Digital designs created by Brooklyn-based Radish Lab for Humanity United, a foundation that is a part of The Omidyar Group. Credit: Radish Lab.

Let’s face it, “entrepreneur” is a buzzword. There’s a sort of coolness surrounding it, though the title comes with countless realities that are less glamorous. Investor rejections. Limited funds. Late nights. Small teams. These challenges have a tendency to force business owners to prioritize so ruthlessly that essential parts of a creating their brand, particularly good design, find lukewarm seats on the back burners.  

“Businesses that have limited resources tend to put those limited resources into other areas, thinking they can take care of design on their own,” says Jasio Stefanski, professor of graphic design at Virginia Commonwealth University. Yet marketing gurus agree that good design is essential in establishing a solid brand, or the way that customers, current or potential, perceive your products, services and company overall.

In today’s digital world, where barrages of information constantly vie for our attention, visual representation is increasingly important because it can break through the clutter and quickly communicate a company’s message.

“If you’re not doing a good job of creatively telling your stories, you’re going to get lost in the shuffle,” says Alana Range, creative director and CEO Radish Lab, a design agency in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn that focuses on clients that are seeking to make a social impact. “A strong creative direction and brand can help you leverage your organizational mission.”

So, what does effective design do for a business?

Good Design Communicates a Company’s Identity

Design enables “visual storytelling,” in which an image or “look” narrate a company in a single glance. “Design brings the entire brand together. It’s the visual piece that viewers are going to connect to,” says Amee McDonald, founder of Jabber Logic, a design agency in Minneapolis serving small businesses and nonprofits.

Airbnb's Bèlo logo
Airbnb’s Bèlo logo was designed to represent people, place, love and Airbnb. Credit: Airbnb.

Take Airbnb, an up-and-coming online hospitality and lodging service, which went through a logo redesign in 2014. The new logo, named Bèlo, is what Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky refers to as the “universal symbol of belonging.” This symbol stands for four things: people, place, love and Airbnb. It was designed to reflect the company’s values and hopes that customers will feel they belong whenever they encounter the symbol.  

According to Range, a company’s design should embody the spirit of an organization, which requires first doing a thorough internal analysis of a company’s mission and vision. Range describes design as the “skeleton” of a brand — an essential, albeit basic aspect — while the company’s mission, vision and audience are the “meat.” Both Range and McDonald suggest a company revisit their design about once a year.

Good Design Attracts the Right Clients

Differents kinds of people are attracted to different things. Design helps companies attract their desired clients by targeting specific audiences through their visual interests. McDonald suggests companies identify their primary and secondary audiences and then see what those groups are interested in, both in terms of services provided and aesthetic appeal. For instance, if your key audience is 20-something travelers, you may want an earthy, adventurous aesthetic. Likewise, if your audience is middle-aged suburbanites, you may want a more stable, traditional aesthetic.  

Design that stays true to a company’s brand concept, while being visually appealing to its audience is the key. Done well, it is also a way for a company to build consistency — something clients can rely on and want to come back to.

No matter how small your company, it’s important to build a brand with compelling design that appeals to the kind of clients you want to work with. Range says design is about investment and return. Investing in a “visual presence is important,” she says. “It gives off the impression that you’ve got it all together,” which is good for business.

Even in the beginning stages of building a company, Range suggests that business owners settle on the kind of company they want to be and make design choices that represent the end goal, even if that requires “faking it till you make it.”

Good Design Can Advance Your Business

When resources are limited, a business may not be able to walk into a design firm with several thousand dollars to spend on a makeover. However, both Range and McDonald agree that design isn’t something to skim over or piece together.

Briana Feola of Brainstorm, a New Hampshire-based art print and illustration studio. Credit: Brainstorm.

Their suggestion? Prioritize. Figure out what’s essential in your industry and to your audience, and focus on those elements. For example, a website and online store may be most important for a retailer, while business cards and letterhead may be just as valuable to a law firm.

For Briana Feola and Jason Snyder, founders of Brainstorm, a Dover, N.H., art print and illustration studio, a web presence was their first priority. “Our gut was saying we needed to be online. We needed to grow from there somehow,” Feola says.

Brainstorm makes prints, posters, totes, beanies, wrapping paper and home goods like glasses and mugs. The duo still values face-to-face interactions, attending craft shows and fairs, but maintaining an active, playful e-commerce website and blog fits their audience of art lovers and creative types — and allows them to reach a much wider market.

Effective design doesn’t necessarily make a successful business, but it does help pave the road.