The following tips were excerpted from Create Relevant Direct Marketing That Gets Results: More Ways to Profit with Digital Printing, by Xerox Corporation.
The biggest difference between designing for variable and static pieces is accommodating the different sizes of art and text that are called upon to populate variable pieces. In variable work, designers need to ensure that their designs work with all of the content that can possibly appear from piece to piece in a variable run.
In other words, you need to know what's in the database.
Varying the images in a design is fairly straightforward, because you size and scale images in advance to fit the available space.
Text is another story. You need text blocks that accommodate the longest possible copy, while still looking visually appealing when the segment is short. Even the simplest personalization by name presents this challenge. Consider accommodating both "Al Ho" and "Margaret-Frances Davidson-Smith."
In accommodating the highest possible character count, your design options include:
Centering names and keeping them all on one line.
Letting long names wrap to the next line, provided your variable information program supports word wrap. Also recognize that when names don't wrap, you'll have an extra blank line at the bottom of the page. One alternative is to use an "if-then" programming scenario to select a layout on the fly, one for names with more than 20 characters, one for names with fewer characters. Here again, check to see that your variable information program supports this capability.
Redesigning the piece may become necessary if some names don't fit. One solution: permit names that are too long to bleed into the margin.
Accommodations must be made for copy to fit from the top to the bottom of the page, as well. Options include:
Incorporating sufficient white space at the bottom of each page to account for the deepest possible columns.
Bouncing overflow copy to the next page. However, this has a ripple effect throughout all of the remaining pages.
Reducing the point size, the leading or both.
Changing to a condensed font.
Scaling the font horizontally.
Changing the space between letters.
Some of these solutions may prove to be less than aesthetically pleasing. The best way to judge that and to refine a variable layout is to proof every possible page that can be created. Some variable information programs include tools that simplify that proofing process.
Such digital tools help ensure that your designs are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also accurate, functional and ready for production.