Catalogs from Design Basics, a home-plan publisher based in Omaha, once grouped home designs primarily by architectural style. Although this organization was logical to architects and builders, it didn't make the most sense to prospective home buyers. So the company redesigned its product literature to reflect the needs of its customers.

President Linda Reimer discovered that home buyers are more interested in how a house functions than in its style; they were juggling a number of catalogs to find the few pages in each that fit their needs. Design Basics took the cue and now publishes a series of four home-design books called "Seasons." The new catalogs emphasize functional features appropriate for different age groups and geographic regions. For instance, a young family would look at "Spring," which features homes outfitted with mud rooms and nurseries; empty nesters can peruse the "Winter" volume to find designs with master bedrooms on the main floor and fewer stairs.

Departing from standard industry practice is paying off. "Anything that helps prospects make up their minds--and decide specifically on a Design Basics home rather than one from a competitor--is worth the effort," says Reimer. Reorganizing the catalog cost about 25% more than a typical update, but 1997 orders for home plans from these books came in 50% faster than those from previous catalogs.