The Seven Deadly Sins of Bad Graphic Design: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt Your Business!

An advertisement for food that takes away your appetite. A commercial that leaves you wondering what the product actually is, and how you can avoid it. Whether it’s a billboard, a television commercial or a magazine advertisement, we’ve all seen bad ads and wondered, ‘What was that company thinking?!’ Yep, a graphic design disaster strikes again!

It’s true; nothing leads to bad advertising or wastes your marketing dollars faster than a graphic design disaster. From big corporations to small businesses, everyone has made a graphic design mistake. Big corporations, however, have big bucks to spend on advertising, so the huge chunk of change that a large company just blew on an ineffective Super Bowl ad doesn’t hurt their bottom line the way an advertising mistake can hurt a small business.

If you’ve never worked with a graphic design team before, or had a bad experience in the past (I’ve heard horror stories of small businesses being ignored or mistreated by large design firms), the world of graphic design may seem mysterious, complex and even a bit confusing. A professional sign or graphic shop is experienced in turning your ideas into reality, and understand every step in the graphic design process. I’m here to debunk the mysteries, answer some common questions, and ensure your small business gets the biggest bang for your advertising buck! Read on for the ‘seven deadly sins’ of graphic design, and learn how to avoid these common pitfalls.

Sin #1: Graphic design doesn’t matter.

I beg to differ. The goal of every marketing initiative is to clearly communicate your message. Good design is at the root of this communication. A good design visually implements your marketing strategy; poor design does not. Good design establishes your brand’s legitimacy; bad design undermines it. Even the most creative and innovative marketing idea will fall short if you fail to properly execute the design. Whether it’s driving sales, promoting a product or defining a brand, graphic design has a clear business purpose and a specific goal to accomplish.

Fundamentally, good graphic design should: (1) improve your image and strengthen your brand, (2) make your business stand out from your competitors’ and (3) convincingly sell your messages to customers with a strong emotional appeal. The best designs stimulate an emotional, subconscious reaction in the viewer. And this all adds up to one thing: a better small business.

Sin #2: Cheap designers are just as good as expensive designers.

You get what you pay for. This old adage is especially true in graphic design. Think of graphic design not as an expense, but as an investment in your company’s future. Would you hire your next-door neighbor to do your business taxes? Unless he’s a certified accountant, the answer is probably no. The same goes for graphic design.

If you aren’t a graphic designer, don’t try to create your own logo – and don’t hire a friend without design experience to do it either. Leave the logo and marketing materials to a professional design team. There is a fine line between getting the biggest bang for you buck and looking cheap. When you choose to advertise your small business, whether it’s with vehicle wraps or window perforations, your goal is to cut costs, not quality. From color disasters to font fiascos, don’t gamble your business’s brand away on sub-par design. Whatever your graphic needs, avoid a branding catastrophe and go with the professionals.

Sin #3: Learning the lingo is a waste of time.

In reality, learning some basic design lingo can go a long way to helping you understand the process and getting you the biggest bang for your buck. From vector images to pre-flight approval, graphic design terminology is unique, and I know it can be a bit confusing to someone not familiar with it. When we first started in the design business, we didn’t know all the right terms either! Below I’ve listed some common terms that will help you better understand the design process – and ensure you get the best end product.

Vector images – A vector image is one made from basic geometric shapes, such as rectangles, lines, circles, ellipses and polygons. Since a vector image is created from shapes, it does not use pixels, thus when the image is enlarged, the same high quality resolution is maintained. Vector images are important because they allow for easy manipulation during the design process. If you have a logo or an image, be sure to give us the file in vector format. We can also convert some graphic files to vector format, although this is a chargeable service.

Color matching – If you have already printed a logo or other advertising collateral, you will likely want to match the color of your existing material to your vehicle wrap or window lettering. In order to ensure an accurate color match, bring us a sample in person. Because color can vary from computer to computer based on a monitor, the only way to ensure an accurate color match is to view a sample in person. Understand how important color matching is for your brand, and make sure to get it right the first time.

Pre-flight – When a design is in its final stages prior to printing, it is in ‘pre-flight.’ That means a production team does a final check to confirm colors and dimensions are correct before printing. Once an image goes to pre-flight check, no major design edits can be made (otherwise, you’ll need to start over from the drafting process).

Sin #4: I never plan ahead.

The key to a successful design job is planning. If you have a great idea, tell it! A good design company will help you take your idea from concept to completion. The best way to do this is to go to the shop, view samples, and talk to them in person. If you want a custom vehicle wrap job, be sure to bring in your car. This way they can get accurate measurements and get a feel for what you want. We use computer templates as a starting point for every vehicle wrap, but specific measurements allow us to customize the templates and ensure the design will fit just right.

Sin #5: I need my rush job ASAP.

Custom work takes time. Every design team will do their best to accommodate your schedule, especially in the event of a last minute rush job. Deadlines change and ‘I need it next week’ suddenly becomes ‘I needed it yesterday.’ Keep in mind that a design shop can (unfortunately) only do so much. Your rush job still needs to be squeezed in to the regular production schedule. Quality work takes time, and rushed jobs tend to look like they were rushed.

Sin #6: I proof my work when I feel like it – whether that’s today or next week.

Prompt proofing speeds up the design process. A good design company will work with you on edits and revisions as many times as you need, but keep in mind that proofing and changes take time. I always tell customers to allow 2-5 days for proofing and review. This may seem like a long time, but I’ve learned from experience that the change process can move slowly.

So what can be done to speed this up? The design proofing process will go much faster if the customer gets back in a timely fashion. I know you’re busy, but when you get a proof, take a few minutes to review it right away. Try not to wait a day or two – by the time you send changes and the design shop gets back to you, a few days will have already passed.

Sin #7: There’s no need to pay for quality materials.

Cut costs, not quality. Vehicle advertising and window graphics are two cost-effective marketing techniques that generate thousands of impressions and are a great return on your investment. However, poorly designed, printed and applied graphics look cheap – and reflect poorly on your brand. Use professional lamination for outdoor signage to protect and seal your graphics from sun, dirt and the elements. This will keep your colors fresh and preserve the ink, ensuring your graphics remain vibrant. Finally, make sure the lamination is done by a machine that presses a clear layer of vinyl on top of the graphic. The alternative process, using liquid lamination that is painted on by hand, may cost less, but it is an inferior process that looks cheap and easily fades and peels. A reputable shop will have a lamination press. Ask to be shown the machine so that you know you’re dealing with a reputable shop!

And when you’re ready to take off the graphics or change out your look, don’t remove them yourself. Improper removal can damage your car. Bring your vehicle into a shop to take care of everything. They have the right tools to make removal easy and safe.

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