Imagine yourself in a foreign country where you can’t read or speak the language. You walk into a convenience store and you look for a drink. You find a couple of soft drink options - they’re in the same type of bottle and the liquid inside looks the same. You grab one of the two and you walk away.
You may not even know why you chose the bottle you did, but the decision was not entirely random. If we sent hundreds of people like you into the same store to make the same decision, they would probably disproportionately make the same choice that you did. Why?
Because despite the fact that the bottles were the same in almost every way, they had one difference: the label. You couldn’t read it, but you still felt more comfortable with one of the two choices.
You make decisions based on labels every day. And while you are familiar with your home country’s brands and can read the labels there, you still likely make your decisions at least in part based on another aspect: design.
Design: a subtle influencer
Design can refer to everything from the design of the product itself to the design of the packaging. For now, let’s talk about the design used to sell the product.
Design is about communication. The best design tells you something, even if you don’t know that you’re being told. Think of a movie poster, which uses design to stay efficient. Movie posters rarely say the words “new movie,” and they rarely use text to communicate the genre of a movie. We see small, tall rows of names at the bottoms of the posters, or a future date in bold print, and we know instantly that this is a movie poster. We see explosions and guns in the images on the poster, and we know it is an action movie. And there are subtler design cues, too - fonts, color schemes, the sharpness of the images, and more. Working together, these cues tell us things we don’t even realize we’re hearing - we get the message instinctually. You may not notice these elements working on a good poster, but perhaps you’ve noticed their absence from a bad poster. Imagine a tragic drama with its title printed boldly across the poster in comic sans. Yikes!
Every brand relies on design
Every decision that you make as a consumer is driven in part by design cues, even if you don’t realize it. Your favorite liquor store may not have changed its sign in years - but if that’s the case, maybe the design of the sign has retro appeal in the way that the competitor’s new sign does not. Like it or not, design matters in these decisions.
That means that every small business needs good design. And if your business isn’t an old neighborhood staple with retro appeal, you’ll need to turn to a good designer to get the right vibe (heck, even if your vintage signage is a key part of your appeal, you’ll need good and others to help you keep that consistent vibe in newer mediums like websites and social media pages).
Good design communicates quality as well as a certain type of “vibe” that appeals to your target customers. If you run a fancy restaurant, you’ll want to communicate that with thin fonts - perhaps some classic serifs (those are the ones with tails on the letters) or script fonts. A good designer will use tools like these properly to give your potential customers two simultaneous impressions: that the food at your restaurant is great, and that the atmosphere there is perfect for dates, anniversaries, or nice meals before the theater. If you run a local tavern, your design will still give the impression that your food and drinks are great - but it will also handle the task of showing your customers that your restaurant is a great place to unwind and have a casual meal with friends. Quality is paramount in both cases, but so is a certain vibe - and the way to get the right vibe is to hire a professional designer.
You’ll need designers for posters, flyers, brochures, and other printed materials. You’ll need one to get the best website design - a major key to attacting business in today’s high-tech world. You’ll need one for your logo, and for your wordmark (that’s your business’ name in its official font, color, etc.). It’s worth investing in good design, because design’s subtle pull has a stronger influence over consumer behavior than many of us may realize.