The value of design is often understated. Businesses are happy to spend money on things they don’t need. Office space, uniforms, unnecessary staff, computers and other technologies are bought without question.

One thing that rarely gets the attention it deserves, is design. When it comes to design, people seem happy to scrimp and save.

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There are a few classic scenarios:

  • The Friend of a Friend
    “You see, I know a guy who knows a guy, and he can do this sort of design stuff for free.”
  • The Online Generator
    “But I can design my own logo online for free”
  • The Price Matcher
    “[X] agency said they would do it for half the price you’re quoting. Will you match them?

And it never works out for the best.

This happens in small business, SMEs, larger companies and huge organisations the world over.

The value of design is often overlooked.

As our friend and fellow graphic designer David Airey points out on his blog, design is not a commodity:

A commodity is anything for which there is demand, but which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market. In other words, copper is copper. Rice is rice. Stereos, on the other hand, have many levels of quality. And, the better a stereo is, the more it will cost.

Design can have a direct impact on your sales, profits, turnover and growth.

Making use of good design can positively affect your bottom line numbers, giving your business the edge over your competition.

I’m not just talking about the value of graphic design either. Look at some of the biggest brands in the world: Apple, Nike and Coca Cola.

The Nike Story

The story about Nike’s visual identity is quite interesting. The story goes, they paid one Carolyn Davidson, $35 for the original “Swoosh” logo.

Now, that doesn’t mean that logo design should only cost $35, and with the price of inflation, the logo would have cost them $206 in 2015.


But, what would Nike’s logo have meant without the belief behind it? Without the big advertising campaigns and money spent?


Yet, Nike is not valued at nothing. Through the strength of their brand and identity design, Nike is now worth an estimated $15.9 billion.

Nike don’t call their marketing and advertising, marketing and advertising. They call it “Demand Creation.” And apparently, they spend around $3 billion per year creating demand for their products.

Everything filters back to the value that they place on their identity. It even goes as far as the products themselves.

Here’s how:

The “Swoosh” may have only cost them $35. But they had to have 100% confidence in the logo mark to grow their brand around it. They went on to create multi-million dollar advertising campaigns, sponsor top stars, sporting events and more.

The “Swoosh” logo forms the basis for their brand. Without it, there would be no Nike sneakers. There would be no Nike products. For all it cost a nominal fee, Nike’s logo has added immeasurable value to the brand.

And it’s not just what it adds…

It’s what it doesn’t add. Professional design adds value. But what does bad design take away?

Think about your missed opportunities. People that didn’t contact you. People that passed on by your shop, restaurant or other place of business. In our post Design Your Own Logo, we explored countless waysways that bad design can have a negative affect on your business.

As I said in that post:

Often, a logo design is the first touch point that a customer has with your company. And you only get one chance to make a first impression, so make it count.

But it’s not just limited to logo design.

In the expanding world of online business, it’s often your website that people engage with first. And what sort of affect does that have on them?

Dieter Rams said:

Good design is invisible.

Meaning, negative experiences stick out more than positive ones.

Let’s put this in the context of a website:

  1. You vist an ecommerce website (an online shop)
  2. You add a product to your basket
  3. You view your basket and checkout
  4. Your item arrives

Everything is fine and dandy. The experience was great. You didn’t notice the design, because it worked. You move on, undeterred by your web experience, and in the future, you’re likely to return.

Now, let’s flip it:

  1. You visit an ecommerce website, and it’s a mess. It’s hard to read and you can’t find the product you want.
  2. Eventually you find the product and add it to your basket
  3. You manage to find the basket but can’t figure out how to pay
  4. “DRATS!” they only accept a card payment that 0.000001% of the population have
  5. You bang your head off the wall and give up

You’re going to remember.

You’re going to tell that story to your friends. “Hey, you’ll never believe it but Steve’s Swimming Shop only accepts this Super Rare Bank Card from Outer Space. I couldn’t order my things from there.”

Good design, is invisible. It makes experiences seamless. It adds value.

But, isn’t that contradictory?

Not at all. You don’t want people to remember you for the bad things. First impressions count. So make sure your design work is on point.

You only get one chance to make a first impression.

Contrary to popular belief, not all press is good press. Bad press is bad press. And it’s a losing strategy.

Design should enhance the user experience of your brand. People love good design.

Look at Apple. Average products, great design. Look at McDonalds. Terrible food, globally recognised brand identity. Google. Works every time, provides great results. Starbucks. Average coffee, sense of belonging.

And it’s all by design.

The Value of Great Brand Identity Design

In nearly every branding or identity related post on the Canny blog, I’ve stressed how valuable design can be to a brand.

But why? Why is design an important and valuable asset?

Design is one of the only mediums that allows a brand to communicate directly with their audience.

Yes, you can tweet something out there, or put it on Facebook, but, in what tone of voice? Is it friendly and casual, or serious and professional sounding? How do you know that without establishing your brand’s identity? The way you handle social media is designed.

You write a blog post and you’re looking for some images to use. Are those images photography based, is it text, perhaps it’s a cartoon or illustration? What do each of these types of images communicate and which one is right for your brand? You’ll only know, by going through the branding design process.

