The case for cheap design

I’ve just typed five words that will have me crucified by my own industry. But before the lynchings begin, please hear me out…

I’m committed to helping solopreneurs build a brand that they and their customers feelgood about. And design is an incredibly important part of building that type of brand. If you want people to feelgood about your brand, you need it to look good!

Most business owners get this, and understand the need to invest in design.

But when you’re struggling to keep the lights on, how do you find the big bucks required to hire a decent designer to build your brand? And what’s the definition of decent anyway?

By their own admission, many business owners don’t know what good design looks like. And if  you can’t see the difference between low and high end design, of course you will err towards a system where the cost to entry is cheap and where you can see what you get before you pay for it.

This isn’t a problem unique to design.

At the turn of the 20th century the Arts & Craft movement fought against this very thing with regards the industrialisation of many professions. As clothing, furniture, homewares started to be mass produced they lobbied on behalf of the craftsman.

At the turn of the 21st century these items are all things we now find perfectly acceptable to mix and match.

A wardrobe of basics sourced from Primark and H&M with feature items purchased from a high end retailer.

A house filled with Ikea basics and finished with one or two bespoke or vintage items.

At once we accept the cost-effectiveness of mass production and the quality of bespoke craftsmanship.

So how do you take this principle and apply it to curating design for your business?

Tip #1 – Be clear about your overall VISION

Whether you are curating furniture for your house or design for your business, it is your overall vision that is crucial to how well the combination works.

We’ve all had those trips to Ikea where you walk away with everything except what you really needed.

If you visit Ikea or 99 designs without a vision of what you are trying to achieve (and a clear plan of what you need to achieve it) you will walk away wondering where your time went, and why you bought all this useless stuff.

Tip #2 – Understand WHERE you need to invest

If you work on your feet all day, it pays to invest in good shoes. If you don’t, you will likely pay for it in other ways… sore feet, sore back, knee problems.

Likewise there will be key pieces of design that will do more heavy lifting for your business than others. For instance, your logo will likely feature across all of your communications. So investing in a good logo from the get go is a great way to lift the quality of all of your communications from thereon out.

Tip #3 – Understand WHEN you need to invest

A job interview is the perfect time to pull out the expensive pant-suit. You are trying to make a good impression, so you are likely to put a little more effort into your appearance for that 1 hour than you will every day once you get the job.

If you run an online business and expect to make sales through your website, then for goodness sake – invest in your website! You can’t expect someone else to invest in you, if you aren’t prepared to invest in yourself.

That’s not to say that you should turn into a slob as soon as the interview or sale is completed. Rather that you should understand when you need to step things up a notch.

Tip #4 – START with the more expensive items

Any initial design work you commission will become the cornerstone of your brand. Make sure it is quality!

If you are furnishing a house or building a wardrobe it is much easier to start with one or two key pieces, and then curate basic, lower cost items to complete the look. If you do it the other way around you will struggle to stay within budget or find things to match.

The same goes with design. It is better to understand where you need to invest and get these items developed first, and then work on filling the gaps with lower cost options if and where necessary.

Tip #5 – Understand that LESS IS MORE

Although design can make a huge impact to a business, it is not the quantity of design that matters, but the quality.

A few considered and well crafted pieces will serve you better than many elements developed by different designers, in different styles, with nothing to tie them altogether.

If you think about high end fashion stores, what is it that makes them feel high end? The stores are usually minimalist, with more space and fewer items for sale.

Do you want to exude the confidence and professionalism of a higher end service, or the mish-mash chaos of Primark?

One isn’t necessarily better than the other. Just make sure where you end up is a purposeful choice.

Tip #6 – Know when you need to ASK FOR HELP

If you run your own business then you have to be the keeper of your overall business vision. But when it comes to doing or curating design or creative work, you need to ask yourself if you are truly the best person for the job.

Do you know how to ask for what you need? Will you know what you need when you see it?

You are the only person who wins or loses if you don’t answer these questions truthfully.

Just like you might pay a personal stylist or an interior designer to guide your choices. It is also possible to work with a graphic designer to create an overall brand strategy which you can go away and implement yourself.

This brand strategy will provide you with the basic elements from which you can create every other communication piece. Meaning that you don’t have to start from scratch every time, and can commission work from other creatives with some level of confidence about what you will get back.

Aren’t we biting off our own hands telling you how to commission cheap design?

Yes, and no.

We provide a high-end branding service for solopreneurs, and we put a lot of emphasis on the brand strategy phase of our service. Because we know that this strategy is bigger than a simple logo or website. This strategy becomes the backbone of your business. And it encompasses more and has to last significantly longer than our time together.

However we still need to justify the cost of our services, because we still encounter enough people who think their brand is a website. And expect to pay £500 for both. And it is true that you can get a website built for a fraction of the cost of our full brand service.

However it is like comparing a tent to a fully furnished home. The may both technically provide shelter, but they will provide a very different experience for you and your visitors.

And the suitability of each option depends on your situation… if you are a happy camper, reluctant to put down permanent roots, then you need a tent.

Just don’t buy a tent, expecting the comforts of home!

What do you think?

As always, we’d love to know what you think? What experiences – good or bad – have you had commissioning design work? Is our advice helpful, or do you think we are a bunch of pretentious twats? Tell it like you see it!

Cat Townsend

Cat Townsend

Brand Strategy & Design

With a background in branding and information design, Cat setup The FeelGoodAgency, to help passionate solopreneurs to understand their brand and how to wield it effectively. Oh, and to make the world a better place. It always comes back to changing the world!


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