Good graphic design drives leads to your business. Here’s why it’s so expensive.

What? £175,000? For that?

I am sure you have heard someone say this, or read something similar in a tabloid newspaper. Stories such as this one fromparliament redesign rebrand Cornwall, or this one from UK parliament.

Take a look at the right hand image and see if you can spot the little dots in between the lines of the portcullis, they are a trick of the eye, this is amazing design.

But that’s not what’s reported. What we hear is “It’s shocking”, “waste of money”, “bish bash bosh”, etcetera, etcetera.

I’m standing against this type of thinking in this post. I’m standing up for good design and for fair money for good work. You’ll notice the parliament rebrand was £50,000. The agency that did it was SomeOne in London who have won various Drum Design Awards and have worked with companies like Intel, Disney, and Tesco. They have teams of people in London and Sydney working on these projects. They are workers like anybody else who do their hours, pull a shift, and make a salary. They aren’t millionaires.

A lot of talk recently is about how wages are being driven down, but then when wages for designers are paid to a decent level, it’s a “waste of money”.

Web/graphic designers aren’t people earning millions and sending it offshore to tax havens,, they are people earning a decent wage for a skilled job, like any engineer.

Why is design important?

In this beautifully designed report from the Design Council you can see the importance for employment to the UK that the design industry is (note that here we are venturing beyond Graphic Design and into product design, too).

In fact, design contributes some £44 billion to the economy annually. How?

The results of design are not so tangible as a house, or a toilet that flushes, or an F35 joint strike fighter. The results come internally in businesses, usually these types of metric are not published openly, but they include things like qualitative data from reviews and perception of customers and potential customers. Quantitative data such as clicks and conversion and all the marketingy type things that the project managers love to pore over.

using eyes in designGraphic designers will test things to see what works best to users. A simple trick for example, is they will positions people’s eyes to look at a Call To Action, drawing users to the click. All of these things are very subtle and have take a lot of practice and many tests over the years to get right. You don’t get access to that type of intelligence for nothing. When a designer works on your website or your brand. They will bring little details like this to the party. If nothing else, that’s why design is expensive.

Why do companies pay so much money for design?

Ok, so what is it that design does to drive leads to your business? Let’s get down to it.

First impressions

The brand of your company is like the clothes you wear of the way you style your hair. The colours, the logo, the fonts: all of these things make a small but important impact on people.

Good graphic designers understand this as part of their education, right down to semiotics through the ages, a good graphic had a deep understanding of shape and colour and how they affect people. Graphic design done well can make your business look, cheeky, authoritative, cute, friendly, helpful, whatever your brand is aiming for.

But get get things wrong, mix up a cute modern logo with an informative layout and people get confused. Take a look at this whitepaper from Wolters Kluwer. There is nothing exciting here, but what it is, is amazing design. It’s consistent, it’s unique, it’s transferrable, and for people in the law profession they recognise these colours and this brand from across a room. Brands pay all of this money because the risk of making mistakes in branding are too high and could ultimately ruin the business.

Ease of use

Graphic design is about so much more than colours though. UX design software such as Sketch, or the recently revamped Adobe Xd means the crossover between design and programming is being blurred.

A graphic designer now need to be aware of useability. What happens when someone clocks, or hovers over a part of a web page? Using sketch, a graphic designer can make a working mockup of a webpage without it having to be programmed into a local or a live environment. Ease of use is very important to websites such as Uber and AirBnB where users need quick searches and purchases with as little fuss as possible.

What does expensive design do that cheap design doesn’t?

Paying a lot of money for designers to go to work on your company feels wrong. You don’t really understand the process, they talk airily about kerning, line heights, and opacity. If you don’t understand the process, the designer is doing a bad job.

A good designer can communicate a project at any time to their clients and walk the client through any step of the process.

Some clients are more picky, a good designer is able to adjust according to the needs of the client and push back when they know a mistake is being made. A good designer is able to customise artwork to the needs of a brand. A telltale sign of a less experienced designer is that their portfolio lacks variety.

Designers get caught up in the projects they work on and pass what they learn to other projects. Good designers have a depth of knowledge that can be applied across industries to work to the brief.

Good design follows and process from paper artwork to a vectored image. Take a look at this logo concept from the Tubik design agency.

Consider design an investment

Having a strong brand identity based on solid graphic design lasts a long time. Brands will refresh their look every now and again to fit in with trends and what users expect to see and do on a website. The alternative is a weak brand with a website that looks cheap and dated. This can lead to rejected sales, and causes a downward spiral.

Google rates webpages according to useability, Google wants to serve its users with the best experience of the web, which keeps people using their search platform to browse, and by effect using their software. So having a bad webpage, unstructured, without clean design leads to lower ranking a lower traffic. Investing in good design, over time, improves the ranking and the authority of a website. When users land, they see quality in design which gives them more confidence in your brand, and ultimately greater brand value.

A few tips on hiring a designer

Good design relies on two key ingredients; experience and confidence. If you are making an investment in a designer, even if it’s someone starting out and not charging too much, one the biggest restrictions is the endless approval chain, tweaks, adjustments, a little to the left. Be clear about what you want in the discovery phase of the project (which the designer will probably lead), and let them fly. In many ways, the less you direct, the more likely you are to have good results.

To finish with an anecdote:

When CF Hathaway Shirts (an established brand of 116 years) decided to do some marketing in the 1950s, they had no experience in advertising and decided they should go ahead and spend $30,000 if they were ever to compete in the industry. The owner, Ellerton Jette, contacted the New York based Hewitt, Ogilvy, Benson, & Mather and spoke to David Ogilvy. Ellerton told Ogilvy that his company was small, that he would not be able to make Ogilvy rich, but that if Ogilvy worked for a small fee, he would never move to a different agency and he would never change any of the design or the copy of the ads. Ogilvy took him up on the deal, and on his way to the first photo shoot he noticed an eyepatch in a second-hand haberdashery for .50¢. You can see that very eyepatch in the image below. Hathaway’s sales went through the roof selling every shirt in New York and doubling the business over the next five. Ogilvy, contrary to what he been told, ended up rich and famous.


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