With the onset of desktop publishing, graphic design has become synonymous with any graphic made on a computer by anyone who has the tools to do it. On one hand, it’s a good thing. As a business owner, it puts graphic design at the forefront of your mind as something that is a necessary part of doing business. But on the other hand it adds a bit of confusion to what it is that graphic designers actually do and it’s made finding a reputable designer a bit harder. Not because reputable designers don’t exist, but because the value of what designers do has been diminished. Why pay good money for something that you could just do yourself, or get for super cheap, right?
I’ve worked with a number of small businesses and organizations, and I understand your concerns. I’ve encountered these two situations on a regular basis, especially if your business is operating on a very small budget:
1. You paid money in the past for sub-par work.
If you are taking the initiative to hire a designer, you want to be able to trust the designer knows what they are doing. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case. And like most things, you get what you pay for. If you skimp on your design and marketing budget, you most likely are paying for something that’s not going to give you a great return on your investment.
But there is a way to avoid this: How to Choose a Designer for Your Small Business »
2. You tried to D.I.Y. your visual identity
As designers, it’s one of our jobs to educate you on our expertise, why it’s important to hire a professional designer to bring your visual identity to life, and how it can benefit your business. This is especially important for small businesses who will benefit the most from smart design and marketing. I understand that doing it yourself may save you money in the short term, but you should also take into consideration Opportunity Costs: How much time you are spending trying to figure out the ins-and-outs of designing and crafting a visual identity that will work for you business? How much time did this take away from doing the things YOU are the expert at, like managing and running your business? What opportunities have you missed by not connecting with the right audience from the get go?
Why Design Matters
If you are a small business, or an organization with a worthy cause but a small budget, the need for a concise visual identity and smart strategy for your brand is even greater. Your brand probably isn’t as ubiquitous as most big brands, so when you engage with your audience you have to be impactful. The last thing you want is for your brand to send mixed messages about what you stand for. You should always strive to put your best foot forward since with a smaller budget, you probably have fewer opportunities to get your name out there. So with that in mind, you want to ensure that whatever you put out there is of the best quality.
Even if a complete branding system isn’t in your budget (though it should be!) here are some practices you should avoid and how you can address them. These design faux pas can send up red flags to your potential audience giving the impression that you don’t take your business seriously and that you don’t value quality:
Pixellated Images and Logos
When someone goes in for a job interview, they always make sure they look presentable and at their best. This is how you should think of any image you put out that represents your business or organization. Pixellated or grainy images and logos looks sloppy and like you don’t care enough about your business to ensure that your message is clear.
- Check the images you are using are the right resolution for the media you are using:
Resolution for Web = 72 dpi
Resolution for Print = 300 dpi (at full-size.)
- This means you can’t just pull images from the internet to use on printed pieces you are creating. Not only can it cause images to be blurry and pixellated, but you could be venturing into illegal territory if you are using copyrighted images. If you need imagery, you can purchase stock images from various sites that will supply you with images at the size you need at the correct resolution.
- How a Designer Can Help: Working with a professional designer ensures that you have the correct logo assets and files you need to create branded materials for your business, whether it’s as small as a postage stamp or as big as a billboard. A designer can also help coordinate with a photographer to create truly unique imagery for your brand that will not only be great quality, but is custom tailored to the look and feel of your business and will also resonate with your audience.
Too many fonts/typefaces
Using too many fonts/typefaces is confusing and detracts from your message. Just because they are available to use, doesn’t mean you have to use them. In most cases, less is more.
- When in doubt, just stick to one or two typefaces. Try to use them consistently and with purpose.
- If you are changing typefaces to try and emphasize different elements, remember this: If you try and emphasize everything, you emphasize nothing. Ask yourself, what is the most important piece of information that I’m trying to get across?
- How a Designer Can Help: Most designers are typography crazed and know an obscene amount about them. There is a long history and culture around fonts and typefaces that the average person is most likely not aware of, despite the fact that it probably influences them daily. Communication designers are hyper aware of how people interact and respond to typefaces, the historical and cultural references that surround a particular typeface, and therefore know the appropriate uses for them when creating a brand identity. Designers also know how to work with typography and are masters at seeing how letterforms interact for optimal legibility.
Too many “visual effects”
With any design decision, I ask myself – “why?” What is the reason? What am I trying to accomplish? When adding visual effects to something, whether it’s a photo, text, logo or an element on a website, you should always consider what value it’s adding to the piece. Again, I would emphasize, less is more. Don’t add things, “just because.” You might think it’s harmless, but it could be adding a layer of complexity to your message that could be getting in the way of someone engaging with your brand.
- Ask yourself “why?” and if you can’t come up with any other reason than “because I like it” or “it just needs… something”, then it might not be a wise design decision.
- How a Designer Can Help: A designer will ask the right questions to get to the root of the problem you are trying to address. They can offer up solutions that not only solve your problem but ones that won’t detract from your message.
Inconsistency across visuals
This is basically an amalgam of all the red flags listed above. When the visuals that represent your business are all over the board, it dilutes the impact of your brand and your message. You may or may not be a fan of Apple products, but we all have to agree that they have a strong visual brand. You look at anything Apple creates and it looks like it’s, well… made by Apple. There is no confusion about it.
You may not have the funds for an in-house design team to create big fancy campaigns that cater to a large and diverse demographic, but you do have control of making sure that whatever you put out there is consistent across all media by having in place a solid, well-thought out, and meaningful brand identity that engages your audience and works across all media. Your business will not only be more successful, but easier to market and manage because of it.