Why design doesn’t matter.
Wait, what? Why is an agency posting an article that claims what they do is irrelevant?
I’ll tell you why: because something else is the important thing.
Perception is the only thing that matters when it comes to branding and marketing. Everything we do as a brand management agency comes down to influencing perceptions.
Nike wants to create the perception that basketball players will perform better in their shoes. Westjet wants to create the perception that flying with them will be enjoyable when everybody knows that flying hasn’t been enjoyable (expensive seats notwithstanding) since the nineties. McDonald’s wants to create the perception that their food looks and tastes great. You get the idea.
Here’s the thing: perceptions can be altered in such a wide variety of ways, and beautiful graphic design is just one of those ways. In fact, sometimes things are designed to look undesigned. Ever heard of No-Name Brand? Their peanut butter is exactly the same as the name-brand alternative. But it has been branded to look intentionally cheap to capture a different audience. The perception is that this peanut butter is cheaper and/or worse somehow than the Kraft peanut butter. This perception can do three things:
- It can make somebody looking for bargains buy the product. Good.
- It can make somebody think about it, and then buy Loblaw’s other name-brand peanut butter with a different sticker on the jar. Very good.
- It can repulse somebody, and drive them to a competitor. Not so good.
All this, and accomplished by a yellow label with black, (seemingly) unformatted text on it.
Now, take John. He has a landscaping company, and he has no website. He has no logo. He doesn’t even have business cards! John does a phenomenal job in his customer’s yards, and they love him. A couple of his regulars even bake him goodies. John’s Landscaping is all word of mouth. “His company is successful without a brand?” No. His company’s brand IS “John provides great service, he’s on time, and I find his work valuable.” For John, the right perceptions for success have been created, and there was no design, visual branding, marketing, or advertising at all.
So, why should companies waste their money on this crap then? I’ll be self-deprecatingly honest here. If people weren’t so judgmental, we would be out of business. It’s true. There is so much noise out there, and so much competition, that the only way to even cause any kind of perception in your market is to promote yourself more aggressively. More uniquely.
People judge books by their covers. People grab the jar off the shelf that looks the most appetizing to them. People compare one website to another. People judge other people by the brands they wear, or the haircuts they have. Great graphic design is only relevant because people allow it to influence their perceptions and actions, not because it is inherently important.
I have turned down work on many different occasions. Not because I didn’t want it, or even need it. The reason was simple: they didn’t need it. If somebody comes to me and tells me they need a website for their modest restaurant, but they don’t have a logo, a professional looking menu, or even a good looking sign, I’ll be honest and tell them their priorities are off.
They could have a free Google My Business profile with their hours, menus, reviews, contact info, location, even pictures. It would accomplish everything they’d need from a website, and then their budget could be allocated towards things that affect public perception, like a unique, professionally designed brandmark that they could have on their signage, menus, business cards, uniforms, and more.
Ultimately, we are in the business of identifying perceptions that affect key behaviours, and using our visual crafting skills to positively create or modify those perceptions. And we’re good at it. But without those perceptions, design doesn’t matter.