• Greg Elliott

Thanks Mom! Are We Conditioned to Accept Poor Design?


Do you remember your excitement as a kid when your mom stuck one of your paintings on the refrigerator for everyone to see? Move over give-away-calendar. Step aside annoying-older-brother’s school picture. Finally, something worthy of adorning that behemoth avocado canvas. You had created a masterpiece, and now you were getting validation from the most important person in your world.

If mom says it’s good, it must be good!

As you grew, this routine continued, but now with the addition of objective academic achievements. A perfect spelling test. An “A” on a math quiz. A certificate of participation for your science fair entry (OK, that’s the best I could muster). For most people, those academic successes ignited a passion and encouraged discovery. Whether it was math, science, electronics, or theology, as we were exposed to new ideas we realized there were numerous things we could excel at… and enjoy doing.

But because excelling at something usually takes effort, commitment, study, and practice – and because most of us received some accolades (thanks, mom!) from our creative efforts without putting in that same dedicated effort - it should come as no surprise that many business professionals are quick to accept mediocre design, dismiss it as unimportant to overall business goals, and view it as a commodity. It is an “everyman skill” as opposed to a discipline requiring a professional. Often, basic rules of design are completely ignored, and brand design becomes just glorified adult refrigerator art.

It starts with a logo

This design dismissiveness is, sadly, often most glaringly apparent when designing a logo or brand identity. I’ve written before about branding, and what type of logo may be right for your organization. But understanding the importance of a logo doesn’t stop many businesses – whether start-ups or large companies – from taking shortcuts and downplaying the significance of using of a professional designer, or forgoing it altogether.


I had a client that prided themselves on their engineering capabilities. They were good engineers, but their logo was a mess. Ascenders were different weights; serifs were different sizes and some were squared while others were slanted; the x-height varied. Pretty much everything designers are taught in Typography 101 was thrown out the window. But addressing a flaw that may be a cognitive trigger for clients was a non-starter. It had been created years ago by a family member, and the company was proud of their refrigerator art. Despite their logo, the client was still relatively successful in their industry, but I remember my first encounter with an outside industry contact when discussing this client. His words still resonate, “Oh, the company with the wonky logo.” Wonky is not a good description for an engineer.

Your logo should establish a baseline perception for unfamiliar prospects. As the designer, Paul Rand (IBM, Westinghouse, ABC) says, “The principal role of a logo is to identify.” Think about how you want to be identified. Then partner with someone that can help you achieve that in your visual identity.

Why design (ahem, a designer) is important

A OK, as a brand consultant with a degree in graphic design, my opinion may be slightly biased. But that bias comes from 20+ years of experience. And while it can be hard to gauge the tangible benefits and how much value good design adds to the brand, it is naïve to argue that good design is irrelevant. There are many intangible benefits of effective design:

• Effective design creates consistency across different channels to amplify the message impact

• Effective design helps convey a persuasive message more clearly and understandably

• Effective design helps establish the brand’s tone

• Effective design can aid in explaining product functionality, features, benefits, or processes

• Effective design strengthens brand recognition

Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. It's not just what it looks like. Design is how it works.


And just like you expect your other professional partners to stay abreast of trends that may affect the operational parts of your business - i.e. new tax laws, updated municipal codes, and workplace and safety regulations - designers are often at the forefront of navigating consumer behavior.

But it’s more than this. Design can be a crucial element in brand strategy. Design can push the “norm” to add a layer of distinctiveness. Design has purpose, it’s not just an aesthetic endeavor. As Steve Jobs put it, “Design isn’t just what it looks like, design is how it works.” And even graphic design should be working toward your business objectives.

Don't talk about my mom like that!

Now, not all the blame should lie on the shoulders of business owners or leaders…or mom. Professional designers need to take some responsibility in their role of dumbing down design. Too often, designers have become yes-men/production-artists. We too easily equate client power with knowledge of the design process, instead of presenting ourselves as experts who can most effectively translate the clients’ ideas. A great example of being confident of ones expertise is shown in the development of the Next logo by Paul Rand. Steve Jobs wanted several concepts, and Rand said, “No, I’ll give you one, and it will be the best solution". His results were presented in a 100-page brochure outlying the rationale behind the decision


There are very few Paul Rands out there, and using his exact approach will probably secure very few clients. However, designers should exude more of his confidence - and deliver more than expected. Clients obviously have a say, and their checkbooks speak loudly, but we should assume they want our expertise. We see value in the expertise provided by other professionals and rarely assume we have more knowledge (except via webMD.com). We need to shift our collective paradigm in evaluating the value of design, because the shelf life of poor design is short – except on mom’s refrigerator.

If you’d like to talk about a new logo, rebranding, or a complete brand strategy for your organization, please call or email us.

#rebranding #Branding #Design #GraphicDesign

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Authentige is a branding and creative group based in Orange City, Iowa, that partners with socially-focused organizations - helping to accentuate their authentic personalities without the big agency cost​.

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