Design is communication, visual communication. The more you have going on, the harder it is to be understood. So how can businesses create a cohesive brand experience?
For starters, good branding is universal, and therefore, universally understood. It’s visual, and usually doesn’t include words. It’s about iconography. When done right, like Apple, everyone remembers. When it's a mistake, like Gap’s disastrous logo redesign that lasted a paltry six days last fall, it can be catastrophic.
To help businesses avoid the design minefield is 37-year-old Karl Ziemer of Karlfred Design, LLC. Here are his suggestions on how to communicate beautifully and effectively.
Photo of Karl Ziemer, image credit: Amaris Granado Photography
1. Avoid Going Too Cheap.
Companies don’t spend money upfront to brand themselves. Instead, they get free business cards, a free letterhead, and use clip art for a logo. Or companies put an employee who doesn’t have a design background in charge of finding a company’s logo and marketing. Nothing is cohesive or specific to their business.
2. Don't Be Afraid to Break the Rules.
It’s great to be staple colors in your industry, but doing so is sometimes too easy and overdone. Look at Harris Bank’s logo. It was the first national bank that didn’t use “money colors” like green and black in their logo. They choose red. In banking industry you never wanted to be in the red. But it stands out and their designer understood trends for color. Instead of using green for money or black for being in the black, they broke free. This is a warm, inviting color. It became unique and re-set how the banking industry looked at colors and design work. It’s no longer about using the color of the industry, but using the color of the company, like a sports team.
3. Do Research to Find the Designer You Want.
Look at other small businesses. If they have a strong business and a good logo, ask them who they used as a designer. Ask why they choose the logo they did. Look at industry competitors.
4. Know Your Audience and Market Before Going to a Designer.
Know who you are going after. Who is our target audience? What is our mission? If we are going to promote, how do we promote all the things we do or what are we going to focus on? Where do we want to reach: local, national, international? What do you want the presence perceived as online?
Be honest and realistic about yourself, about who your audience is, and what you are selling. A good designer is going to ask questions and get to the heart of what that business is to re-brand them. The rule of thumb is going after 5 percent of the market and over time expand to 7-10 percent. Make sure you are staying true to your customer base instead of casting a wide fishing net. This will help your designer focus on the audience to attract.
5. Create Something New.
Make sure your logo says something about who you are. You don’t have to follow trends or do something just because it’s trendy. If you want to exist beyond a trend, you need to invent the trend.
6. Create an Emotional Connection.
You don’t want to do what’s been done to death. You have to find a way to balance the equation of an established business and a new identity. When someone looks at a business card, logo, website, letterhead or a sign, there needs to be an instant emotional connection to that business’ message. Put yourself in the client’s shoes. If you were a client looking to hire a company or business, would you choose based on branding? Be creative, but make sure you connect.
7. Realize What a Good Designer Can Do
Businesses don’t realize that what they put out there (visually) is communicating a message. A good designer doesn’t design for that business or themselves, but designs for their client’s audience.
8. Figure Out What You Absolutely Need
Ziemer recommends spending money on decent business cards and website first and adding a logo later, if that is all you can afford. A logo can be No. 1 priority, Ziemer says, but know that a good logo usually starts around $5,000 he says. A logo is communicating so much in this little icon. So it’s important to get that right. Figure out what is most important, what you absolutely need, and then what fits into your business’ budget.
Dawn Reiss is a Chicago-based journalist who has painted commissioned murals and large paintings on her easel by Lake Michigan. She thinks frequently about design elements in every day life.
Main image credit: Karlfred Design, LLC