When Does Brand Design Actually Matter?

As a brand identity designer, I often struggle with this question. Looking at companies like Apple, Dell, Google, and Amazon, which all started out with bland, uninspiring logos and no real brand identity to speak of, I often find myself pondering over which of my potential clients would truly benefit from my services, and which may need a few more years of being in business before they can get the maximum cost-effectiveness of hiring me.

Today, we’re going to examine the how and why of branding, and who actually benefits from a sleek, cohesive brand identity.

Why It Matters: Users and Buyers

There’s no question that people like things that are well-designed. A trendy new restaurant will get a lot more customers if it has a fun, intriguing design than one that is bland and unappealing. There are plenty of studies which show that good brand design not only makes people happier, it also causes them to spend more money.

But just how much of a difference does it make to a client whose business isn’t yet attracting customers? There are, after all, plenty of local neighborhood restaurants which have been around for years, or even decades, that do just fine without any kind of snazzy branding pyrotechnics. They still perform the function people need – provide good food and customer service.

(Image source: Sam Javanrouh)

This kind of brand analysis should be part of any branding designer’s job. Your clients are hiring you not necessarily to provide a logo or a slick website – they’re hiring you in order to maximize their brand’s effectiveness in the marketplace. Being discerning about which clients you decide to help can not only help strengthen your portfolio, it can also help shape the design industry by teaching clients about the perfect time to hire branding designers.

When Do Companies Need Brand Design?

In my experience, new startups are the most eager to request branding services, while being the least likely to actually need them. Rather than focusing on making their businesses profitable, they often waste their resources making their brand look slick and perfect.

Yes, that’s right. Most new startups would do well not to hire someone like me to develop their brand identity. At least not yet. I’m not shy about telling them so, and if you’re a brand designer who serves entrepreneurs, you shouldn’t be either.

It might seem like I’m shooting myself in the foot when I turn away these types of clients (and I very often do), but years of working with businesses have taught me something that these new entrepreneurs don’t yet understand: your brand is worthless until it turns a profit. The point of any business is not to look pretty. The point is to make money. If a business isn’t making money… well, it’s just not a business, and it has no “business” hiring you.

Ugly Brand, Beautiful Profit

Apple was profitable long before Jonathan Ive was hired to produce the very first iMacs. If you’ve ever seen Apple’s original logo from the 1980s, you’ll know that 1) it’s hideous, and 2) a business really doesn’t need a great logo right out of the gate.

What a business needs out of the gate, again, is sales, and any designer who tells an entrepreneur otherwise is being disingenuous at best, and hurting both themselves and their clients at worst. If your client runs out of funds before the branding job is finished, it will be partly your fault for not warning that client beforehand.

Just The Right Time

Brand identity matters much more for established businesses, who have developed their product offerings, built a sustainable revenue stream, and now want to really target their niche with an eye-catching, memorable brand. Putting brand identity before business development is jumping the gun, and very risky. Yes, it can work out well, but most of the time it’s a waste of money.

Designing For Designers

When a business is truly ready for a rebrand, it can be a beautiful thing. A strong brand can revitalize a business and open up a world of opportunities to connect with customers that your clients may not have even knew existed. But good brand identity design doesn’t only help the business itself make money. It also aids the design community as a whole.

Beautiful brand designs help inspire better design across the entire industry by helping other designers aspire to create better work for their own clients. So do take on those entrepreneurial clients, but make sure the time is right to do so.

In Conclusion

Branding design is an essential part of staying competitive, especially in today’s highly visual world. There’s no question that brand designers have our work cut out for us in sorting through those clients who actually need a rebrand, and those who are making their road to profitability that much harder by hiring us.

Be kind to these new (typically young and naive) founders and don’t take their money. Instead, give them the service they truly require from you right now: sound business advice.