The 10 Design/Branding Mistakes

The creative collateral of small businesses and start-ups is the least important, most important, thing there is. While owners and operators are busy prepping product and managing staff, things like logo design and website updates collect dust at the bottom of the to-do list. Yet, having a visibly dynamic brand and marketable approach will be the difference between a company and a really successful company. As a freelance graphic designer, I work with companies to build their brand (name, message, approach, etc.), make their services look visually appealing to their desired clientele (logo, stationery, website, uniforms, etc.), and basically make them pretty! I’ve sent countless invoices to companies who could have avoided certain billable items because they made mistakes that I see made by almost every company I’ve done work for. Don’t make these mistakes, and you’ll save yourself time, money, and a big “I told you so” on the invoice your designer sends you.

1. Use Google Images
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Companies use images they find online for free for their website, logo, menus—anything. The problem is that they’re rarely good quality, they’re being used by other companies, and (most importantly) they’re not owned. This puts the business in risk of being caught using a copyrighted image, resulting in cease and desist letters, which then results in unnecessary headaches. Recently, I had to redesign a company’s logo because they realized their original logo (made by the owner) had an image in it that was pulled from Google images, and was also used in a recent movie release. Completely avoidable.
The right move: hire a graphic designer, illustrator or photographer, or purchase royalty-free images from stock photo websites.

2. Expecting Something for Nothing
A lot of small business owners think they can buy their nephew tickets to a big concert in exchange for a fully functional website. They are wrong. The creative industry is the same as every industry, where you get what you pay for. If you give your nephew concert tickets to design your company website, it will look amateur and customers will be turned away. If you use a “free” design template, it will look like your company isn’t successful. And if you ask a designer to make things at a “reduced cost,” they will NOT look as good as they would at “actual cost.”
The right move: set aside a budget for creative collateral.

3. Pretend to be a Someone Else
It’s okay to model your company’s look like your favorite brand or a similar brand, but a lot of small businesses decide to just mimic looks. I was asked to design uniforms for a local bar, and they requested that I copy the uniforms of another local bar, and I mean copy exactly. This creates brand problems. The public can’t tell the difference between one brand and another if you make everything look the same, and when everything looks the same, nothing stands out.
The right move: be original when you market to your customers.

4. Overfill Your Logo
Some companies treat logos like a summer camp suitcase. Everything’s in it. Year established? It’s in there. Outline of the company building? It’s in there. The owner’s dog? Oh, definitely in there. And none of it will be retained by the desired customers. It creates problems when you need the logo used universally to promote the company. The best and most successful logos are simple and clear. Customers need to see your logo, know it, and remember it. Simple and clear.
The right move: focus your logo on what’s important.

5. Don’t Stick to Your Standards
Standards are what designers use to create consistency for a brand. Making all collateral with the same font, making the name tags the same shape and color as the logo, using photos that are taken from a specific angle, etc. It’s easier to not stick to these standards, but what’s easier isn’t better. If your customers can’t tell that all your creative collateral came from the same place, your brand looks like a jumbled mess.
The right move: make a set of standards, and stick to them.

6. Don’t Be Flexible
Your logo will need to be on a black background, as often as it needs to be on a white background. It will need to be large, as often as it will need to be small. Companies sponsor races, donate to charities, and have events. Your logo and standards should be prepared for that; otherwise, you’ll be the company with a blurry logo on a charity runner’s shirt that has a big white box around it because the original design was made small and on a white background, by your nephew. It makes your company look inexperienced and unprepared.
The right move: prepare your company’s imagery for every possible use.

7. Make It Too Personal
Naming your company after your dog, picking pink as your standard color because it’s your daughter’s favorite, and making any brand decision based on personal life is a mistake. These decisions don’t target your customer demographic, and they’re the ones that want to give you money. When things get “personal” branded, customers get confused and take their money somewhere else.
The right move: make brand and design decisions based on customer research.

8. Don’t Ask For Help
You want a circular business card? Okay. You want your website to take orders from overseas? No problem. You want signage that glows in the dark? Do it. Companies, especially new companies, have ideas but no idea how to execute them. So they just use templates and common choices. This makes your business look unoriginal, and is so simple to avoid. It takes 2 seconds to Google search “circular business cards.”
The right move: find people to help you make your ideas happen.

9. Give No Direction
Designers and contractors can’t read minds. If you have something made, and give no direction, the result rarely pleases you. I designed a website once, without any concrete direction, and after 15 proofs it was finally done. However, it could have only cost the client 3 proofs, with simple direction. Research and share with the people making products for your company; a simple example you find online shared with your designer WILL save you funds.
The right move: provide examples for direction.

10. Think Any of the Above Are Not Important
The public will judge a book by its cover. If your small business or start-up isn’t ready for that, plan on hiring a freelance designer very soon.


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Avatar About the Author: The Rhode Island Small Business Journal is a printed monthly magazine and an online resource for the aspiring and start-up entrepreneur and small business owner.

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