This time, I wanted to send over an interview that I did with Computer Arts magazine in the UK.

The interviewer, Tom Dennis, asked a lot of really thought-provoking questions, and I thought that maybe wanted to share the results with you.

As always, let me know if you have other questions that I can address in future issues.

1. Can you briefly explain who you are and your history/expertise on branding/logo design? (for background)

I started my business, elf design, inc., 6 years ago, to help small businesses design their logos and brands. I've worked with over 400 small businesses to design their logos, and I've helped several hundred of those build their brands out to include websites and other marketing materials. I've also written several eBooks on brand definition, design and websites, and my work has been published in design journals and books in several countries.

2. Some people say that logo and design doesn't matter and doesn't make a difference. What would you say in response?

In a small business, especially when it comes to 1- and 2-person businesses, a logo and brand designs have a huge role to play in the business's image.

A professionally designed logo can make a person operating a business out of their home look like a much more serious venture — it can make them look established, stable and successful.

A logo makes a 1-person company look less like a freelancer and more like a business, which helps establish trust and can make the sales process much easier.

3. Can the right logo and image really make a difference to a brand?

A small business's logo has 2 major jobs.

The first job is to create a "face" for the business. In small businesses, this is especially important because it will differentiate the business from the entrepreneur running the business. It helps to establish an identity and personality for the business.

This "face" is also helpful if the business decides to grow — the business won't be so intertwined with the entrepreneur when it is time to grow, and it will make it easier for clients to accept working with other employees.

The second job is to tell the business's story. This visual communication is important to instantly communicate with a prospect in today's high-speed, short attention span culture. A well crafted logo will help a prospect understand what a small business is all about.

4. Do you think the wrong visual branding can actually damage a brand? Can you think of any examples?

Sure — the biggest way that a company's visuals can damage their brand is if the company doesn't tell the truth in their branding.

If a small business logo is designed based on what the customer wants to hear instead of on the business's personality, services and differentiators, then this can backfire. If your logo has one message, and then you tell the customer something else when you're having a conversation with them, then that can reduce the trust that

Another way that the visuals can damage a brand is if they have nothing to say — if they're designed just based on trends or to be "pretty".

The next is if a company doesn't use their visuals consistently. If, for example, a small business uses different logos across their marketing pieces — one version of the logo on the website, another on a business card, and so on. Or, if the other visual elements are used inconsistently ("Visual Vocabulary") across all of the marketing materials.

Many potential clients look over the entire marketing package as they make a buying decision. If the business card they received looks substantially different from the website that it refers them to, then they may wonder if they're at the right site — which is not the first impression a business owner wants their site to make!

5. What do you think is it about first impressions that count so much?

Customers look at a company's marketing materials and make a decision about the quality of the company and about whether their services are a good fit for their needs almost immediately.

This decision is based on the words and images in the marketing materials, the personal presentation of the business owner (if the first impression is a face-to-face meeting) and on the potential clients' instinct and past experiences.

So, it's important that a small business do all they can with the aspects of their marketing that they can control so that they can create the best first impression possible.

6. What do you view corporate identity as and why is it important?

For a small business, I view the corporate identity as all of the materials that identify the business — the business name, logo, Visual Vocabulary, taglines, and commonly-used text. All of this together makes up the face of the business, and gives customers something to visually identify with the business aside from the entrepreneur himself or herself.

These elements help the customer to see the business as a larger entity than just the entrepreneurs themselves. This abstraction of the business as a separate being from the entrepreneur can help the business to be taken more seriously.

7. What do you think is it about bad design that lacks trust and what is it about good design that can have the opposite effect and can really encourage someone to buy?

Good design will communicate the right message about the business to the prospect quickly. A good design will give the intended message to a wide range of clients in the target audience — a lot of people will "get it". And, ideally, it will also be memorable and unique, so that it will help to build lasting brand value for the business.

Good design builds trust through this communication — by making the prospect feel like they understand the design, and by extension, that they understand the company behind the design. The memorability also builds trust by fostering a feeling of familiarity with the business and the brand — the feeling that they "know" your company. Good design can put your business and your prospect on the same side — and can make the prospect feel like your business is a good fit for their needs.

Poor design will miss the mark in one or more of these categories — it may be meaningless, may require too much explanation or thought to understand, it might not tell the correct story about the business it represents, or it might be inconsistent.

Poor design lacks trust because it creates a feeling of alienation and separation between the viewer and the business. Instead of making them feel like they understand your business and that they can be close to it, poor design makes them feel like an outsider.

8. Is there anything a client can do to help ensure the best solution from their side?

I recommend that my small business clients do a few things to make sure that their designs will help them build trust.

The first is to really spend some time working on their Brand Definition. In order to create the right design for your business, you have to know what that design needs to say to your audience.

The next is to build a "focus group" of their best clients and target prospects, and that they run the designs-in-progress by this group. It's essential that the members of the focus group be people in their target audience — if you put your mom and your best friend in the group, and they're not in your target audience, then that can skew the results.

The last is to use the logo and other visual elements consistently across all of their materials — this will help potential and existing clients feel more familiar and comfortable with your business.

9. How hard is it to get clients to identify their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to logo design?

The hardest thing for an entrepreneur to do with their logo is to have them look at the logo from their customers' viewpoint, and to take their personal tastes out of the equation. Most entrepreneurs want to approach their logo design the same way they'd pick out interior design details — they want to love every detail.

But, it's important for them to look at the design objectively, and to evaluate it from the potential clients' perspective — from the viewpoint of someone who knows nothing about your business, and who may be a little suspicious of you to start out with. What graphics will tell them what the business is all about, and help them to decide to make a purchase?

10. How important is consistent design for a brand? Should designers be aiming to make everything the same style?

I think that for a small business, with a limited marketing and outreach budget, consistency is important.

Bigger brands have the advantages of big budgets, more advertising impact and strong name recognition. For example, Nike and Starbucks often change the look and feel of their advertising campaigns. But, they've built up the brand recognition and awareness based on their company name — so consistency from campaign to campaign is less important.

For a small business, the lower marketing budget and lack of a marketing department mean that every piece of the marketing campaign should build off each other. Having consistent design in a small business's brand makes the overall brand stronger and more effective.

11. Can you define what you consider to be really terrible graphic design? Do you see any branding at the moment out there that is bordering on the ridiculous or you think just won't work?

Four things come to mind as "really terrible graphic design" for small businesses:

  • Complete lack of consistency, which means that every piece of design for a company will stand on its' own
  • Telling the wrong story: Either telling lies about the company through the design, designing what you think your client wants to see, or not knowing what story you're trying to tell
  • Empty, meaningless design: Design that doesn't try to tell any story, and just falls flat without content.
  • Design that's do-it-yourself, done by an entrepreneur who hasn't educated themselves on design first.