The Seven Deadly Sins of Bad Graphic Design: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt Your Business!

An advertisement for food that takes away your appetite. A commercial that leaves you wondering what the product actually is, and how you can avoid it. Whether it’s a billboard, a television commercial or a magazine advertisement, we’ve all seen bad ads and wondered, ‘What was that company thinking?!’ Yep, a graphic design disaster strikes again!

It’s true; nothing leads to bad advertising or wastes your marketing dollars faster than a graphic design disaster. From big corporations to small businesses, everyone has made a graphic design mistake. Big corporations, however, have big bucks to spend on advertising, so the huge chunk of change that a large company just blew on an ineffective Super Bowl ad doesn’t hurt their bottom line the way an advertising mistake can hurt a small business.

If you’ve never worked with a graphic design team before, or had a bad experience in the past (I’ve heard horror stories of small businesses being ignored or mistreated by large design firms), the world of graphic design may seem mysterious, complex and even a bit confusing. A professional sign or graphic shop is experienced in turning your ideas into reality, and understand every step in the graphic design process. I’m here to debunk the mysteries, answer some common questions, and ensure your small business gets the biggest bang for your advertising buck! Read on for the ‘seven deadly sins’ of graphic design, and learn how to avoid these common pitfalls.

Sin #1: Graphic design doesn’t matter.

I beg to differ. The goal of every marketing initiative is to clearly communicate your message. Good design is at the root of this communication. A good design visually implements your marketing strategy; poor design does not. Good design establishes your brand’s legitimacy; bad design undermines it. Even the most creative and innovative marketing idea will fall short if you fail to properly execute the design. Whether it’s driving sales, promoting a product or defining a brand, graphic design has a clear business purpose and a specific goal to accomplish.

Fundamentally, good graphic design should: (1) improve your image and strengthen your brand, (2) make your business stand out from your competitors’ and (3) convincingly sell your messages to customers with a strong emotional appeal. The best designs stimulate an emotional, subconscious reaction in the viewer. And this all adds up to one thing: a better small business.

Sin #2: Cheap designers are just as good as expensive designers.

You get what you pay for. This old adage is especially true in graphic design. Think of graphic design not as an expense, but as an investment in your company’s future. Would you hire your next-door neighbor to do your business taxes? Unless he’s a certified accountant, the answer is probably no. The same goes for graphic design.

If you aren’t a graphic designer, don’t try to create your own logo – and don’t hire a friend without design experience to do it either. Leave the logo and marketing materials to a professional design team. There is a fine line between getting the biggest bang for you buck and looking cheap. When you choose to advertise your small business, whether it’s with vehicle wraps or window perforations, your goal is to cut costs, not quality. From color disasters to font fiascos, don’t gamble your business’s brand away on sub-par design. Whatever your graphic needs, avoid a branding catastrophe and go with the professionals.

Sin #3: Learning the lingo is a waste of time.

In reality, learning some basic design lingo can go a long way to helping you understand the process and getting you the biggest bang for your buck. From vector images to pre-flight approval, graphic design terminology is unique, and I know it can be a bit confusing to someone not familiar with it. When we first started in the design business, we didn’t know all the right terms either! Below I’ve listed some common terms that will help you better understand the design process – and ensure you get the best end product.

Vector images – A vector image is one made from basic geometric shapes, such as rectangles, lines, circles, ellipses and polygons. Since a vector image is created from shapes, it does not use pixels, thus when the image is enlarged, the same high quality resolution is maintained. Vector images are important because they allow for easy manipulation during the design process. If you have a logo or an image, be sure to give us the file in vector format. We can also convert some graphic files to vector format, although this is a chargeable service.

Color matching – If you have already printed a logo or other advertising collateral, you will likely want to match the color of your existing material to your vehicle wrap or window lettering. In order to ensure an accurate color match, bring us a sample in person. Because color can vary from computer to computer based on a monitor, the only way to ensure an accurate color match is to view a sample in person. Understand how important color matching is for your brand, and make sure to get it right the first time.

Pre-flight – When a design is in its final stages prior to printing, it is in ‘pre-flight.’ That means a production team does a final check to confirm colors and dimensions are correct before printing. Once an image goes to pre-flight check, no major design edits can be made (otherwise, you’ll need to start over from the drafting process).

