The late Thomas J. Watson of IBM once stressed the importance of quality design, saying, “Good design is good business.” While he was likely referring more to products, he was also a firm believer in the power of graphic design. Graphic design, in the form of a strong brand identity, has the ability to transform a company’s self image and project that company’s core beliefs and principles to the market in a meaningful and powerful way. In the early 1950s the stodgy public image of IBM was a complete disconnect from the truly cutting edge work that was happening inside the walls. Enter Paul Rand and his brilliant interpretation of the IBM logo as a pictogram of a striped “eye,” a “bee” and an “M.” A daring identity for a global business powerhouse that became an icon in the world of business.
“Good design is good business.”
So what lessons lay in this story that apply to a smaller business? Well, I believe that the most important realization is that a company’s identity is more than just a graphic that looks “cool” but a genuine extension of what the company is all about. That’s not to say that it should be a literal interpretation of what a company does, but more that the identity should reveal something intangible and different about a company. It should differentiate your company from other similar companies in the market.
A recent article in INC. Magazine showcased a new company shopping around for inexpensive, “crowdsourced” logos online. While most of the offerings were terrible in every conceivable way, some of them were actually quite appealing, visually speaking. But the lone expert opinion in the article, noted designer and educator Steven Heller, was dead on when he remarked that, while not visually reprehensible, none of them said anything distinct about the company. The mark that was chosen could just as easily have been for a car dealership as the high tech company that it was meant for. Sure it only cost the company around $500, which sounds like a bargain, but the logo has no real value for the company outside of occupying real estate on a business card or letterhead.
“…none of them said anything distinct about the company.”
Therein lies the value of a well executed graphic identity, and “value” is the operable word here. The terms “value” and “inexpensive” are often, and mistakenly, used interchangeably. An inexpensive logo design that does not differentiate your company, or help it to stand out in a crowded marketplace, has very little value—the very opposite of a bargain. The possibility of increased visibility and, ultimately, increased revenue has been greatly reduced by presenting the company in an unprofessional or predictable manner.
The bottom line is that your identity—the very face of your company to the public–should not be taken lightly. You don’t have to be a behemoth company in order to reap the benefits of a unique identity. In fact, a small business based in Denver, Colorado can benefit even more from quality graphic design than a large, multi-national company because visibility is paramount and competition is even more fierce. That’s when you should turn to an expert–a good, local Denver graphic designer will not only produce a quality product, aesthetically speaking, but is familiar with your market and shares a lot of the same concerns that you do.