Ready for a Rorschach test of sorts? There’s a car, the logo on the back is a black horse on a yellow shield … what comes to mind? Ferrari, yes, but what else? Luxury. Prestige. Superior manufacturing. OK next one: a laptop, with the outline of an apple on front. Apple computer … cutting-edge, a must-have for creatives and free-thinkers, right?
What’s happening here? Branding. Marketing at its best; well-crafted logos, marks and images strategically designed to help consumers associate certain attributes with a company or product. The world’s top companies are adept at it—but it isn’t just for the big boys. Tactical branding and graphic design can provide a critical competitive advantage for companies of any size, and it’s the wise small business that invests even its modest dollars in making it a priority.
Necessity or luxury?
Just ask Black Thumb MST. The company knew it was one thing to be a tattoo shop—another to be an artistic tattoo shop with a distinctive eye for curation, style—and edge. To differentiate itself, Black Thumb MST wanted a brand identity strong enough to match its growing reputation, so it turned to Neuer Geist Studio in Salt Lake.
Working closely with the Black Thumb MST, Neuer Geist’s design team created a logo that incorporated industrial elements with clean, modern artwork and a mark that could work not only for digital media (web and social media), but also for signage, an exterior mural and even the company’s burgeoning apparel line. These elements of graphic design have made a difference in setting the shop apart, and it’s helped the company’s bottom line.
“We believe branding is an investment that can be as critical to businesses, new and old, as their physical shop and staff,” says Brighton Ballard, project manager and co-founder of Neuer Geist. “Customers and consumers buy products and services based on the presentation, which includes the packaging and design of the brand. It is the face of the business and makes the first, long-lasting impression, so it should no longer be viewed as a luxury, a trend or something to ‘get around to’ in the future.”
While it shouldn’t be viewed as a luxury, many small businesses still see it as that. Small businesses already allocated their limited budgets for office space, management, employees, equipment, etc., so many figure they’ll just get by with a logo they’ve thrown together.
But Derek Ballard, graphic designer and co-founder of Neuer Geist, explains that DIY graphic design can end up costing companies more in lost customer confidence and revenue. “Consumers are aware; they can feel when a brand is off, feels phoned in,” he says. “It affects how they react emotionally, subconsciously to a product or company, and it can impact whether they choose you or your competitor.”
Understanding that high-end advertising agencies may be out of reach for many smaller businesses, husband-and-wife team Derek and Brighton (who’s also an illustrator and writer) founded Neuer Geist with the belief that great design shouldn’t have to cost a lot.
They create corporate identity elements with that in mind. For their restaurant clients, for example, they design well-appointed menus, then hand over the design templates in a format that can be easily updated by the client. “We like to make it cost-effective and easy for them to make changes as their menu evolves, so they don’t have to call on us for everything,” says Derek.
As for what to aim for in good design, Derek urges companies to avoid the copycat route. “A lot of clients will want to play it safe. They think if everybody in the market is doing it one way, they should do it, too. Although a lot of people feel secure in that, their logo, their design is not going to stand out or add value to the brand. There’s a lot of reward in risk. And there’s a way to be risky while having a well-executed brand that will stand apart.”
Derek also recommends making sure graphic design is on-trend technically. “The trend in design right now is to recognize it’s got to work on your phone, your desktop, your tablet. You need a mark that‘ll work well when it’s as small as a dime, but then also has a full logo extension that would look great on a billboard or printed page.”
So whether your brand is luxurious, creative, welcoming or revolutionary, make sure that’s communicated in every aspect of your company’s graphic design—and you’ll be on your way to ensuring customers can pass a Rorschach test of your own someday.