No matter what industry you're in, design — the look and feel of your website, logo, social media profiles, marketing materials, etc. — is an important tool to help you hook customers with a great first impression. As a small business, this can mean the difference between gaining an edge over your competitors and turning customers off completely. That's why it's so crucial to invest the necessary time and resources in a visually pleasing, well-designed brand presence.
Business leaders and branding experts weighed in on the importance of design for small businesses, and what to consider when creating visuals for your company.
Why design matters
According to research from Missouri University of Science and Technology, a person's eyes take just 2.6 seconds to focus on a specific element of a Web page when it loads. From there, the viewer quickly forms an opinion based on what he or she has seen, so it pays to influence that opinion with a smart design, said Adriana Marin, a graphic designer at Shutterstock. [Building a Business Website: A Small Business Guide]
"People have [feelings] about your company based on the experiences that they have had with a brand," Marin told Business News Daily. "[For example,] a well-designed logo and website inspires confidence because it looks professional. If a company is willing to focus on creating a clean and functional design that is easy to use, then that could be an indicator of what using their product might be like."
"Great design not only conceptually reflects the mission of your company, but also, functionally, it's the embodiment of that concept," added Ty Walrod, CEO of Bright Funds, an all-in-one corporate program for donating, matching and volunteering. "A company's design shapes the way an audience relates to your business, and any company, no matter the size, can benefit from employing design as a primary vehicle of brand expression."
Marin cited Apple as an example of a brand that used design to distinguish itself from its competitors. In the 1980s and '90s, design was often an afterthought for many major technology companies, she said. Apple worked with several partner companies to create the distinct, consistent design aesthetic that consumers recognize today.
"Through design, Apple was able to craft a positive brand presence that is slick and modern yet simple," Marin said.
You might have a great story to tell, but no one's going to want to read your "About" page or explore your social media posts if you don't present people with strong visuals right off the bat. Why do visual elements work so well? Cole Sletten, creative director at digital branding agency Ready Set Rocket, said it's because they work fast.
"In a culture of information overload, diminishing attention spans and TL;DR (too long; didn't read), an image can communicate even complex messages quickly, concisely and memorably," Sletten said. "It's this same drive for fast consumption that has evolved the Internet from its text-centric roots into an image- and increasingly video-centric medium as well."
Ian Wishingrad, founder of the branding company BigEyedWish.com, agreed, and said that there are more visuals than ever in today's world, and the bar for what captures consumers' attention has risen considerably.
For this reason, Marin noted that eye-catching visuals will set your brand apart. The imagery you use should be relevant to your brand and engage your target audience.
"When in doubt, keep design and messaging direct and simple," Marin said.
Design tips for your business
When you're thinking about what your online brand presence should look like, Sletten said it's important to be consistent, but not repetitive.
"The best brands, large and small, feel more like real, multifaceted personalities than collections of graphical elements," Sletten said. Think about the qualities that are unique to your business and that could authentically and attractively represent your brand. Then let those qualities drive everything, from your logo and website to your Instagram feed and even your storefront, packaging and customer service."
To this end, Walrod advised using the design process as a way to answer some of the deeper questions around your company, before you create any visuals. Determining your company's personality and what you stand for will help you enrich your brand, he said. After laying this groundwork, create the visuals that naturally align with those traits and values.
"Bright Funds, for example, aims to make the experience of giving delightful and rewarding," Walrod said. "As such, our brand created a sense of positivity and empowerment through our use of bright colors, illustrations and photography."
Finally, Wishingrad reminded business owners to view art and design as the "wardrobe" of their business, and always think of the impression it will make on your customers.
"Good design is like a great suit — everyone takes notice," Wishingrad said. "With a little time, consideration and style, your business can have that elegant and professional polish that resonates with consumers."