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Graphic design for your business

Why read this? : We explore the role of graphic design for your business. Learn how it’s used in brand identity, brand activation and customer experience. We also review different options to source graphic design for your business. Learn the pros and cons of going in-house versus using a freelancer or agency. Read this to get more out of graphic design for your business. 

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Graphic design for your business

How this guide raises your game :-

  1. Understand where graphic design impacts your business and marketing.
  2. Learn different ways to source graphic design.
  3. Review how to get the best out of graphic designers. 

Graphic design helps your business communicate information to your target audience in a visual way

These visuals can draw attention to your brand. They help customers understand what you’re offering them. You use them to guide customers along the journey to become loyal customers

However, most business people don’t have graphic design training or experience. So they’re unsure how to use graphic design to grow their business.

This guide helps you understand the role graphic design plays for your business. And how to source and build the graphic design skills you need.

Graphic Designer working at their desk on a design on their computer

Ready to test your knowledge?

What’s your starting level of knowledge about graphic design for your business?

Take the 2 minute, 5 question Three-Brains graphic design for your business quiz and see how much you know about graphic design for your business already.

The role of graphic design in your business

There are many areas in business where you need to convey information visually.

But in marketing, it’s most often about :-

Graphic Design business role - shows link to brand identity, brand activation and customer experience

Graphic design and brand identity

Your brand identity is a collection of tangible and intangible assets you use to tell customers who you are and what you stand for.

It defines how your brand thinks and acts, and creates a consistent position in the minds of your target audience.

Graphic design creates the visual parts of that identity. You use it to show what your brand looks like.

The most obvious example is your logo, a design symbol that visually represents your brand in different contexts. For example, on your packaging, advertising,  websites and sales promotions. 

Brand identity asset classification examples

But logos also involve other graphic design skills like colour (including its psychological associations) and typography (which also has psychological associations). You use graphic design in brand identity to help make your brand :- 

  • distinctive.
  • relevant.
  • memorable.

Distinctive

Customers usually have many brands to choose from. Your brand identity design has to be distinctive to stand out. It’s how customers recognise you, and tell you apart. It makes it easier for them to choose you. For example, bold colour palettes and logos make your product look different. They increase the chances customers will notice you over your competitors. (See our article on brilliant branding for more on the need to stand out). 

Relevant

Your brand identity design also helps make your product appear more relevant to customers. It helps show who you are, and what you stand for. The design should reflect your values and style based on your choice of icons, colours and typography. This drives consideration and brand choice, alongside more rational factors like product features and price. It helps customers think, this is a brand for people like me. 

Graphic designs can also help build a more emotional connection with the brand. For example, businesses that need to build trust (e.g. banks) use graphic design elements that suggest values like acceptability, safety and conventionality. Conservative shades of blue, and old-fashioned typography, for example. 

But those selling high-ticket items who want to suggest they’re cool and stylish will pick different design style elements. Modern fonts and stronger, more vibrant colours, for example. You use graphic design to create a relevant connection between the brand and what the customer is looking for. 

Memorable

Finally, graphic design elements like logos, colour and typography help create a longer-lasting impression of the brand identity in the mind of the customer. They make the brand more memorable

When they’re ready to buy, those memories / mental associations make the decision easier. There’s less need for persuasion because they’re already familiar with the brand. 

Look at big brands like Coke, for example.

Look at their choice of colour and typography. Think about how they continually repeat the use of the shape of the bottle. These are all built from graphic design principles to make the brand more distinctive, relevant and memorable. 

Side of an old apartment building with a classic Coca Cola advert on it

Graphic design and brand activation

If your brand identity is “who” you are, then brand activation is “how” you appear in front of customers.

For many parts of the marketing mix, especially in product and promotion, you need graphic design to create an impact. Increase the impact and you increase engagement and sales.  

For example, graphic design plays a key role in packaging development to help your product stand out on shelf.

You use graphic design regularly in advertising to create distinctive, relevant and memorable advertising campaigns. These grab attention and influence customers to choose your brand.

Examples of the marketing mix 4Ps and 7Ps - product, price, promotion, place, people, process, physical location

You also use it in digital marketing like doing digital media and running your website. It’s a way to visually communicate key messages to help your brand stand out.

Graphic design and customer experience

Another area where you use graphic design in marketing is on the customer experience. This is the study of the different interactions and touchpoints a customer has with a brand as they move through their journey. 

At key points in the journey, you can use graphic design to remove pain points or create new opportunities.

As visual imagery is easier and faster to process than words, graphic design can help customers through the journey more smoothly.

(See also our guide to design psychology for more on how to make designs easier to process). 

Customer Experience Journey Map

It can reduce friction and customer misunderstandings, neither of which you want. Customer feedback will tell you both of those lead to lost sales.

Graphic Design and Customer Experience example

Think about websites, for example.

You see a logo in the top navigation bar and know that takes you to the home page. You see a magnifying glass and know that means “search”. A grocery basket signifies an online “shop”.

