Your Wallet Will Thank You: How to Avoid Design Flaws in Your Direct Mail Pieces

Direct Mail DesignWell, it happened again….

Another beautiful mailpiece with a major design flaw just landed on my desk.

Monday, it was a gorgeous 6 x9 postcard, inviting folks to an upscale dinner dance on behalf of a major charity.

Tuesday, it was a 3 ½ x 5 postcard for a small local firm.

And today I have yet another, for a non-profit that can’t afford to mail if they don’t get non-profit postage rates. This one is particularly heart-breaking because it is so lovely and so obviously classy – with glowing, jewel-like colors and a wonderfully eye-catching design.

What Went Wrong?

In each case, the designers omitted a crucial step in creating these pieces.

And such a simple step, too! They failed to show their beloved creation to an expert in postal regulations before finalizing the design.

“But…!” I can hear them spluttering now. “What expert? Who has time for this nonsense, anyway? I have deadlines to meet!”

Your lettershop, for one. I can’t swear by all the lettershops in the world, but we have a couple of folk here who can find ten flaws at ten paces (but then, we have been in the business for 30+ years). And if your lettershop is afraid of the responsibility of helping you, then you need a new lettershop.

Another place to get help is the US Postal Service Mailpiece Design Analyst (  While we all like to curse at the USPS once in a while for their arcane and overly-complex rules, they do sincerely try to be helpful.

A Bit of Schadenfraude

So what exactly was wrong with the mailpieces on my desk?

1. The major charity overlooked an essential bit of text in the permit imprint in the upper right corner – the words “Non-Profit Org”. Without those, they cannot mail at the highly discounted non-profit rates. Some solutions presented themselves, all of them imperfect – including affixing a non-profit pre-cancelled stamp over the imprint, or inkjetting the missing words above. Getting it right the first time would have been better.

2.Tuesday’s 3 ½ x 5 postcard was nearly stillborn. It had 4 lines in the addressing area, as if it was to be filled out by hand – but they wanted to mail 1000 of them! Needless to say, automated devices do not need lines to follow, and have a hard time avoiding them. And the space left for the address was so tiny it was impossible to place a barcode in the area mandated by the Post Office – meaning they could not get the discounted automated rates. It was almost worth re-printing the cards from scratch.

3. Today’s gorgeous piece omitted one teensy, tiny thing – the return address. Another arcane regulation insists non-profits include their return address on mailpieces in order to qualify for the super-low rates they labored so hard to get. We did find a small space where we could inkjet the return address – but I’ll bet the designer would have greatly preferred to make that particular decision herself!

Our Advice?

The USPS devotes dozens of pages to mailpiece design, and very few folks have all the particulars memorized. So, the next time you feel inspiration coming on, run it by an expert you trust early in the design process. Your wallet will thank you!