What about your stationery? Let’s pretend you own a law firm. What paper stock do you use for your business card and letterheads? Are they shiny and glossy? Probably not. They’re thick, well made, embossed cards. But how do you know? By going through the design process.

Stationery design is a prime example when talking about the value of design.

There are so many options when it comes to the design and manufacture of stationery. Without the branding process, it’s hard to wrap your head around it all.

With so many options, it’s easy to imagine use case scenarios and relate them back to businesses. And this is where the value of design is highlighted.

Glossy flyers and thin business cards suggest your business isn’t targeting high rollers. They tend to be “cheap and cheerful” in their approach.

Thick, embossed business cards, suggest that your business is looking for clients with more money. They tend to have a more “luxury” feel to them.

There are exceptions to the rule, but how do you know without going through the branding process?

The value of brand identity design cannot be underestimated. Working with a professional design agency will open up all sorts of questions about your brand or business.

The Job of a Design Agency is to Add Value

A good design agency will help you realise the power and value of design. And once you’ve unlocked the potential, you’ll never go back.

The job of a design agency is to enable a business or brand to communicate with it’s audience in the most effective way possible.

Let’s break this down.

The first question we ask any business, is this:

Who are your customers? We want to know their age, sex, profession, income range, car they drive, type of dog they have, where they live and more.

That might seem a bit strange, but how can we design a solution to a problem without knowing who we’re designing for?

A lot of people assume that we’re designing for our client directly. That’s wrong. We’re designing for our client’s clients.

And that’s how we add value to a business through design. By creating design solutions that appeal directly to our client’s clients, in turn, increasing their brand awareness and raising their profits.

Back to our example:

The Kids Party Company (“Whizz! Bang! Crash!”)

The name of the company is “Whizz! Crash! Bang!” and it’s ran by a Mum and Dad partnership out of their home office. Their turnover is (at most) £30,000 per year. They’re working 7 days a week. They like to go on a cheap holiday to the South of Spain once a year for a week at a time, mid-week to mid-week so they only need to take one weekend off work. The weekends are their busiest times as this is when most children tend to have their parties.

The Target Audience

Busy mums and dads that have children in primary school. They want a party for their kids, but don’t want the stress of putting it together themselves. They want a one stop solution for their little one’s party. They have roughly £200-£300 to get the job done. They are anticipating anywhere between 50 and 100 little guests at the party, plus their responsible adults.

The Problem

They’re not generating enough bookings. They have a website that they built using a free website builder. It’s rubbish and gets no traffic. They certainly don’t get any bookings through it. They have also ran out of flyers and need some new ones. Flyers are their main business generating tool as when they’re hosting a party, they always manage to hand out 20+ to other parents.

How We Can Use Design to Add Value to Their Business

This year, the couple that own “Whizz! Bang! Crash!” have decided to miss out on their annual holiday to fund some marketing and design work for their business.

Their holiday normally costs them £2000 on average, and they come to us asking for our professional advice. They want to know “What can we do with £2000 to make the most impact and secure some more bookings for 2016?”

There are a few ways we can slice this pie, but here’s how we can use design and our knowledge of design to add value.

Together, we decide how to use their budget:

  1. The “Whizz! Bang! Crash!” logo isn’t great, but it’s not too bad either. Changing it would mean a lot of added expense as the budget simply won’t stretch that far.
  2. The website is the main cause of concern. We agree to use £1000 of the £2000 budget to give the site a visual overhaul, place a better call to action on there and integrate a simple booking system. This will allow potential customers to make the buying decision right on the site, and book their party without delay.
  3. As the company are completely out of flyers, we decide to use £250 of the budget to A) design some double sided flyers and B) get several thousand flyers printed. We use one side of the flyers to outline the company services, and the reverse, to promote their new website and online booking functionality.
  4. £250 of the budget is used to identify some long tail keywords on Google that will allow “Whizz! Bang! Crash!” to rank highly, receive traffic and convert bookings.
  5. The remaining £500 of the budget is used to create 4 blog posts with imagery and 1 engaging infographic about kids parties.

The new website launches, the new flyers are distributed and the content is pushed live. With a minimal investment of £2000, “Whizz! Bang! Crash!” have managed to give their business a new lease of life, bookings pick up and they’re able to go on holiday for two weeks the next year.

The design of their new website is one of the key reasons this plan succeeds. The site looks sleek and professional, and having the booking functionality online helps increase bookings. The infographic is shared all over popular social networks because it looks great and provides real value. Bookings soar.

It’s important to let your chosen design agency know your budget for the reasons outlined above. If we know your budget, we can provide the best value for money. Even if it’s on the low end, we can normally make suggestions that will help you out.

This is how design can prove a valuable asset to a business. Through design, the company have increased brand awareness, raised their profit and given them an extra years holiday.

The Value For Your Brand, The Value For Your Profit

As noted above, the effect design can have on your brand and it’s profits are monumental. If you think about some of the world’s biggest brands, the first thing you’ll associate with them is more than likely design related.

People buy beautiful things and amazing experiences.