These visual shortcuts reduce the chances of customers bouncing from your website or abandoning the cart on your e-Commerce store.

They increase the chances that a customer will browse your page, or buy from your online store. Graphic design helps you achieve your customer experience objectives. 

Screengrab of Three-brains home page - headline says "Ready to raise your game? Outthink, outplay and outgrow competitors with three-brains"

How to source graphic design for your business

There are 3 choices when it comes to graphic design for your business :-

  • in-house graphic design.
  • freelancers. 
  • using an agency.

In-house graphic design

The first option is to develop the skill in-house. Either you or someone in your team takes responsibility for doing the graphic design. The big advantage of this is that you have direct control over the designs. 

How well this approach works depends on the designer’s skill level. Plus your expectations on the quantity and quality of graphic design work your business needs.

These all have to match up.

Adobe Illustrator with a visual of a blue games console controller and the words Game Player (as a T-shirt design)

In-house design means accessing key graphic design tools like Adobe or one of its alternatives like Affinity or Canva.

But you also need to look across the key areas of brand identity, brand activation and customer experience. You should consider how regular your graphic design projects will be and the level of expertise needed to deliver them.

Project vs. ongoing work

For example, brand identity isn’t usually a regular ongoing piece of graphic design work. It’s usually done as a project. With a specific start and finish. Then it’s not reviewed and updated until some point in the future. Therefore, in most cases, you don’t create brand identity in-house.

Brand activation is a mixture of project work and some ongoing pieces of graphic design. For example, packaging development is usually project-based. It’s more specialised. It not only requires good graphic design skills, but an understanding of how printing works. Designs are printed onto solid materials and this impacts how they look. You usually don’t do these designs in-house and instead, use a specialist designer. 

But brand activation also covers areas like social media content. Here, there is a case for regularly using graphic design skills. You can quickly create your own posts with some decent graphic design skills.

And finally, customer experience is again a mixture of project and ongoing work. For example, it’s unlikely you’d regularly update store signage or key brand visuals. But there can be all sorts of regular updates to icons on a website or items for sales promotions, for example. Those could be done in-house. 

Cost, time and scope

The choice to manage graphic design for your business is basically a cost, time and scope calculation. Each of these impacts the final quality of your designs.

The average graphic designer salary in Australia is AUD$54k. But experienced designers will want more.

You have to ask if you’ll have enough regular work to justify that cost. Will those projects generate enough to pay for that employee? Does your business need quick access to an in-house resource, or is going slower by outsourcing OK?

Of course, in-house has other benefits. For example, you’ll have someone who understands design principles and is good at creative thinking.

The project triangle showing quality in the centre and scope, cost and time at the three points of the triangle

Anyone can learn the basic design principles like Contrast, Repetition, Alignment and Proximity. But professional graphic designers will bring a much wider repertoire of design knowledge into your business. (Knowledge of design psychology for example). Having an in-house graphic design professional keeps quality standards high. 

The key question is whether the graphic design for your business needs is big and regular enough that an in-house resource makes sense. How important is graphic design to your business over the next 12 months? How often will you need it? If your needs are more ad-hoc, you look at other options.

Freelancers

The quickest and easiest way to outsource graphic design for your business is to hire from an online freelancing website. These automate the process to brief, manage, approve and pay for graphic design projects, so can provide relatively fast and flexible solutions to graphic design needs. (Though not as fast or flexible as in-house).

There are several steps to go through when you hire a graphic designer. For example, finding them in the first place. Identifying that their experience, skills and approach meet your needs. You also need to agree on areas like contracts, deliverables and payment. It’s helpful when you find a freelancer you can use regularly. But you always run the risk they’ll be tied up on another job when you really need them. 

On a per-project basis, you’ll pay a higher hourly rate than for a full-time in-house designer. Freelancers have to cover their own employment costs like tax, holidays and the professional resources they use. Let’s look at some of the more commonly used freelancer sites. 

Fiverr

The most accessible option is Fiverr. However, many professional graphic designers don’t like this service. They believe it reduces the value of what they do, as it has some crazily low-priced offers. 

While you can find good graphic designers there, its free accessibility can make it a free-for-all when it comes to service providers offering their services. 

Let’s look at logo design as an example. 

Searching on ‘logo design’ on Fiverr shows prices range from A$17 up to A$175 for freelance designers to around A$1,000 to A$2,000 for Pro Verified suppliers.

Screenshot of the results for logo design on Fiverr

Consider how unique you want your design to be. How much time / thinking you believe should go into the design. Creating a logo from scratch is a minimum of 3-4 hours of work. Minimum. And more likely a day or two if you want multiple options. It also takes more time to review, adapt and then complete and send out all the artwork files.

Low-cost designers are often based in countries where English isn’t the first language and the cost of living is lower. And so, they can do all of this for $17. But it’s also possible the low-cost designers will have a bank of ready-made designs and files that they’ll adjust / adapt to fit your needs.

