I hear it all the time. Someone brings up design for their business, and a friend chimes in “I got a [insert cheap price here] [insert project here] on 99designs (or other bid for design site)! You should try there!” Hearing it makes me cringe. While there may be some wonderful diamond in the rough designers on those sites, more often than not, you get what you pay for. What’s the difference? Let’s talk about what you get from working with a professional.
Logos are expensive. They are an investment. Your designer is designing something totally unique to your company. They are adjusting every detail – making sure every line is smooth, and every letter is kerned perfectly so that you can use it with confidence. Logos involve research, a thorough understanding of the company and hours of design. In addition, many professionals include a brand guide on how to use the logo, and a variety of versions for different media. If you are working with a company that designs $10 logos, do you really thing every design is fresh? That they put in the time to understand you and your company?
I have experience working with both designers and typesetters to produce multipage books with various headings/photos/etc, and I can tell you, there is a huge difference between paying $10-12 a page to have something typeset, and paying a designer to design your book. While typesetting may work well enough for a text heavy document, a more complex workbook or annual report really needs a designer. A designer will react to how things fall on the page, and alter the designs accordingly. Visually, the design will be easier on the eyes and will flow better. The time saved by someone paying attention to every page will far surpass the cost. Trust me.
Websites are another project that can be greatly impacted by what you spend. A few years ago, I was doing research on wedding photographers, and I can tell you, the more I went to, the more I saw the patterns of people choosing the SAME template. While templates are great, and I sometimes recommend starting with them, they often benefit from being heavily modified and customized. A poorly customized template can make it difficult and costly to make changes in the future. Not doing the research and choosing the same template as the competition, on the other hand, keeps you from standing out. A professional will not only give you something easy to work with, but they will likely make sure your template is different enough to set you apart from the competition.
Overall, you pay for experience, and experience means you gain from the knowledge the designer has accumulated over their tenure. They know a logo needs to be workable in black and white, because they’ve sent projects off in one color. They know you need extra margins for a saddle stitch book, because they have a sample at their house. They know what plugins you need to keep people from hacking your site.
In the end, you’ll spend far less time “fixing” later by using a professional.
Branding has become a buzz word in recent years, and more and more companies are offering “brand guides” (or style guides) that give insight into how to best use your logo and brand elements. These can be as simple as a page (which is what I usually offer to most clients) or as extensive as 67+ pages, which I encountered at the last company I worked with. What is best for you and why do you need it? Let’s consider.
Pretty much every company needs a simple brand guide.
This goes without question. A simple brand guide can be as little as one page, and should include your logo, and the fonts and colors used in your logo. Colors preferably are given in Pantone, along with the CMYK build and/or HEX code.
It is important to know these things so that you can easily work with your brand in printed materials and on your website. You don’t necessarily HAVE to use the fonts in your logo all the time, but they may be useful for headings, or to keep from visually clashing when choosing fonts to pair with it.
Most of the time, something like this is sufficient for a small business or start-up. It is less costly, and provides them with the necessary launching point to work within their brand.
When would you need more?
This depends on your company, and what you expect from the designer.
If you are a big company, with multiple designers or offices, a larger brand guide will help to keep your design consistent. This sort of guide would go further, to include things such as logo placement, fonts for body copy and headings in printed materials, what NOT to do with the logo, minimum and maximum size, secondary colors, advice on how to choose images, etc.
If you hired an external designer not only to develop a logo, but also to build out your brand to include collateral, this sort of guide will be helpful as you move forward, and continue to work within the brand independently. The designer likely has a clear vision for you, and can develop a guide to answer most of your questions and concerns.
This sort of style guide is an investment, as it is much longer and requires a thorough examination of how and when to use different elements of your brand. Companies with large brand guides include Adobe, The International Baccalaureate and Skype, among others.
Don’t worry if you can’t cover every base right away. Your brand guide is a long term investment, and will likely continue to grow as you work with the brand, adding sub brands and design elements, and run into new challenges.
My recommendation is to look at where you are, and evaluate from there.
Did you just finish your very first company logo? Maybe you just need a one-pager for now.
Has your brand been around for a while? Is it disjointed as different people work with it? Maybe you need a longer guide.
Have you established a look and feel in your collateral that you want to see used consistently? A longer guide might be best for you.
If you want to explore your options, we’re happy to help!
Good luck on your branding exploration!
Today, a little insight into me…
What aspects of a project make me truly happy? It might not be what you think. Sure – it is fun to launch a project with a big client, but the things that make me happy to work from day to day are actually much more subtle…
I LOVE details. The things that are less obvious, yet really cool. I just finished a draft of a folder, and you know what I enjoyed designing most? The inside. I can design the front, but what I WANT to design is that pattern or color you see when you open it up – that bit that surprises you. That is where the fun is.
I love using tons of white, with a pop of color. A white business card which flips over to reveal a hot pink back? Yes! I’m all in. Again, there is that element unexpectedness to it that makes it interesting. White space not only creates contrast, but is a great way to call attention to specific elements of a design.
I want to really let type shine. When I design a logo, I think about the personality of the typeface. Are you destined for an elegantly refined serif? An ultra-modern sans? An inviting and friendly slab serif? Finding the perfect fit is half the fun.
As primarily a print designer, I love to pick out paper. Different weight, tone and texture all add an element to design that can’t quite be achieved digitally. A really nice paper calls out to be touched.
What makes you happy when you see a design?
Last week I went to a Smart Ladies event featuring Lauren Rothman, stylist to some of DC’s best. The event was about dressing for confidence, and dressing for your job. While that was interesting, and she had great tips, the thing that spoke to me most was something that probably passed under the radar.
She spoke about how many people don’t advertise that they use her services – but share her name with others in whispers. Lauren Rothman called herself a “best kept secret”.