Sin #4: I never plan ahead.

The key to a successful design job is planning. If you have a great idea, tell it! A good design company will help you take your idea from concept to completion. The best way to do this is to go to the shop, view samples, and talk to them in person. If you want a custom vehicle wrap job, be sure to bring in your car. This way they can get accurate measurements and get a feel for what you want. We use computer templates as a starting point for every vehicle wrap, but specific measurements allow us to customize the templates and ensure the design will fit just right.

Sin #5: I need my rush job ASAP.

Custom work takes time. Every design team will do their best to accommodate your schedule, especially in the event of a last minute rush job. Deadlines change and ‘I need it next week’ suddenly becomes ‘I needed it yesterday.’ Keep in mind that a design shop can (unfortunately) only do so much. Your rush job still needs to be squeezed in to the regular production schedule. Quality work takes time, and rushed jobs tend to look like they were rushed.

Sin #6: I proof my work when I feel like it – whether that’s today or next week.

Prompt proofing speeds up the design process. A good design company will work with you on edits and revisions as many times as you need, but keep in mind that proofing and changes take time. I always tell customers to allow 2-5 days for proofing and review. This may seem like a long time, but I’ve learned from experience that the change process can move slowly.

So what can be done to speed this up? The design proofing process will go much faster if the customer gets back in a timely fashion. I know you’re busy, but when you get a proof, take a few minutes to review it right away. Try not to wait a day or two – by the time you send changes and the design shop gets back to you, a few days will have already passed.

Sin #7: There’s no need to pay for quality materials.

Cut costs, not quality. Vehicle advertising and window graphics are two cost-effective marketing techniques that generate thousands of impressions and are a great return on your investment. However, poorly designed, printed and applied graphics look cheap – and reflect poorly on your brand. Use professional lamination for outdoor signage to protect and seal your graphics from sun, dirt and the elements. This will keep your colors fresh and preserve the ink, ensuring your graphics remain vibrant. Finally, make sure the lamination is done by a machine that presses a clear layer of vinyl on top of the graphic. The alternative process, using liquid lamination that is painted on by hand, may cost less, but it is an inferior process that looks cheap and easily fades and peels. A reputable shop will have a lamination press. Ask to be shown the machine so that you know you’re dealing with a reputable shop!

And when you’re ready to take off the graphics or change out your look, don’t remove them yourself. Improper removal can damage your car. Bring your vehicle into a shop to take care of everything. They have the right tools to make removal easy and safe.

Does Investing in Graphic Design Make Good Business Sense?

For a small business, the last few years have been quite the economic roller coaster. We’re all cutting back and learning to do more with less, making strategic decisions when it comes to investing money in advertising and marketing. While there’s no need to spend big bucks on expensive advertising agencies or costly local TV spots, don’t gut your graphic design budget. Now, more than ever, graphic design makes good business sense.

It’s All About Graphic Design
Not convinced it pays to invest in the best graphic design services? Consider the opportunity cost of bad design. Bad graphic design not only hurts your brand, but it also scares off potential customers. The best design instantly communicates important information about your business, products and services. Bad design leaves potential customers confused, sending them away from your store or business. Investing in the best design up front may cost more initially, but you’ll save (and make) more in the long run.

Here are five smart graphic design tips for your small business:

  1. A timeless logo design. Great logo designs don’t just build a brand; great logos ARE the brand. From outdoor signage and magnetic decals to business cards and letterhead, your logo will be on everything that your business does. The best graphic designers can create a logo that instantly evokes your business, creating an emotional connection with potential customers through the use of design elements like color and typeface.
  2. Outdoor signage. Professionally announce your place of business with an outdoor sign. Advertise products and services any hour of the day or night. Reach hundreds of new potential customers daily without lifting a finger. Spending money on professional outdoor signage is a smart business choice. Just be sure to consult with a graphic designer and sign specialist to ensure your design is easily read day or night, no matter how quickly traffic goes speeding by.
  3. Vehicle graphics. Don’t just drive your car, turn it into an advertising machine with vinyl window graphics or a full body car wrap. In a crowded sea of advertisements, vehicle graphics instantly command attention. Unfortunately, bad graphic design and poor graphic application can turn your advertising machine into a sloppy looking vehicle. If incorrectly applied, your vehicle graphic could crack, bubble or peel after just a few months. Invest the money up front, and your graphic can last for up to seven years, while protecting your car’s finish from the elements. Talk about multitasking!
  4. Magnetic business cards. Traditional paper business cards are a huge waste of marketing dollars. Most cards end up forgotten in a desk drawer or tossed in the trash. Magnetic business card with your logo and contact information stick to filing cabinets, company break room fridges and home fridges, too! Your information will be instantly accessible.
  5. Point of sale signage. The fastest way to upsell or increase your sales is through point of sale signage. Rather than being a pushy salesman, let your signage doing the talking through powerful graphic design. A simple sign with a clean design clearly promotes your products, services and brand, providing the opportunity to upsell in group packages or other specials.