Neither of these is necessarily bad if you’re on a tight budget. But with graphic design, you get what you pay for. So with Fiverr, it’s a case of buyer beware. It may take more time or cost more in the long run if you don’t find the right designer.

Upwork

Another option is Upwork. This site is less for specific jobs / tasks, and more for delivering specific projects. They recruit freelancers across multiple disciplines looking for short-term, longer-term or complex projects. These projects can last from less than a month up to 6 months. Upwork splits experience by entry, intermediate or expert.

If your graphic design needs are for a specific project, it can be a good place to look. But bear in mind, that the Upwork site takes a 20% commission on fees paid.

99designs

Though there are other options like Freelancer, our final recommendation 99 designs offers an interesting alternative way to find the right designer. They let you set up a design contest. Multiple designers pitch for your business, so you get to see many different ideas. In return, you commit to paying for the project, knowing you’ve picked the best available option. 

Hiring an agency

If you have more regular graphic design needs, then you can of course use a marketing agency.

Depending on those needs, this might be your existing advertising or packaging design agency. 

Our marketing agency guide covers the main details of finding and hiring agencies.

But if graphic design is part of the scope, and your agency will do graphic design for you, there are some specific areas to consider. For example, the style they can deliver must fit with the needs of your brand. 

Close up of two hands in a handshake

Review the graphic designer style portfolio

You should ask the agency to see their graphic design team’s portfolio. Many designers share their best work on sites like Behance and Dribbble.

These are also great sites to find inspiring design ideas and designers. Both sites are great for creative inspiration. You can find designers whose style matches what you’re looking for on your brand.

Look at the designer’s portfolio of past work. Does it give you confidence they’ll create distinctive, relevant and memorable designs? Do you feel they’ll “get” your brand and produce designs that meet your needs?

Screenshot of the front page on Behance

Commissioning graphic design for your business

Once you’ve decided who’s going to do the design, you’ll need to write a brief to spell out what you need.

Most briefs cover 5 key areas. Brand, business objective, communication, rationale, and project specifications.

But for graphic design projects, you’ll need to cover a few extra, more specific areas.

For example, some graphic design tools use specific file formats. You can only open these files with the right software. If you want to open the raw design files in Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator for example, you’ll need to own copies of those programs. 

Marketing Communication brief - blank template

These programs can export graphic files like .jpgs and .pngs so anyone can look at them. But you can only edit them using the raw design files that sit in .psd or .ai. You should make sure that everyone who needs to be able to edit files has the right software to do so.

You should also clarify with the agency who ‘owns’ these files. If you change agency, do they keep the files? Or do they go with you to your new agency? 

You should also specify the technical quality of graphic design work. For example, do you need vector and raster images? (See our graphic design tools guide). If you need high-res images, how high-res do they need to be?

Finally, where and how will you store all these files? Will the agency keep them on their systems? Or do you need your own marketing technology solution like a digital asset management system?

Which graphic design option is best?

Each option to manage graphic design for your business – in-house, freelancer or agency – has pros and cons. Which you choose depends on the nature of your business and its graphic design needs. 

In-house designers are fairly rare. You usually only find them in businesses where graphic design plays a big role in the product e.g. fashion, food or furniture.

Most businesses use freelancers or agencies for graphic design. Which you go with depends on your needs. The more often you need graphic design or the bigger the project, the more likely you’ll use an agency

Question mark spray painted onto a tree trunk among a wood of trees

Graphic Design business impact

There’s one final area to consider when it comes to graphic design for your business. Even if you outsource graphic design, there’s still a job for the brand owner to do to manage its business impact. Someone needs to initiate projects, give approvals and evaluate the impact. 

Approvals can’t be outsourced. Someone in the business accountable for the brand identity has to review the work and assess whether it meets the objectives outlined in the brief. 

And once the graphic design goes live in front of customers, someone needs to track measures and review performance. Customer feedback is important. Graphic design’s impact should be tracked as part of your ongoing brand strategy and market research processes. 

Conclusion - Graphic design for your business

This guide covered the key marketing areas where graphic design plays a key role. Its use in brand identity, brand activation and customer experience should now be clear. 

We also covered options you have to build in-house expertise, hire a freelance graphic designer or work with agencies to meet your graphic design needs. 

The point to remember is that graphic design is a creative skill. However you get the designs done, think hard about how to make that creativity do the right job for your business. Creativity is how you bring your brand to life. 

Three brains logo, company name and background image of brain dendrites and axons

Graphic design helps create strong mental connections with your target audience. It makes life simpler at all stages of the customer journey. Business leaders who grasp its key principles can use it as a valuable business asset to drive brand impact and sales.

Three-Brains and Graphic Design

We coach and consult businesses on how to best meet their graphic design needs. We can help you find a graphic designer, manage it in-house or help you build your own graphic design skills. Our goal is to help you develop the skills that’ll make your creative visual work have a bigger impact.

Get in touch to find out how we can support your graphic design needs to grow your business via our coaching and consulting services.

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