5 People Who Should Never Graphic Design Anything

This article builds on the popular post, Five People Who Should Never Design Your Website which I wrote shortly after starting Shift ONE. Following this post, I received a slot on the Jeremy Maggs show.

When I had just started Shift ONE, all the way back in 2011, I needed a logo. As a self-starter who was bootstrapping without funding, I decided to design my own logo on an antiquated version of PhotoShop.

This is what I came up with:

5 People Who Should Never Graphic Design Anything

Clever, right? Notice the computer keys? And that when you push Shift and 1 it produces an exclamation mark? Ka-POW! I loved it.

I proudly sent the logo out to all my friends and family who told me it was amazing, because, well, they are nice, kind liars.

A year or two later, one of my more honest staff members told me it was atrocious. After I got over my initial offence, I paid a graphic designer to design a logo (before hiring my own incredible team of graphic designers who create as easily as they breathe). The logo below was their interpretation of my vision.

5 People Who Should Never Graphic Design Anything

Notice the clever arrows that spell out the H? I had to point that out to you, right? You probably read it as ‘SIFTone’ but did I mention that it’s also an IQ test? Yes, I know it has its design flaws, but it sure is a damn sight better than the first iteration. I’m sure you’ll agree.

This logo has served us well and been with us as we’ve grown from a 3-to-13 strong marketing agency, serving mom-and-pop companies to international and blue chip brands.

That being said, we felt it was time for our logo to stop trying so hard. To ensure our positioning as a world-class integrated marketing and digital marketing agency, we felt a simplified logo was in keeping with global design trends where simplicity trumps complexity every time.

“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Enter our new logo:

5 People Who Should Never Graphic Design Anything

So, looking back at our own design journey over the last six years, I’d like to share with you my list of:

Five People Who Should Never Design Anything.

Number 1: You.

Look at my first logo attempt. Need I say more? Unless you studied graphic design and worked as a graphic designer, you should not put hand to mouse unless to create quotes, proposals or send emails. Stay far from graphic design and your business will thrive.

Graphic design isn’t something you can self-medicate and should only be administered by professionals. Spend real money – you won’t regret it.

Real money does not mean a ‘fiver’ either, and you won’t get top-of-the-range design for crummy pay. It will get you slightly-better-than-if-you-designed-it-yourself for $5. Never heard of Fiverr? You’re welcome. No wait, I mean… I apologise!

Number 2: Your Son

So, your son, nephew, cousin, friend’s son just completed a course in graphic design and they’ve offered to design your logo, business cards, website and brochures.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

I worked at an advertising agency where this was the case. The CEO’s son returned from college, bright-eyed and armed with a plethora of fonts, from Papyrus to Comic Sans, and a penchant for obscure Pantone colours. He then went to town on their safe, simple logo, and created an abomination that, I believe, led to the company’s demise since I tried Googling them for this blog post. Sadly, they are not to be found.

This reminds me of the ChickinTyme and Burger Perfect logos. Not sure who designed them but I think they ate a bunch of fonts and vomited this out:

Many of our clients have lost their website logins because their friend’s son designed and hosted their website, and he’s since disappeared into Europe somewhere.

Number 3: Has-Been Designers

Not all graphic designers are created equal. I’ve worked with many since the days when I started out in advertising, and just like web developers, only one in ten are any good. Every day we go through portfolios of prospective hires, and I assure you, the ratio remains 1:10.

Many, many graphic designers are not up to speed with the latest trends, and it’s not an age-thing. It’s a headspace thing. Finding designers who can design relevant, compelling graphic design that meets the brief isn’t easy at all, unless, of course, you’re one of the one-in-ten who design beautiful work by default.

If you can’t tell good design from bad design, then work with an agency that can. 

Number 4: Copy-Pasters

These days it is ‘on-trend’ to have a three-word slogan such as, “Here. Today. Tomorrow” or “Think. Create. Iterate”. A slogan I think many designers seem to have is “Google. Imitate. Replicate.”

Being creative isn’t easy. Many designers simply turn to Google before they create design solutions from scratch. So do yourself a favour and research your logo design before you accept the creative work from your agency.

Is it just a co-incidence?

Google ‘Shift Logo’ and you’ll see what I mean … Now you know why I hired my own designers, and why it was time to trade our logo for one that wasn’t copy-pasted.

Number 5: Paper vs Digital Design

You might argue that traditional design and web design must follow the same design principles, but there are some differences.

Traditional, paper-based designers don’t understand digital and certainly don’t understand website design. Good web design is interactive, animated and it needs to be user-friendly across several devices from which people will access your brand, like desktop, tablet or mobile phone.

There are certain skills needed for working in digital that you won’t learn by working on traditional mediums, and vice versa.

How to get Graphic Design right

We’ve spent hundreds of hours conducting usability testing on websites and graphic designs in order to eliminate design-based errors. It’s that easy to get it wrong.

In this digital age, bad design and bad website design is unforgiveable. Think about how many websites you’ve battled through, credit card in hand, unable to work out how to do something as simple as buy online. More times than not, you have simply clicked away from those websites, right?

Likewise, how many restaurant menus have you have struggled to simply skim through so you could swiftly select your choice?

Rebranding isn’t as easy as it looks. Remember my blog on the Kauai Rebrand Disaster? When Kauai rebranded, I feel they went from colourful, fresh and inspiring, to monochromatic, cold and bland overnight.

I also believe their customers were the last to know about the Kauai rebrand, which makes me think they did not make use of user testing, mystery shopping or brand and customer experience mapping to effectively understand what their target wants.

So, what have we learnt? Bad design, whether digital or paper-based will always be bad design and it isn’t easy to get it right first time. Follow the above steps, and trust me, leave it up to the professionals. I believe you and your customer will be a lot better off and you can spare yourself a few cringe moments.

About the author

Dylan Kohlstädt is Founder and CEO of Shift ONE Digital, a creative, integrated marketing agency in Cape Town, South Africa. Dylan has over 20 years marketing management experience in gaming, insurance, financial and property industries and can be considered a subject matter expert on all things digital. She has extensive local and international experience (South Africa, UK and Australia), and has managed global and national brands in multiple languages and countries. Dylan has her IMM (3 years) Marketing Diploma as well as an MBA through Unisa. She is also the mother of two young girls and knows the challenges of being a mompreneur. Dylan loves wasabi peanuts, café mochas and Game of Thrones. Not necessarily in that order.

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  1. Shreya Dhar on September 8, 2017 at 9:32 am

    A good logo is a very important part of branding. It should reflect the brand’s image. Thank you for sharing this interesting blog on how to choose the perfect graphic designer. Please keep on sharing more helpful tips and suggestions in the upcoming posts.

    • Dylan on September 11, 2017 at 9:09 am

      Thanks Shreya! I agree – we’ve come a long way since our first ‘home made’ logo!

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