Often small businesses will rush out to their corner print shop and get the cheapest business cards and stationery printed and throw up a web page and wonder why they’re not gaining any traction after six months. Or a business that’s been around for a while will decide that they can finally “afford” a new logo. Or even worse, a company may decide that it’s going to stick with the logo that the 12-year-old daughter of the founder drew 50 years ago, regardless of how horrible it was even then, because “that’s who we are.”
This kind of thinking always makes me scratch my head. In all of these cases, these companies have lost far more business in dollar value than they would have spent on good design if they had done it right in the first place. And, once the decision is made to hire a professional and do it right, that doesn’t even include the cost of reprinting stationery and sales materials, redesigning the web site, having new signage constructed and losing market equity/familiarity with the old logo and branding (it may be awful, but it’s recognizable, nonetheless).
When I first entered the field of PR and marketing three decades ago, there was plenty of bad design, but the bad design was committed by bad designers. Now that technology has made it so much easier and less expensive for the masses to do things such as design their own logos, printed materials and web products, bad design has also become much more democratic and ubiquitous.
Want bad design? Do it yourself
The purpose of this post is not to give you a primer on good design, but rather to tell you why bad design is causing you to lose business. Yes, I know that — to some extent — what is “good” or “bad” is subjective, and many who read this will not recognize that their own design is “bad.” While hiring a professional designer does not guarantee that you will get good design, in most cases, the opposite is true: doing your own design almost always guarantees that you will get bad design.
Here’s how bad design can hurt:
1) Bad design is confusing. It causes people to miss your message. Studies show people will leave a web site in 5-30 seconds if they can’t navigate it easily. If they get to your site and can’t figure out what to look at first. In this extreme example, everything screams for your attention, it lacks organization and unity and there’s no white space to provide visual rest. With this site, someone wanted to show that they knew how to use Flash and sound, making it not only visually annoying and difficult for SEO, but also an assault on your ears.
2) Bad design inhibits the development of trust. Bad design looks amateurish. It communicates that you are cheap, fly-by-night, unwilling to invest in your company or just plain ignorant. While there is much, much more to branding than a logo, a professionally designed logo that communicates your company’s essence is the cornerstone for the development of a brand identity. Skimping on this step will not only cost you customers when you start your business, it will cost you much more to go back and correct this vital step later. Do not delegate this to a print shop, a friend’s teenage son or some other well-meaning but inexperienced person. And for goodness sake, do NOT have a logo contest among your employees or customers! That is business suicide. You are then boxed into a no-win situation. You’ll be stuck with an unprofessional logo, regardless of who designs it, and if you don’t use it, you’ll surely upset not only the person who designed it but everyone who entered the contest. And if you DO use it, you’ll be hurting your company. Just. Don’t. Do it.
3) Bad design affects the way your company is perceived on a visceral level. Communication is not all from great copy. What a page looks like says as much — or more — than the words contained there. Just ask any great advertising agency. Components such as the use of color, type, white space, graphics and layout all affect the final outcome. What mood do you want to convey about your business — do you want to be perceived as fun? Quirky? Conservative? Trustworthy? Is your design consistent with your industry? If not, are you breaking “the rules” on purpose? Does it work?
4) Bad design makes you forgettable, or else it’s memorable for the wrong reason. You want your sales materials, web site, Facebook Fan Page and brochure to have the “wow” factor, not the ‘huh”? factor. If you don’t stand out from everyone else or your brand stands out because it’s terrible, you’re losing.
5) Bad design isn’t satisfying. Have you ever been to a web site looking for specific information — perhaps you were even ready to buy — but the site was so difficult to navigate that you left without buying? That’s the cost of bad design. Making sure that it loads quickly, that there are no dead links, that you can get back to “home” easily and that it functions as it should sounds simple enough, but this is all part of good design. Sometimes we forget that making it pretty is secondary to making to work. Making it work is also good design.
If I haven’t convinced you yet that bad design can kill your business, or conversely, that good design can enhance your business, you must look at this video of a talk by Jacek Utko at the TED Conference series. If you’re not familiar with TED, TED Talks is a podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where leading thinkers and doers give 18-minute talks. Jacek Utko is a European newspaper designer whose redesigns win awards and increase circulation by up to 100 percent.