Good Design IS Good Business

Brad posed the question of whether spending money for quality design work is a good business decision. I’ve been thinking on that this week and in my biased opinion it absolutely, without question, depends on the business and project in question.

You must work within the constraints given to you, including deadlines and budgets. Embracing constraints is a lesson that every designer must learn in order to be successful in business. Businesses who are looking to hire and work with designers must clearly communicate deadlines and budgets and then the designer must determine if they are realistic and if they can work with those constraints. Sometimes this requires some compromise on the project plan and sometimes it will not be worth the effort and it’s best to simply turn a project down.

As a client you should not be offended if a designer tells you they can’t do a your project for the amount of money you’ve offered. You should instead ask them if your budget and plans are realistic and if not why. We’ve had clients ask for complicated designs and top notch work and then offer $500 for the whole project (that’s too low even for a one page website). Often this is because non-designers have no idea what we do, how we do it, how long it takes, or how much it should cost. When you are talking to a designer about your project ask them to break things down and explain why some things take a long time or cost a lot of money while others do not. You will likely discover that what you thought was difficult or complicated is simple and what you thought was simple is difficult or complicated. Good design often feels obvious and simple when you see the final product but the process to arrive there is often quite long and difficult and requires experience and expertise to avoid the many potential pitfalls.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that good design can really pay off for a business. Well designed products create passionate customers who will spend more to own or use something they enjoy. Apple understands this and makes their hardware and software beautiful as well as easy to use. A well designed web site is more enjoyable to use (and by well designed I mean attractive, easy to navigate, well written, and useful) and can increase sales for a business. Really cool posters helped OK Go make a name for themselves in Chicago when they were coming up.

Taking the time and spending the money to let a good designer do the job right can pay off not just in having a better website, business cards, fliers, or posters but also in the improved image and branding for your company. There is a halo effect from good design that can carry over into everything you do. The increased cost of doing it right and doing the job really well can pay for itself and then some as your sales go up. Great design can generate a buzz for your product or service and that is good business. Ford, GM, and Chrysler could use more great design to generate buzz for their products. Their cars and websites are often the result of focus groups and marketing committees instead of great designers given enough time and money to create something that customers will really love.

But I can’t afford a Professional Designer

That will happen. Many small businesses simply lack the money to hire a really top notch designer. But even on a tight budget you have options.

  • Hire the designer for just the most important part of your project to make your budget go farthest.
  • Break your project up into small parts and do it over time.
  • Hire a student or young designer who charges less, the quality may be lower and you’ll likely have less work to review before hiring them, but their rates will be lower too.
  • Revise the project plan to be less ambitious and more focused on what is really important, most projects could use a bit of trimming down anyhow.
  • Do it yourself. It’s not that hard to create a really basic, informational website or flier. Just keep it simple and don’t try to do anything too fancy or groundbreaking. Stick to simple text and layouts and you’ll likely get the most important information to the people who need it. Then save your money and hire a designer to improve things later on.

Talk to your designer about the constraints for your project and they can tell you if they can work within those constraints, suggest ways to work around or within them, and perhaps guide you toward a great solution to your design problem.

Kevin Hall
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