First published February 2005, updated March 2012.
Two truths: Good design is a powerful tool to communicate your business' objectives. And, good design is not cheap.
However true these statements are, it's difficult for many to realize the value of design in the marketing mix. Sometimes it's not quantifiable—the return on your investment isn't there immediately, or you're not sure what you really get out of a logo, new business card or direct mail piece.
One of the most important things to realize in design is that it is meant to look good—but it is not good design if it does not communicate your objectives. Anyone who tells you differently is not interested in the results of the piece, just how it will look in their portfolio.
Realize, though, that there is a surplus of visual information coming at us every day, making competition strong. Your clients can just as easily go to someone who is flashier, more sophisticated or deemed more trustworthy in the market.
What gives you the edge are unique, well-presented ideas that distinguish your company and what it does. A designer is best-suited to help you realize this—especially as you realize that marketing your company can become confused by conflicting messages and bogged down by your other responsibilities.
Build a consistent, professional look.
Everyone knows the Nike swoosh, but if it weren't used consistently throughout advertising, products and other materials, it never would have become synonymous with Nike, and vice versa.
The same follows for your logo, web site and marketing materials: Establishing a look sets you apart in the marketplace, but also show you to be professional and dedicated—not just someone with Word template and a printer.
I'll put it to you this way: Is it better to meet a potential client in ripped jeans, or in a suit? The way you present your business to the world is just as important!
So, what sets you apart?
I'm not only speaking for myself here but all designers: There is a difference in using a designer, as opposed to "doing it yourself" or a friend who's dabbled in Photoshop.
Most of us have gone to school for it [in my case, I have BAs in both art and journalism] and have worked to understand the processes and psychology of buying. We've worked on accounts as large as Fujitsu or as small as one-man shops. We know the best way to get a job on press inexpensively, or how to build an e-commerce site customers can easily navigate.
Because we've done this for so long, we can do it quickly, using the latest tools. Those tools cost us not only money, but time in learning, getting up to speed and knowing where to best apply them for you.
Just as you're the expert in your field, we've established ourselves as experts here, and you can use our knowledge to move your business ahead.