What not to do

How not to design

Thanks to cheap design sites, graphic design is increasingly seen as an undervalued art by those outside professional design circles. In this piece, I want to talk about what you shouldn’t do, in response to a thread on social media where some contributors were failing to make the connection between the importance of design and the skills that goes into creating great work.  For the purposes of this piece, I’ve used the example of a logo but the same theory can be applied to book covers, websites – indeed any graphic design piece for any product or service.

To understand what a logo is, we have to understand what it does. It’s the face of your business. It’s qualities can inspire trust, admiration, loyalty and superiority. It can portray your economic status and heritage, vivacity and your future. It can form your brand strategy and often the key identifier for new and future customers.

And yet hundreds of people entrust this important piece of design to cheap sites and hoping that $99 buys them something that can sums all these key factors having never met the ‘creative’ behind it. So here are my top tips on what not to do with your design.


Design contests

One of the most compelling but worthless routes is a design contest. As the client you complete control the brief (meaning you must know more about design than perhaps you’d like as you’ll miss the collaboration with a designer completely). Multiple ‘designers’ who often lack the skills or confidence, spend their time on designs that you can send out to vote. At this point, you must know if your audience have appropriate research, business knowledge and design expertise to deliver a worthy vote and if you value their opinion.

A professional designer should understand your business, realise the trends in logo design, great typography, your mission, your personality and how you operate your business. In the contest model none of these questions apply because your job is a contest for cheap money. Even if I was vaguely tempted (and my workload and skills level prevents me), I’d be placing any contest at the back of the pile as the gain is so small. From the designer’s point of view, the work can easily be used to gain scamps to forward to other designers not on the site which is a terrible breach of copyright. All these points transition neatly to the mass produced, low cost book covers.

Ethically this contest practice is unsound. It encourages cheap design and damages the reputation of professionals.  I sum it up with the analogy of going to a restaurant, ordering the whole menu and only paying for the meal you like. In any other industry, you’d never consider the practice and it’s not acceptable in design.


Design in a day

Search your design requirement and Google will give you plenty of results for a design in a day. A professional designer will take a day to read through your reply to your brief and several weeks of hard work to create your piece. How do you think a speedy design is produced?


Stock images

Ah… the secret to speedy work. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with vectors on libraries, except that you, your neighbour, the competitor up the road – anyone, can get an account and get the same images as yours. If you want an exclusive design, invest, because it’s cheap to copy.


DIY my design

If you’ve trained for a long time in the skills that earn your money, unless that’s a graphic design business or very closely related skill, your product or logo design is too important to do yourself. And it begs the question, what are your priorities?

And beware the person who thinks they have graphic design skills after a quick online course or has migrated to design from a vaguely related field. Social media expertise does not make a designer. Check what you’re paying for. A strong working portfolio across a range of areas, undergrad, HND or Masters in the art of graphic design is a great big plus point (web design, interior design qualifications really don’t transition well to logos or books unless the person has a strong working practice). 


Free logo maker

If you can make a logo in software like Canva, just imagine who else might. Not only can a professional designer spot a cheap design, they have no thought. Bear in mind too that professional designers are many and may well be potential customers. I’ve walked away from purchases because the logo, brand or website lacks any creativity or I can see it’s been completed using a cheap method. It defines a lack of care and trust that makes me reluctant to invest.


Poor typography

What's the connection between David Bowie and Edward Johnston? Both created work that required a licence. In Bowie's case it's music and in Johnston's case it's type (notably the typeface for London Transport). Both need a licence to play or use their creations. In the case of good design, along with a great knowledge of typography, it's appropriate use, the trends and how it portrays your business,  a designer will also know that your font needs a license. This is because you may wish to use it in your branding and should be either able to buy it legally or find a pairing that means you can use open source type.


Signing off a design without any feedback

It’s important that you get feedback from the right person. Unless your partner, children or parents have a stake in your business, then seek feedback from clients, peers and stakeholders. Print it out, stick it on the cupboard wall and live with it awhile.


So why pay a professional?

Apart from the skills of the designer, you’re paying for their time and benefitting from their years of work experience, creative wisdom and ability to steer your design through it’s revisions whilst knowing and avoiding pitfalls.

The price of a logo isn’t an easy question to answer. The best way to approach a design is to speak to a range of designers and ask for quotes but ultimately go with who you’re most comfortable working with. A free one hour consultation can help to alleviate worries and provide clarity, giving you the confidence to get the great design that you deserve.

Berenice Smith, MA