Is Design A Litmus Test for Business Success?

September 28, 2009 | Business, Startups

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bankruptcyRecently, I have found out that two old clients of mine have filed for bankruptcy. Each owed me a small amount of money, which means I’m included as a creditor in all the filings. Honestly, I had written off both of them long ago. But, I do think it’s sad to see someone fail, and I always hope that my business adds to another business’ success.

However, I feel like I could see the writing on the wall long ago. Let me use one of these clients as an example.

Failure to consider design and branding

When I met these small business owners, they were selling their product at fairs and farmers markets and wanted to expand their business to an e-commerce Web site. It seemed like a good avenue to grow their business. At our first meeting I asked to see their existing brand identity—logo, packaging, etc.—and to get electronic files of these to incorporate into the Web design. However, they had other ideas. They felt the Web site should have it’s own unique brand. From the start, this didn’t make any business sense to throw away their current brand equity. They couldn’t be convinced, so I went ahead and built the site.

They were definitely struggling so the site did not include a content management system and I would do updates for them about 3 or 4 times a year. I was very surprised when a new round of updates came in and they said they wanted to announce on the home page that they had just opened a retail store! They had not consulted with me for any design work for the launch of the store. I figured they had found someone else, but they hadn’t; they were doing the design work themselves.

So, there was no integration between their online presence and their brick & mortar store. These two outlets have fed eachother’s growth if they worked cohesively, but they weren’t. Honestly, I sort of threw in the towel with trying to explain how design could help them. I had tried many times, and they weren’t interested.

They went on to open a second retail store and that coupled with the tanking economy led to their ruin.

A symptom of greater problems

As I mentioned, I always felt they didn’t take the ideas of branding, consistency, marketing and all the other sides of design seriously. It’s not fair to say that is the cause of business failure, but it definitely is a symptom. It could be:

  • A lack of knowledge of how branding could help, or
  • A lack of funds to develop a robust web site that could be integrated and updated to keep their clients informed

As I put together this post, I realized there are many service providers that probably see their own line of business as a litmus test for business success. For example, a marketer sees businesses who do not market enough fail to gain customers. An organizational consultant may see poor customer service as the cause of failure.

What do you think?

What business are you in? Do you see your service as a litmus test for your clients? Or, as a business owner have you seen the connection between design and business?

3 comments

  1. Mike Maddaloni - @thehotiron | September 28, 2009 at 6:47 am

    Many people and businesses think of their Web site as something separate from their business, when the reality is it should be tightly integrated into all of their business decisions!

    mp/m

  2. Emily Brackett | September 30, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    So true, Even if you are not doing web-based business, many people use the web as the first and primary way to learn about your business.

  3. Emily Brackett | October 1, 2009 at 11:28 am

    Mike, I know from reading your blog, especially the recent post about the AirTran web site that you tend to see the link between web design/development/user experience and business. Readers, check out this recent post of Mike’s: http://www.thehotiron.com/index.php/site/comments/airtran_web_site_adds_insult_to_injury_on_bag_fees/

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