3 Reasons Effective Design Plays a Role in Your Success

Small businesses around the country are finally realizing that good design is a priority that affects ROI.
March 02, 2012

A solid marketing plan isn’t enough to succeed anymore. With more competition than ever before a mere click away, effective design has become a key advantage. If your business hasn’t yet caught on to this fact, chances are good that this year you will. And if you don’t, your business just might not be around to ring in 2013. Why?

From family-run pizza parlors on Main Street to venture-backed tech startups, the United States’ 27 million small businesses are increasingly recognizing that appealing graphic design is no longer one last thing to think about after all of the basics have been covered. Design is a basic. And it has moved to the top of business owners’ to-do lists for good reason: It matters. Big time.

According to research by Dun & Bradstreet, the failure rate for new small businesses is about 70 to 80 percent in the first year, and overall small business failure rates rose by 40 percent nationwide between 2007 and 2010.

Still, perhaps you’re not convinced that design plays a big role in success. Maybe you think the lackluster website your friend’s cousin’s artsy brother-in-law designed for you five years ago still cuts it. Or that the charming logo you whipped up yourself is just fine, even though charming is the last way you’d ever describe your company. If so, here are three things that may just make you change your mind.

The two-tenths rule

Regardless of how fabulous your company’s product or service offering is, the only way to secure and grow sales is not only to get customers in your literal or virtual doorway, but also to make them linger, buy, return to and spread the word about their fantastic experience. You can spend all the money in the world on marketing campaigns, but at the end of the day it all boils down to two-tenths of a second.

Two-tenths of a second is the maximum amount of time subjects viewing a website took to form a first impression, according to a study published in February 2012 by researchers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. The longer the viewers chose to stay on a site, the more favorable their impressions were. And the part of the homepage they spent the most time examining? The logo.

The lesson here is that bad website design, including a yawn-inducing or irrelevant logo, may compel prospects to jump to your competitors’ sites in the blink of an eye. The fact that you offer something they might actually want and need won’t matter if they don’t stick around. Conveying your message to consumers quickly through powerful design has never been more vital.

Your competition is one step ahead

With the rise of crowdsourcing models and other forms of online innovation, high-quality graphic and Web design services are more readily accessible to the typical business owner than ever before. Design work that used to cost thousands of dollars is now available for a fraction of that. The process is faster and less risky. Consequently, business owners of all stripes are stepping up their games. Generic DIY logos, bland business cards and clunky websites no longer cut it.

Chances are, your competition has gotten wise to the fact that the image they put out there can be a key differentiator and can make them stand out in a crowded marketplace. Isn’t it time to join them? When was the last time you visited the websites of your top 10 competitors? You’re likely in for a surprise.

Bad design can break the bank

Ineffective design can lead to dissatisfied customers—and as more companies wake up to the importance of design, the worse those who haven’t look by comparison. Many business owners seem to think that the key goal of a design is to make it pretty. But effective, intentional design beats pretty any day. If a visitor to your website can’t quickly find the information she’s looking for, chances are good she’ll either leave in frustration or contact customer service for help. Missed sales and increased customer support costs are just two of the potential negatives of a poorly designed website. If your customer service team is repeatedly pointing callers to an FAQ section of your website, for instance, you may want to consider why the info wasn’t easy to find in the first place.

Try this: Implement a live chat tool on your website, and spend a couple hours engaging with visitors. You’ll gain amazing insights into what isn’t working, common questions and what’s stopping prospective customers from buying. You’ll learn more in that short time period conversing via keyboard than you would from weeks of market research. And you may be surprised to see a boost in business. Because the fact is, a good number of these people would have never e-mailed your support department or dialed your 800 number. They simply would have sighed and moved on to your competition.

Design has a proven ROI. Web usability guru Jakob Nielsen found in a 2008 study that ROI on a website that was redesigned to enhance usability averages more than 80 percent. Companies that have invested—minimally, as is often the case—in redesigns have been able to decrease support costs, increase order size and convert more prospects into customers.

Make 2012 the year of design for your business. Take a critical look at your logo, website and marketing materials; see how they stack up to your competitors’ and commit to making the changes you know you need. By this time next year, you’ll not only have caught up to your rivals, you’ll have blown right by them.

Matt Mickiewicz is co-founder of 99designs, SitePoint and Flippa.  This is his first blog post for OPEN Forum. He has previously been featured on Forbes and Inc. magazines' 30 Under 30 lists.