Best. Kept. Secret.
I like that. In fact, the more I think about it – the more I think that may very well be what I am too.
For the last few weeks, I have been working on presentations for a good friend and brand guru. My designs will be seen by countless people. She will rock these presentations – I know it. Like most things I design, my name will never be on them, and it is possible that very few people will know I designed them. But I helped to make her look GOOD, and to me, that is an awesome thing to be a part of. That’s who I am – a best kept secret.
Let me help you look good.
Share my name in clandestine whispers.
I’m fine with that.
That’s the job, and I love it.
When I graduated college, I moved home to live with my parents and, like so many others, to figure out what was next. As I searched for a job, my father said I should start my own business, and that someday, I’d have a billboard. To this day, I can’t believe it, but the very first printed project of mine that we saw was…you guessed it…on a billboard. Suddenly, it made what I do very real, and tangible.
*Billboard done with Case Solutions.
As time has gone on, I have never quite gotten over the excitement of finally seeing a project I worked on in real life – whether it be an ad in a magazine or a book on a shelf. But as I check more and more projects off my list, it got me thinking about my design bucket list. I’ve designed many billboards, I’ve designed books sold internationally, I’ve designed national conference logos…but what’s next?
If I had to come up with a bucket list today, these would be a few of my to-do’s:
Speak at a design event
I have always admired the speakers at events like HOW or AIGA DC. I’d love to be able to be in a position to share what I’ve done with designers, and inspire them to follow their dreams.
Teach design to undergrads
Similar to speaking at a conference, I want to teach design to young designers. There is so much excitement in those just learning the field. As a business owner, I feel like I have a wealth of information to share, not only in design but also in dealing with clients, and running a company – a challenge many young designers don’t realize they will likely face in the future, when the glamour of agency life has worn thin.
Create a design with hand drawn typography
The work of artists like Louise Fili, Dana Tanamachi and Carolyn Sewell is beautiful and inspiring. If I have one project I’d love to take time and create, it would be to design something with hand drawn type – a letter, a poster, a sign…
Create branding and design for a restaurant
While I have done a few signs for a sandwich shop in Myrtle Beach, one of the things I always really loved was restaurant design. I’d love to take on a restaurant design project that included everything – signs, menus, interior design recommendations, details… A restaurant brand is so all inclusive, and has so many tangible elements. I think it would be amazing to work on so many diverse aspects for one company.
Are you looking for someone to do any of this? If so, I may just be your gal.
For everyone else, what’s on your business bucket list?
We hear a lot about a consistent brand experience, and how our employees are a part of that, but what does it mean? A recent travel experience gave me the perfect example.
On a trip to Atlanta, a client put me up at the W hotel. In general, the brand experience in hospitality is very important. Having briefly worked at a Marriott, I’m familiar with what goes in to the experience – from how you greet customers to how the rooms are maintained. But this trip, one thing stood out to me more than anything else – the mats in the elevator.
“What is so great about elevator mats?,” you might ask. “What does this have to do with branding?”
When I checked in that afternoon, I noted the elevator mat said “Good Afternoon.” And as I came and went throughout my trip, I noticed these mats changed to “Good Morning” in the AM, and “Good Evening” in the PM.
What does this say about the W brand? To me, this emphasizes an enormous attention to detail and to their customer experience. It also emphasizes what the brand is known for – a high-end, luxury experience. Not every brand would take the time to change elevator mats three times a day. Their hotel is the embodiment of what they stand for, down to the last detail.
It also says they trust their employees to be responsible and take care of the brand as if it were their own. How easy would it be for someone to forget to change the mats – for one to say Good Morning at lunch time, or Good Afternoon in the evening? Pretty easy. But it never happened. The employees take pride in the brand and help to give a consistent experience.
Are you embodying your brand down to the last detail? Are your employees?
As you may have noticed, I recently updated my photos on the website and social media. I’m super pleased by the photos, and have gotten some wonderful feedback. SO, this week, let’s talk a little about headshots.
Why invest in professional headshots?
As a designer, I help you put your best business face forward – with your logo, collateral, etc. All these things are an investment – but so often we forget that we are the face of our business as well. Shouldn’t your headshots be an extension of you and your brand?
I understand the pain point of investing in professional photos, but it is more than worth it. By putting a professional face forward, you can help build trust with potential clients before they meet you. Would you rather put your business in the hands of Business A, whose CEO has a well executed photo? Or in Business B, whose CEO used a snapshot and cropped out their significant other, party drink, etc? You’d trust Business A every time.
So who did my headshots?
I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on the photos, and for the record – any and all praise should go out to Mary Gardella of ‘elle and Nicole Palermo of Happily Ever After LLC. Mary is currently running some wonderful Profession’elle marathon sessions where you get a mini-photosession with 2 photos, and make-up by Nicole at a discounted price. They are the magicians behind the portraits – and I haven’t seen any bad ones yet.
Thanks, Mary and Nicole!
Sometimes, as a designer, we spend too much time on the computer. There. I said it. To all my design professors out there – you were right.
But, occasionally an opportunity comes along to do something different. That’s why I love District Bliss.
A month or so ago I got an email from Sara and Sarah asking if I’d do the paper products and giveaways for their DIY event in April – Makeup with Ariel Lewis. And of course, I jumped at the chance. Working with District Bliss is awesome, because I can stretch my creativity, and do something – anything I want to – hands on.
For the DIY event, I did Mason Jar takeaways with burlap ribbon, name tags and Hershey’s Kisses. I also did hand sewn notebooks for all the participants to write in while taking the class. Images of the final products below.
One of the best parts of going to the event was seeing participants actually using the name tags and notebooks.
Thanks, District Bliss, for another fun event! I hope to collaborate again (and again).