Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What Is Graphic Design... And Why Do You Need It?

The phrase "Graphic Design" was phrased by a man named William Addison Dwiggins. He was a typographer and illustrator, to say the least, and coined the term in 1922. But the truth is Graphic Design has been around for a pretty long time, in fact, communicating through the visual medium can be tracked back to Rome's Trajan's Column, the Illuminated Manuscripts of the Middle Ages and even Paleolithic Cave Paintings.

The AIGA says that Graphic Design "is a creative process that combines art and technology to communicate ideas. The designer works with a variety of communication tools in order to convey a message from a client to a particular audience. The main tools are image and typography"

Now that we know what it is, let's see what it can do.

What's Your Message?
Imagine you're selling something; be it a product, a service, or an idea. Now imagine only trying to communicate it verbally one person at a time or yelling it through a loudspeaker. Depending on the complexity of your idea, product etc., it could be pretty difficult to get your message across. And that's what it comes down to. You have a message and you want to effectively communicate it to as many people as possible. How do you do that effectively? With Graphic Design. Through Graphic Design you can communicate your message in a visually stimulating, functional and memorable way using images, words and typefaces. Great and effective design is the product of creativity, knowledge and information.

The key word being "effective". Now let's see what Graphic Design has done.

Design Saves The Day
Did you know that without graphic design the Volkswagen brand would not be around today, in the U.S. at least? Some may disagree with me, but back in the 60's there was still a stigma on anything German after the war. Regardless, the Volkswagen Beetle was shipped off to the U.S. and it needed a campaign that would intrigue people to purchase the vehicle. William Bernbach (of Doyle Dane Bernbach) created the Volkswagen ad campaign that featured headlines like "Lemon" and "Think Small" to cleverly describe the car. Portraying the vehicle in a "negative" manner actually did quite the opposite. The car is now one of the classic cars of the 20th century and is still seen today all due to effective design. The campaign itself is highly regarded as one of the best and most recognizable of the 20th century.

A more recent example happened in 2001 with the launch of Apple's iPod. The brand was already known for thinking outside the box and advertising to creative minds and those who are always waiting for the next big thing. The company who had been using the "Think Different" slogan up to that point decided it was time for a tweak. Thus the iPod people were born. The campaign was seen in magazines, buses, billboards and television spots everywhere. It effectively and cleverly used silhouettes and bright colored backgrounds to emphasize the fun and excitement of owning an iPod and cornered the market in the portable media player market and subsequently started a craze for Apple products that will never cease, it seems. You never hear MP3 player anymore... you hear iPod.

Why Do You Need It?
That's the big question, right? Why invest in design to promote your products and services? The real question is "Why wouldn't you?". The most common answer I get is "I can't afford it", which leads to asking your 15 year old nephew with a crack copy of Photoshop to design you a flyer, which leads to you effectively digging a grave for your brand and your business. When you lack the materials that would otherwise present your business in a favorable and professional way, you lose more than money, you lose brand image.

Everyone Can Afford Good Design
For example, what is more important to you? How many brochures you hand out or how many clients or new orders you get? You could mail 10,000 badly designed brochures and get zero orders. Or you could send a thousand with a clear and interesting design and win a dozen orders. The difference is design. So unless your budget is zero, you can definitely afford good design. See it as an investment, not an extra cost…

Graphic Design can only be done by a select few, and even then only 50% of them are trained and know how to do it well. Isn't it time to invest in someone who can effectively take your ideas and visualize them in a memorable way to your clients? Design is a language you don't speak, so find someone who does. Or let your nephew do it.

A new year is on its way and it's time for a change. If you're still on the fence about design, I have only one thing to say, "Just Do It".

Dennis Salvatier

Do you have any success stories on what design has done for you? Did you see a change in how you were perceived by your clients after having a campaign designed? Do you still think design is a crock? If you're a designer or any kind of creative, show this to someone who doubts.


Vanessa Brantley Newton said...

Hey Dennis!! Happy New Year to you!!! I know it's going to be a good one for you. I can feel it in my bones. You are writing some of the most important article ever. Really. This information is so important cause artist need to know, but also people who are hiring a Graphic Designer need to know as well. I tell folks often," You get what you pay for." Sometimes you might find some one to do the artwork, but if they don't know how to do graphics it can become really costly for you. I will be passing this along for sure. Thanks for sharing.

Heather Fonseca said...

What a great article! You really explain graphic design in a clear and concise way, and also explain why it's so important to hire a designer.

Happy New Year! Like Vanessa I think this is going to be a great year for you.


Dayne Henry Jr said...

Dude... you are doin the thang. Truly a professional... I would like to use your services someday, sir :D

Seriously though man, you really know your stuff, and I agree that most people just don't speak the language of design. Alot of people, sadly, are more trained in the art of manipulation, and the poor consumer can't tell the difference. Graphic Design, somewhere along the line, became the staple of screen printers and engraving shops. Sad times. It absolutely BLOWS to walk into a spot that advertises "Graphic Design", along with everything under the sun... at a whopping $30 - $50 per hour (hell, probably less nowadays).

I think the main reason that most people go for this is because of the type of business they're starting. Most people don't think long term, they don't think "BRANDING", they think "Just a logo", which is the equivalent, sadly to most people, clipart. Just take this from this, a bit of this, cuz I like it, and some font. PRESTO. Got me a "brand". And that business lasts, oh... about 3 years. Everything's a quick buck mang... everyone needs to be schooled! But you know what they teach in business class about getting your logo/branding? SAVE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. Key work being "SAVE". So, design is just another part of the budget, that's why we're in this mess :/

Dang dude, don't let me rant like that! You struck a nerve I guess, which means this was, indeed, a much needed and awesome post. Keep 'em Comin Tanoshiboy!!!

