Designing a Tri-Fold Brochure


I set out to builda bona fide tri-fold brochure for Upswing. Something legitimate and grown-up (ie. not in Word). So, what I did was copyone thing (a template, a dribbble shot, …)and thenanother, until I had a good looking prototype of brochure. Then, I threw that out and started fresh. And, by “fresh”, I mean I copied some other, different things. I gotsome good copy (lame pun intended) from theteam, and enlisted a local printer to help me with the finishing touches. Voila.


The long:

Let’s start with a quote from a Christopher Nolan movie, and see if you can guess which one:

Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.

Thissoundbyte occurred to me because if you think that this trifold I built turned out too pretty for an amateur, that I deserve a designer account on Dribbble, and that you couldn’t do this yourself – well you’ve been fooled. (and if you think instead that I just wasted a paragraph patting myself on the back, well you’re kind of right).

So, let me complete the train of thought: First, I could show you an amateur in Adobe InDesign (that’s me) who just downloaded it for the first time, just for this project. That’d be the Pledge. Then, the Turn is the tri-fold design you see above. There is no Prestige because you aren’t going to clap. If there had to be a Prestige, then it would be the actual brochure, in your hand, which turned out great – thanks to a local printer that bent over backwards to help me.

How to:

1. Know what you want to say.

In my case, this was brochure 2.0, and I could work off the Word version:


Regardless, make sure you know your message. In our case, the message was meant toinform the reader of the service we provide and how it solves a problem he or she has (a retention problem). In most cases, a web page already exists to share this message – it sure as hell should. Quick tangent: Are you sure you need a brochure? So far, at Upswing, we still have to pitch our services in person, to a group of decision-makers at the university or college. That is old school, yes? So, the trifold was like a brief outline of our pitch. It also served to thicken the “proposal folder” – a description of our services, our pricing, and so on. Along with everything else in this folder, a fine-tuned, well-printed, brochure helps to evince credibility, experience, and know-how; it looks as if we’ve been doing this a while. Our brochure islike a nice business card for our software platform. Again, if you’re not exchanging business cards with your customers, then you probably don’t need a brochure.

2. Go digging for inspiration

So check out some websites that you think do a good job. Such as:

3. Take every stinkin’ shortcut you can (which means buy a template, or two, or three).

I bought this one:

01-f 04-f

Check out dribbble, of course:


WWJD (What would Jobs do)? He’d tear your work to pieces and call it shit, maybe without looking at it, and demand that you do it better.

I was reading the Steve Jobs book while I was working on this. Soon after I was finished, I got to this story: an Apple employee walks into his office to show him some code he’s written or a userinterface he’s developed, and Steve, after barely glancing at it, tells the employee it’s complete shit, try again (more or less). When Walter Isaacson, the author and interviewer, asks Steve why he did this, Jobs’ response was “I just knew he could do better”. Then, in an interview with that employee, years later, the same employee reflects on the exchange and admits that, although Steve Jobs was cold and obnoxious in that encounter, he was ultimately right; the next iterationof his work was significantly better (I’ll have to check for a direct excerpt from the book – look for it in the comments).

Save your iterations though – I would like to post my original here, but I seem to have overwritten it.

Use a better template. Use a betterhero graphic. Use a betterfont. Give it a betterstructure.

I used some design elements from this – also purchased on Creative Market:


Find someone to hold your hand through the finish (the printer).

I used a printer in upstate New York, PBR Graphics. Rob Collum, the master printer there, spoke with me about a dozen times, as he first helped me add a plugin to InDesign that would generate the right sized canvas and guidelines. Then, he worked with me to make things pixel perfect – he would print one, and make sure that the colors did not bleed past the fold, but covered the fold (the fold itself has a width, you’ll find out).


I would like to stress the need to iterate on your project. If you think you did well enough the first time around, you’re wrong.