You Could Be a Website and Graphic Design Specialist

Those who become successful graphic designers usually have a unique blend of talents. They are intelligent people who are knowledgeable in a wide range of areas, comfortable creating designs that blend images with words and media to produce visually simulating concepts. Graphic designers are able to work alone and interact with clients and other professionals. They are familiar with the latest technology and able to incorporate it into their work for fresh ideas, while simultaneously marketing themselves, their work, and their talents.

… if you think creatively and logically.

Most people go into professions that use one side of their brain or the other. Accountants, for example, use the left side of their brains for logical, analytical thinking. Artists and actors tend to use the right side of their brains, stimulating creativity and intuition. Graphic designers tend to use both side of their brains to concoct inventive yet rational creations. They acquire and use knowledge to create fresh designs and to work within the boundaries of software applications. Graphic designers see how a project may look visually through each stage of the design process, but they are able to think through the progression in a logical manner as well. They can make critical decisions that influence a design and they can understand how those decisions may affect the later stages of the design process. Graphic designers are able to utilize their time most effectively through their organizational skills. Many times, they are involved in multiple projects at once, so they have to work under deadlines and within budgetary restrictions.

… if you like learning new technology.

Graphic design may still involve a few sketches on a sheet of paper, but the development of technology over the last several decades has revolutionized the graphic design industry. Design layouts are created on computers so it is imperative for graphic designers to be able to use software in their expertise. They also must be able to adapt to new software as technology advances. This may require learning on the job. Graphic designers are able to use their creativity and logic to figure out how software works and how it can be used effectively in their current projects. In addition to the technological expertise, graphic designers have a wide knowledge across types of multimedia. They work with animation, photography, and Internet applications. As technology in these areas develops, a graphic designer must adapt to those mediums as well.

… if you have an artistic side.

While critical thinking and logic are important to the graphic design field, designers are above all artists. Color, composition, and lines all convalesce into original designs. Just as artists use images and symbols to convey meaning, graphic designers utilize those principles as well as audiovisual components to convey meaning. They are able to express clear messages through their work in an informational, yet entertaining way. So even though a customer may only see a brochure or a logo, there are inherent artistic qualities to the project that were created by a graphic designer.

… if you have business sense.

Business is also a critical aspect to graphic design. Graphic designers must take on the roles of sales and management teams now and then. As marketers, they must be able to sell their idea for a design to clients or other professionals. As managers, they must work within the confines of a budget as well as recognize the legal ramifications of borrowing from other ideas. Often, graphic designs run their own businesses. Graphic designers such as these are involved in every stage of the process, from the packaging of an idea, to the presentation of it, to selling it to the client.

… if you enjoy working with other people.

It is not as though a graphic designer simply sits at a computer all day. Actually, graphic designers are constantly in need of strong interpersonal skills. They must be able to collaborate with other professionals and work well with their managers to ensure that the business end of a deal is being met. They must be able to work well with their clients, which is a vital aspect of their jobs. They must be able to accurately represent the company as well as produce an idea that appeals to people outside of the company. They must be able to guide the people who are working underneath them, such as new designers.

Graphic designers are communicators. Whether they are communicating a message visually, verbally, or in written form, they must be able to converse and listen well. Pigheadedness will not get you very far in the graphic design field. Graphic designers must be willing to redesign. If the customer is unsatisfied with the work, then it doesn’t really matter how good of a design was made. Flexibility is required for dealing with clients.

Many of these skills can be acquired through career training at a technical school. Communication, organization, and technological skills can be developed through courses toward a certificate. Graphic design combines the best aspects of art and logic into a lucrative career.