Good Design Saves Money, Doesn't Look Cheap

June 29, 2010 | Branding, Business, Web Design

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As you pull together your brand identity you need to look at design as well as production costs. First you need a well designed business card, then you need to get it printed. In addition to web design there are development and hosting fees. As a business owner, you’re probably looking for ways to minimize expenses; but you need to understand how and where you can safely cut corners.

Where can you save money?

For example, there is a plethora of online printing sources that will print your cards cheaply; and many times they will look like that — cheap. If you know your way around printing, you may be able to score some decent, but well-priced cards. However, many new business owners don’t know anything about printing, so they end up with thin paper and poorly reproduced artwork. If you want to read about my own experience getting some cards printed online, read this series of posts.

It’s all about understanding where it’s OK to save money and where you’ll end up looking cheap.

As many of you know, I recently moved my office. To decorate the new space, I decided to frame and display some logo designs that we’ve done in the past. It’s a nice way to showcase some of our design work for people who stop by the studio.

I had to find some frames, and I needed at least a dozen of them; so they couldn’t be expensive. I’m a small business owner watching the bottom line, like just you. I checked out Target, some craft stores and ended up at the Christmas Tree Shop. If you’re not from New England you may not be familiar with this quirky, bargain-hunters’ dream. It’s one of those places that you’ll never know what you’ll find, but they always have an assortment of home decorating and housewares items that are inexpensive.

I headed to the frame department. All were inexpensive. Some looked flimsy, were poorly manufactured, or had chipping finishes. But some of the most basic ones were acceptable.

Keep it simple. Keep the quality.

I purchased twelve of these basic, black wooden frames. They are simple and square. And they cost only $3.99 each.

picture frame

I didn’t try to make it look like gold leaf, or have fancy mattes. I chose a quality material (wood, rather than plastic), a basic style (square shaped and flat edges), and a simple finish (flat black paint).

It takes experience to work within limits

Framing up these logos got me thinking… It’s often the person with the most understanding who can cut corners, save money, use templates, etc. and still have it all look good. In this case, I was able to  see which elements were critical to having a professional look.

Another example is web templates. If you don’t know anything about web design, it’s hard to make a free template look very good. But an experienced web designer could make the most of even the most limited web design template. But then, a good web designer would probably never use one of those cheesy templates.

It’s sort of a catch-22: templates, clipart, inexpensive printing and do-it-yourself systems are supposed to make someone look professional with minimal cost; but they often backfire and make you look even worse.

Three ways your graphic designer or web designer can help

  1. Consider the entire budget. Start by providing a budget for what you want to accomplish. Then both the design and the production or development fees can be factored in.
  2. Consider long terms costs. It can be painful to put down a lot of money upfront, but many times when you consider the long terms savings, it worth it. For example, a Content Management System (CMS) has development costs upfront, but saves you from going back to your web developer for routine updates. By saving those hourly fees, the CMS will eventually pay for itself.
  3. Think long term. Unfortunately, I’ve been in too many situations where clients try to penny pinch so hard that they end up doing one small-scale project after another. With none of them having the effect or impact they want. For example, they might build a small non-CMS-enabled web site, then re-do it with a CMS. Or, they pay the design fees for an ad, but only run it once. Branding, marketing, web site optimization are all ongoing and long term projects.

Most importantly, allow your designer to use their expertise to help you find a cost-effective solution.

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