What to look for when thinking about your business branding

Almost everything in our lives has been designed. From our homes to coffee cups, computers and coins – but what about your business? Have you employed a professional designer for your branding? Would you like to but are not sure how? Or what to ask to ensure you get a design you will love?

A photo of Berenice Smith
Berenice Smith

Step forward award-winning graphic designer Berenice Smith, who took on these questions and more from Drive members wanting to know how to get substance from style.

This is a summary of a discussion in the Drive The Network Facebook Group.

How do you feel about design in your business?

Berenice Smith I’d like to kick off this q&a by asking you a question! Do you have any design aims with your company? Is design something you’ll get around to when you have time/budget? There isn’t wrong answer to this but I am interested in how the group generally feel about the relationship of design in their business.

Louise Lee I think design is VERY important however budget constraints prevents me having all of my collateral designed, which is a shame. However, I need to create the budget to do this at some point this year.

Berenice Smith Okay, that’s a great point. I’d encourage you to chat to designers about ways to make it cost effective. Doing more research and being hands on can all reduce budget.

Charlotte Ashley-Roberts I had my logo designed professionally, it was the first thing I paid for. It was important to me that I had it as it dictated colours and fonts etc I’d use later on. I don’t know ow much about branding but knew it needs to be consistent.

How design can support you

Berenice Smith First impression matters. The logo, the email signature, the website.. all things that require the creative touch. I also like to add that designers are clients and if we see poor design, we might just walk away as it can make us wonder how much care is taken in other areas!

Design tells a story. It’s vital that people get a feel for what a business does even if they’ve never heard of it before. Thoughtful design evokes the right image in client’s minds. The concept for a nursery would be completely different than that of an accountancy firm but both create an impression.

Design converts. Karen Arnott goes into much more detail on her Ask The Expert on How to Make Your Website Work Harder For Your Business but worth a reminder! A cool website is nice to have. A supercool website that converts is even better. Design isn’t just about making things look pretty; effective design should entice and persuade. A well-crafted cover or leaflet compels readers to keep turning pages.

Karen Arnott Absolutely! Design that supports marketing should always have a purpose.

Louise Lee Entice and persuade… does effective design also act/create signposts for the reader so they don’t get lost?

Berenice Smith Part of my postgrad degree was wayfinding as a physical thing – signage etc, and that sort of approach can apply to any designed piece. Think of a shower tap – does the user know which way is hot? That’s a sign post there.

Does a small business need brand guidelines?

Louise Lee Is it important for a small business to have guidelines to follow so their brand is consistently represented and more easily recognised?

Berenice Smith Good question with several answers I think. Branding is a great way to create a consistent approach as the company grows. Attention to design can really help a small business stand out, too. A visual communication plan or branding serves many purposes, and making the business unique should be one of them.

It makes it much easier too if you have to commission services say to a VA. It’s much easier to explain an ethos to a supplier if the branding message is in place.

I think branding is such a great support for anyone who sees their business expanding – so it’s about clients, the business owner and the people they may employ.

Louise Lee I use Canva a lot. I use Camtasia a lot. I use PPT a lot. Can a designer create a style guide/brand guidelines that are transferable across all media? OR, better still, can a designer create templates that can be used across all media?

Berenice Smith Absolutely Louise, I don’t mind clients using Canva to get creative and then asking me to polish – a great example of hands on. The other great tool is Pinterest. And yes designers can create templates to drop into say Word templates etc too. And, with logos and styles, it’s really critical to go through applications clients use to ensure the right logos are supplied.

The importance of talking to your designer

Ann Hawkins  How can businesses be sure they’re getting what they pay for?

Berenice Smith Talking to designers is critical and chatting to those who have logos you love, finding out who did them is great – word of mouth is a brilliant way to start to find a designer.

Be wary of anyone who can’t give a good explanation of their design process.  You have to work with this person and I firmly believe that relationship has to work on both sides.

What questions should you ask a designer?

Louise Lee I understand that designers have areas of speciality. How can a small business choose the right designer for them so they don’t end up with a great web designer who can’t design for print? What questions should design gnomes be asking when what we (I), unfairly, want is someone who can do it all!

Berenice Smith Look at their portfolio and chat about their skill and examples, read through their website text. Look at their qualifications. If they have a degree in graphic design and sound experience then that’s a great grounding. Ask them to write a brief proposal and see how that fits. Don’t be afraid to batch up the work to different suppliers or find a place that subcontracts.

How to get started with design

Helen Lindop Any advice for businesses that are bootstrapping and maybe testing out a new concept so aren’t ready to hire a designer for full-on branding yet? Obviously this is a big compromise and not as good as hiring a pro, but do you have any tips to help people get started. E.g. I’ve read that getting a logo from Fiverr is a really bad idea, but is using Canva for some social media graphics a reasonable compromise?

Berenice Smith  I think doing as much research as you can, looking at your competitors, even playing with Canva, looking at brand guidelines for other companies can be useful. But talk to a designer and see what you can work on in small stages too.

Karen Arnott  It can be as simple to start with as being consistent in what you’re using. That encompasses colour, fonts and photography/graphics. Don’t go to Fiverr or 99 Designs! I’ve known people get stung by stock imagery giants such as Istock / Getty because they’ve bought designs off cheap suppliers and it’s basically been nicked from somewhere else. (See Berenice’s blog post below on How Not to Design)

Louise Lee Berenice, do brand guidelines include stuff like style of photography?

Berenice Smith Yes they can, I do offer this as I am experienced in photography and it can be either be advice on style or it can be selection from images libraries.

Should design speak for itself?

Justin Crane I’ve seen design proposals where they have gone to great length to describe why certain choices were made and what they represent. Sometimes it’s so much on a tangent that you wouldn’t have known without having to read about it. Do agencies do this to try and justify what they are doing and do you think this is all needed or should, ultimately, the design speak for itself?

Berenice Smith Yes I’ve seen that too. I think that design is collaborative and to a degree the proposal is a summary, it shouldn’t be unrecognisable to the client.  I think complex communications can really turn people off design! The reasoning behind using certain colours and fonts can be fascinating if you’re into all that but what the client needs to know is about legibility, market appropriateness and perhaps a little boundary pushing.

Would you like to know more? Contact Berenice Smith and follow her on Twitter at @hihellolovely.

Read her blog on how not to design.

Find out more about Berenice in the Drive the Network Members Directory.