- Dayne

sarah said...

Great post! So right. Great design is an investment not a extra cost. You can have many people looking at your site and not buying anything or a well design site that make you want to do shopping too.

When I was at Future of Web Design conference. This guy talks about these little details that make the buyer feel happy to buy. He shows us the designer added a cute smile face when the shopping cart has 1 item. haha is all these lil clever idea that make your business grow.

Rob said...

Branding is really the point you are driving at. Everything from the colors to the font to the look and feel need to represent your brand. Clip art does not do it. Neither does your nephew. Well said.


Dennis Salvatier said...

@Vanessa You have a way of encouraging people, Vanessa. Thanks very much. And thanks for sharing it out there.

@Heather Thanks very much. Here's hoping.

@Dayne What can I say? You really got fired up there, man. We've been through some struggles. I know exactly what you're talking about. But I think we needed to go through those bad times in order to really appreciate and value what we do. I really appreciate your comment. I couldn't stop reading it until the end cause I could send your passion and that's what it comes down to right. Thanks again, brotha.

Dennis Salvatier said...

@Rob Thanks. I was very impressed by your latest post. Like I said over there, this post and your post make a great 1-2 punch.

Catherine Lockey said...

Well done Dennis - I hope every one of your potential clients takes the tine to read why they truly do need professional graphic design. Honestly, those who don't take your advice are going to melt into the background at best.

Jeannette Paladino said...

Dennis -- today there are many online design tools that people can use to "design" brochures and newsletters. But people mistake technology for design sense. Yes, you can fill in the templates but at the expense of your brand. I have the greatest respect for designers, maybe because I am not one myself. It takes talent to translate a brand's essence into a corporate identity.

KeepUpWeb said...

Dennis, I may have mentioned this before when I've commented on your blog but years ago, my husband and I launched a 360-degree virtual tour business. Talk about a difficult concept to convey! We hired a professional graphic designer who worked with us on colors and concept before she even began to design a logo for us. Our resulting logo conveys movement and creativity. With our input, we ended up with a business card that not only opened but also needed to be rotated 90-degrees to read the inside text. From beginning to end, the graphic design conveyed the concept of rotation. Working with a good graphic designer should be looked at as an investment not an expense.

Keyuri Joshi (on the ball parent coach) said...

Great post and history lesson too! It's funny.... just last night, we watched a German film from 1981. It was critically acclaimed back then but a bit "slow" for us and we realized part of that was because it lacked the graphics and special effects that we have become so accustomed to in "good" movies. Your point is so well taken that the look of a brand is what creates an imprint on our brains and that is what prompts us when we need something. A picture IS worth a thousand words!

Dennis Salvatier said...

@Catherine Thanks very much. This isn't even about me. Consider me the ambassador of design. I just want to bring light to many small business owners on why they need design.

Why do big companies use design? Because it works. Small businesses don't have to stay small if the necessary tools are used to help it grow. Design is just one of these things.

@Jeannette Yes there are. Designers today are competing with DIY software and crowdsourcing sites. I feel I'm here to educate people on what these things are and why in saving money, you're actually being ripped off. Thank you.

@Sherryl That's a great testimony. I'm glad you experienced the benefits first-hand. Thank you for sharing.

@Keyuri Exactly. I suppose were all very spoiled now. We're constantly bombarded by design in all forms. :)

New Internet Horizons for Small Businesses said...

Hi Dennis. You are so right. Your points are akin to those who pay attention to the number of followers they have on Twitter and other social networking sites rather than the quality of those connections. There is definitely truth in the saying "You get what you pay for". (as Vanessa said).

Your designs are awesome!

Michaele Razi said...

Such great and empowering words, Dennis. And so true! Thanks again for another thoughtful and thought provoking post! xo

Susan Oakes said...

Hi Dennis,

I should say upfront I think having a good graphic designer is a must if you want to succeed. I guess that is because I have always worked with them in large companies and now in my own business.

What clients do not perhaps realise is the working with a designer can bring out the emotional benefits of a brand in ways they would not have thought of.

Sherry Zander said...

Loved the way you drilled down to the nuts and bolts of the importance of graphic design. Makes you realize how critical it is that you have a brand for your business, but also how important it is to design one that captures the attention of your prospective clients. Thanks for sharing this.

Sheila Atwood said...


You are so right on, good graphics are communication. I love the VW example.

I come from a family of "artists". My older sister has been a graphic designer for the last 25 years and my other sister has made a living selling her art. The interesting thing is their tastes are so different that it affects their choices is what they like and do not like.

I think a good design speaks to everyone. Or at least those who really count..you know people who can see and think.

anne said...

Love the post and the design of the blog. I would recommend purchasing a domain name and using that for your email; it's more professional. Tanoshiboy.com with an email of info@tanoshiboy.com, for example. I tweeted this post.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

There are few things more valuable than a properly designed campaign that includes professional graphic design.

Debbie (Wibu Software Protection) said...

Dennis, this is a great article. You are so right about the importance of graphic design, and we should all be taking this into consideration and hiring a good designer.

Dennis Salvatier said...

@Sheila That's great. So you've been surrounded by creative people for awhile now. That's the thing about design, each design will get different responses from different people.

webtechhyderabad said...

very nice to read this blog

Dennis Salvatier said...

I'm glad you found it helpful. :)

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I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I'll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.A fantastic presentation. Very open and informative.You have beautifully presented your thought in this blog post. Graphic Design Ideas

Dennis Salvatier said...

Sanam, I appreciate your comment. My hope was that this posts would continue to help people for years to come. Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I'd love to hear what you think of my latest post. Have a good day.

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