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Graphic Design 101

Graphic Design - PensAlmost every business needs graphic design. Whether you’re a small home business with just a website and a few business cards, or a shop with 10 locations – you will want to produce marketing materials that your customers can see and read.

Examples of where you will need graphic design include:

  • Logos
  • Business cards
  • Flyers
  • Signage
  • Website design

To do this, you will probably want to employ a graphic designer. You can either go to a marketing agency that has designers on staff, or you can choose a freelancer. There are quite a few on Vancouver Island – ask us if you want some names.

1. Why is graphic design important?

Graphic design is often overlooked when starting a business but it is very important to how your business is perceived.

A business needs customers, and unless you are fortunate enough to have them queuing out the door for your services, you will want to tell potential customers that you exist. You will want to do this in a clear way that makes your business appear attractive to them.

This is where graphic design comes in. Graphic design reflects you and your business. It tells the customer who you are and what you do. It communicates either directly (by text on a flyer or website) or indirectly (via imagery, colour choice and layout). The better your graphic design, the more it communicates exactly what your business is about.

Not just a logo

Graphic design is much more than just a logo, it’s about your entire brand. Big companies will spend millions of dollars on adjusting people’s perceptions of their company, but it’s just as important to those with smaller budgets.

It is worth thinking about how you want your company perceived. What words do you want your customers to think of when they see your logo, website and flyers? This type of information is invaluable to a designer trying to make your business ideas fit with your imagery (it can be included in your design brief – see below).

Here’s an example for two tech companies:

Company 1 is a cutting-edge app development company designed to appeal to people that are never far away from their cellphone. They want to be seen as modern, cool, savvy, fast, young and exciting.

Company 2 is a training company that helps elderly people use modern technology. They want to be seen as approachable, knowledgeable, patient and caring.

Both are technology-based companies but the ‘look and feel’ of their graphic design will be different to appeal to their respective audiences.

If you think of a company you like say Apple or Tim Hortons? What do you think of? Much of how you perceive a company is how they have chosen to represent themselves, i.e.: graphic design. Yes, you are being manipulated by imagery!

2. Why use a graphic designer?

These days, anyone with a copy of Photoshop (or worse, Publisher) thinks they’re a graphic designer.

Many people ask someone with computer skills (usually a reluctant family member) to design a logo or a website for them. Some of these are great but often this approach makes your business look amateurish and unprofessional. You might want to ask them if they know about resolutions, the difference between RGB, CMYK and Pantones, and when to use a JPEG and when to use a PNG. These are just the basics. If you get head scratching, you should probably go professional.

Graphic designers are usually both talented and very highly skilled at making your business look good to the right people. That is what they do. They went to college for that exact purpose and most will have heaps of experience. If you were in a court room, you would probably pay a professional lawyer to help you not ask your cousin to help out in his spare time.

3. Choosing a graphic designer

Okay, so you’ve decided you need to get some graphic design done. Good for you! But with so many graphic designers – how do you choose the right one?

Here’s some DOs:
  1. Check out their previous work. Many (not all) graphic designers will have a portfolio online. If you like their work or it seems to fit the style you are looking for, then drop them a line.
  2. See who they have worked with. Some graphic designers and agencies will have particular specialism in a field or area. Alternatively, you might want a fresh approach from the competition and go for someone without any experience in that field.
  3. Choose someone you think you can work with. Your relationship with your graphic designer is crucial. The better your partnership, the better the results will be. They usually like coffee so buying them a coffee to discuss a project is a good way to get acquainted.
Here’s some DON’Ts:
  1. Don’t go on price. You have to consider your budget but don’t expect designers to compete against each other on costs. That’s a one way street to getting bad graphic design.
  2. Don’t be impressed by the office with a nice sofa and the perfect espresso machine. To keep overheads low, many designers choose to work from home. Choose the designer that gets what you’re trying to do.
  3. Don’t expect the designer to do lots of work on your project before you select them. Some people (perhaps from watching Mad Men) expect the designer to pitch an idea prior to getting the work. If you were a multi-national spending millions on a campaign, you might expect this, but it’s unfair at the small business level. Think of it this way, if you were having masonry done in your yard, you wouldn’t expect five masons to each build you a wall!

4. Do I need a design brief?

A design brief is a document that you give to the designer (usually after an initial consultation) to ensure you get the right design.

The brief should describe what you want – it’s about the end result (i.e.: a logo that represents your business to your specified target audiences). It’s not about aesthetics unless you already have rules to follow (i.e.: if your company’s main colour is red, ensure your designer knows this so they don’t make everything orange).

Try and avoid telling the designer too much of what you want something to look like. Give them ideas of other things you like but they’re the designer – you’re paying for their creativity.

Do you need a design brief? It depends on your relationship with the designer but it is recommended, especially if you are getting more than just a logo. Setting things down on paper is a useful process in defining your ideas and ensuring that you and the designer are on the same page. It’s true that sometimes designers will let their creative imagination runaway with them. Their creativity should be encouraged but occasionally you might want to bring them back to the brief. It’s easier if you have one written down.

5. Combating your subjectivity

So you’ve chosen a designer and you’re working together on designing your brand and marketing materials. You’re on the way to creating a great, professional impression for your company.

Perhaps the hardest thing of all is to combat your own subjectivity. It would be foolish to say your opinion doesn’t count – of course it does – but do remember you are not marketing to yourself. What matters is what your customers will think.

Finally, trust your designer. They will have seen and created hundreds of designs, and will follow the latest trends. So when they choose a typeface or a certain colour, it’s probably for a good reason: to make your business look as great as possible. Don’t be this client (note: not for the easily offended).

This How-To guide was provided by Stu. Hill, a freelance marketer that has bought lots of coffee for graphic designers. Additional input provided by Kevin Cave of Fuse Creative who also runs workshops at Business Victoria. 

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