By Chris Searson, Chairman, Smart Cookie and MBC Group

What was the first thing you thought about when you decided to start your new business? Money would be high on the list; the name of your company would be up there too but, just as important, should be the look, feel and design of the business. Design includes everything from your logo, the look and feel of your website (and how it works) through to business cards and your digital media presence. What is good design, what is bad and what is downright ugly?

Too many people confuse good design with taste. Taste is subjective. Good design that delivers business goals isn’t. To give you an extreme example: I wouldn’t want a cartoon of Sponge Bob Square Pants as my logo if I was a psychotherapist or a financial advisor. A properly qualified designer would explain why that wouldn’t work and what would work better for your brand and your professional image. So for me the bad is when you have a designer who says yes to their client when they should be saying no.

An ugly design can be interpreted in a number of ways. It could be ugly in terms of it simply doesn’t work. A clunky website that takes too many clicks to get to the shopping basket is of no use to a business selling online or an organisation which wants people to easily subscribe to their mailing list.

Ugly too is a business card that doesn’t use the same font and colours as the rest of your branding. A good designer thinks things through, can see the bigger picture and will help your business look truly professional. A bad designer sits on the side lines throwing in ideas which may look nice but don’t do the job.

So what is good design? MBC Group have just published a White Paper, Quality by Design, which calls for a single iconic design quality mark for designers. The White Paper has been welcomed by the Design Council and the All Parliamentary Design and Innovation Group (APDIG) who are now consulting on the issue.

In the absence of this quality mark how can you choose a designer for your business? My top five tips are below:
1. Ask people you know to recommend designers.
]2. Look at their portfolio but remember, without an understanding of the brief and the nature of their contribution, this can be very deceiving.
3. If you’re a global business, or plan to be, make sure your designer understands cultural differences. Colours and designs that work well in one market can be disastrous in another one.
4. Look at the designer’s own website. Does it work on different devices? Does it have a consistent and professional feel? How easy is it to navigate?
5. Check that the designer has experience in your business area. A great logo designer may not understand how to make a shopping cart work well on a website (that can dramatically impact on your sales).

A good designer will want to get inside your business to really understand it before they start work. It is only through that understanding that the designs you end up will reflect who you are and what you represent to customers. That might mean creating a ‘casual style’ brand that reflects your personality (such as Google or Virgin), or you may need to give your customer reassurance in your quality of service and professionalism (such as American Airlines). A good designer knows that good design is not necessarily about being pretty or using your favourite colour, it is about delivering a look and feel for your business that works for you.

Chris Searson has more than 30 years in branding and marketing and has worked for many household names. He is currently Chairman of Smart Cookie and MBC Group which includes Ever After Brand, Ever After Film and Zone Design.