Skedsheet Blog

Where we talk about the product, calendars, organization, and business

Is it important to look good?

with 3 comments

An Awkward Prom Pose Outside by foundphotosslj - http://www.flickr.com/photos/foundphotoslj/457283314/I recently went to a “Startup Exchange” meeting…I really like the format.  Each person brings a short problem about their business – and everyone brainstorms for five or ten minutes.  Since most people there are running small software companies, there’s a lot to be learned.  And they have free beer, too. 

I came with a  problem that’s been plaguing us from the beginning – “how do I hire a good designer?”

Immediately, the question came back to me: “Why do you care?”  We’ve had decent success, so it’s clear that our look isn’t preventing us from getting customers.  Most folks at the meeting said that we should focus on what we do well, and not waste the time trying to look good.  I have a hunch that design is important, but I had trouble coming up with the answer to why.  I’ve been thinking about it since then.  Here’s why I care.

  1. Better design gives us more credibility as a company.  My brother came to hang out at a trade show a while ago, and I asked him to check out the competition.  He reacted to one competitor (with the big booth and fancy graphics) – “they must be the market leader”.  While I don’t mind being perceived as the underdog, I think our inconsistent marketing leads to a perception that our scheduling software might be sloppy and inconsistent, too.  I think all of us subconsciously judge a book by it’s cover.
  2. Consistent design would make it easier to identify us.  Every business card, pen, and poster we do looks different.  Although we slap our logo on everything (in slightly different colors), it looks like a hodgepodge.  Because we don’t have a strong identity, people don’t necessarily recognize us until they read closer. Windows XP - A network cable is unplugged
  3. The medium is the message.  With design, our brochures, website, and software could be easier to understand.  We’ve gotten better over time, but our amateur design skills have led to materials that are sometimes hard to read, and sometimes painful to look at.  I still get razzed because of a 4’x4’ poster I had printed with a screenshot.  One of the few readable parts was “A network cable is unplugged.”
  4. Design might make it easier to sell our products.  This is the one that I think about the most.  I have a feeling that an elegant, beautiful, or intentional design would make a difference.  People feel more comfortable when they look at pretty things, and although nobody has explicitly complained about it, that gut feel probably influences the buying decision.

So, based on those factors, I can convince myself that design matters.  But as with everything, it’s a question of how much.  As a company, we’re too small to have a full-time designer, but we want an ongoing relationship with somebody who can make clear, consistent, professional, and interesting work.  I still don’t know how to find them.

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Written by Harry Hollander

June 8, 2009 at 7:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. […] So now I’m looking at a half-finished second prototype on my screen, and it’s pretty cool. Much better usability than the first pass, but there’s tons of functionality yet to be done. And it’s butt-ugly. […]

  2. We are told not to judge a book by its cover, but we do it all the time.

    How we present ourselves and our companies is, indeed, very important. We are inundated by visual material and to make decisions we need visual clues. What if the RSS feed button was different on every site? What if Google changed its logo on everything it did? How would we find what we are looking for?

    Your brother made an assumption we all make whether we admit it or not. He saw the company with the big booth and good looking graphics as a market leader, and if they weren’t, they were positioning themselves to be the market leader. If you want to look like you know what you are doing, look like you know what you are doing.

    I think your ideas and thinking on this are spot on. Better design will indeed making your company look more credible. Consistent design will make it easier to identify your company from everyone else. Hard-to-read, painful communications will make you look less competent and unprofessional. There is something charming about a start up that has no clue what they are doing visually, but it does not last. People think you are cute, and cheap. Ideas you don’t want in people’s heads.

    If image was not important, large, successful companies would not spend money on it. Everything United Airlines does is consistent. From the fabric in the planes to the cover on the ticket, it all builds an image of stability and trust for their customers. You are right that you need that credibility and image, too.

    So now that I have just validated all of your thoughts on this subject, how do you find someone you can trust to do a good corporate image for you? That’s tough. There are now thousands of people trained or untrained who offer their services as ‘designers’. Their are independents, design firms, and students. Who do you trust with one of the most important aspects of your business? Who do you know won’t rip you off? Who will give you want you want? Who will be there with you for the long haul? Is it the person down the street or someone that did work for a friend?

    I’ve been in the business for a long time, and most of my work came through relationships, including United Airlines. Here are some ideas on how to find someone through the relationships you already have. Look at other companies and when you see what you like, ask them who did their work. Put out the word in the Start Up group and get references. Look at portfolios and interview. Like my hiring a programmer to build my web site, you could do a trade on some of the work, and if the person is someone you feel comfortable with, hire them as a freelancer.

    Most companies have a Design Standards book that sets the way the logo is used and so on for the graphics. You could have someone develop your image and your Design Standards for you, and require anyone new to follow the rules. Designers do want to do things differently, so keeping your image under control is important.

    I hope these thoughts are useful. If I can be of any help, please let me know. You can find my resume at http://www.linkedin/in/suzanreed.htm and can contact me at mailto:suzan@suzanreed.com

    Hope to see you at the next Start Up meeting!

    Suzan Reed

    Suzan Reed

    July 28, 2009 at 11:59 am

  3. Thanks Suzan! Your suggestions are great.

    By looking at some of the websites we like, we found a designer, and for the past few weeks have been working with her to build the first version of the Skedsheet website, logo, and even parts of the software itself.

    What’s interesting is that we’ve given carte blanche in most of the design decisions, so the process is moving along quickly; hopefully that’s a good foundation to build a long-term relationship.

    I like the concept of the design standards – I hadn’t thought of that before as a solution to our problem of inconsistent design. I lust after something like Paul Rand’s 1990 logo use manual for IBM (http://www.paul-rand.com), but I’m sure even writing down some simple rules would be a great addition.

    Harry Hollander

    July 31, 2009 at 9:09 am


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