photos with accompanying quotations from the program participants. As  Cassandra Bodlack, Health and Fitness Director, said “It felt liberating to say ‘we don’t need all that text,’” and I was thrilled to see the project go in such a fun direction.

Ah, But the Plot Thickens …

As the brochure began to take shape we realized that many of the photos were quite low resolution, as they were taken on digital point-and-shoot cameras. Everyone loved the direction we were going in, and we had plenty of photography that was suitable for printing, but it seemed that the shots we were all in love with were of questionable quality. We talked this over and together we decided to go ahead with them. “The graininess of the photos makes the piece look more real,” said one board member.

And the Crowd Cheers! (the happy ending)

While we were on press with the piece, we went straight to the images of poorest quality. We knew they were not of high standard, and we were still concerned that some stakeholders would reject the piece once they saw the final product. But with fingers crossed, we signed off on the press sheets and left the printer to run the job.

When the finished brochures arrived from the printer, the feedback was glowingly positive. “The brochures look fantastic! The board members are still talking about them!” said Starr Terrell, YMCA board member and project lead. “Without Brad’s direction, the whole process would have taken a lot longer. And he was able to provide direction in a helpful and positive way that kept us moving forward.” – Awww, but I must also add that the folks at the Richmond District YMCA were great to work with. They took a chance by going with the approach we chose, and I think that even if the brochure had not been well received, they would have taken that in the positive good-spirited way in which they run their branch. Kudos to you!