Apple have made themselves a legion of fans through beautiful looking products with a great user experience.

Coca Cola are the innovators of the cola drink. It’s tasty and people buy into the brand name. On some level, it’s about prestige. Are you drink Coca Cola (the real deal) or RC Cola from the supermarket? Or, maybe you’re a Pepsi fan, but let’s not open up the Coca Cola vs Pepsi debate.

McDonald’s food isn’t great, but something about that big yellow M (The Golden Arches) makes me hungry every single time! It’s like I’ve been programmed by design.

Nike’s clothing isn’t for me, but I can’t argue that it’s not popular. Their trainers are iconic and with the amount of sports teams they sponsor, their brand and clothing ranges are ever expanding.

Google is simple and clean. It’s free from clutter. When was the last time you heard somebody say “Just Google it.” Probably less than 24 hours ago. When was the last time you heard somebody say “Just Yahoo it.” Probably never. People use Google, because it’s clean and delivers the best results every time.

Design and branding can do that for your company. It can build your following, your customers and your client base.

Look at what branding has done for celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber. They have their “Little Monsters” and “Beliebers” respectively.

These experiences are designed.

People are attached to certain brands, businesses, celebrities, makes of car, types of coffee, food places, TV shows and more. And it’s all by design.

It’s no secret, I love the car manufacturer Audi. Thing is, I’ve never even driven one. So how do I feel such affection towards the brand?

It’s the design. The way their logo looks. The way they make their adverts. I want the Audi owner lifestyle. Their cars look beautiful.

Design, branding, design, advertising, design. It all starts and ends with design.

Some Actual Facts and Figures

Isn’t this all just opinion?

I don’t think you can argue that people buy into brands based on design. You also can’t argue that design can win or lose you business.


Starbucks for example, is a status thing. People like to be seen in Starbucks and drinking Starbucks coffee.

Brands are built by achieving a true following among your fans. By being their default, “go to” solution for their needs. And design helps you get there. Something about that company has to grab your attention in the first place, and it’s normally something to do with design.

But what about some actual hard facts and figures?

The UK Design Council have compiled a fact finding report about the value of design that you can read in full here.

The very first of their “Headline Facts” states:

Every £100 a design alert business spends on design increases turnover by £225.

Now that’s impressive.

They go on to talk about what design can do for your business figures.

Almost a third of the businesses that took part in the fact finding exercise saw profit increase by more more than the amount they spent on design in the same year.

They also asked “How much do businesses spend on design?” with the answer being:

“On average, design alert businesses spend £187,000 on designers’ salaries. And 40% buy design services from external consultants, typically spending £48,000.”

To be investing up to £187,000 in salaries for designers, their has to be a positive ROI (return on investment) for the company. The same can be said for companies contracting with external design consultants.

The fact find also discovered that when businesses use design to add value, they do even better in a whole range of ways, including increased profits, turnover and market share.

The report goes into great depth and provides some excellent visual representations relating to the value of design for a business. They also have an interesting sector by sector breakdown.

The Design Council also put together this great animation about using design to grow your business:

Make The Most of Your Chosen Design Agency

It’s easy for me to sit here and say to you:

“Hand over your budget and your problems and we’ll get to work for you.” And I know that’s not how it works from a client perspective.

We have to earn your trust, and rightfully so. There are so many sharks and “professional designers” out there that don’t know their vector graphics from their pixel based graphics. They own a copy of Photoshop and call themselves a designer.

But, when you’ve chosen a design agency and trust them, the relationship grows, and it can be nurtured to add real value to your business.

Listen to what they have to say, and listen to their ideas about how to grow your business. Having a fresh pair of eyes look over your plans and ideas never comes in wrong.

As professionals, we love building relationships with our clients. We love being able to pick up the phone, head out for a beer together and shoot the breeze about taking our clients business to the next level. It’s great when you trust us to do so.

Read the fact finding report, talk to other business owners and see how they’ve utilised design. Then, when you’ve made up your mind, choose a design agency that you can trust, and let the work begin!

If you’ve had a great experience using design to grow your business, then I’d love to hear all about it. Either shoot me an email, or leave a comment below.

Tony Hardy is the Founder and CEO of Canny Creative. He is a graphic designer, web designer, brand consultant, blogger, Newcastle based entrepreneur, drummer, and wrestling fan.


4 comments on “Exploring the Value of Design

  1. Matt on

    What an informative post! Businesses should really, really start to think about branding, design as an investment or a business asset as much as signage, a new computer or staff uniforms. It really can make the difference. Perhaps brand design isn’t as immediately ‘in your face’ as physical; business assets but it is of paramount importance to businesses. So great post!

  2. Genma on

    As a graphic designer with my business I constantly am up against the same argument in my own head as well as eventually with some clients that my time is based on their needs but also it is my business time and time is money. If you enjoy designing and feel you value your time but hate the constant convincing that you actually need to charge for time spent as that is your job, well if you look as if you are not enjoying your job, you maybe need to change your plan and give that day job up. But as I did this and set up then it’s taken me years to be realistic to myself and not be undervalued for my talents. The battle will commence until we can all just be seen as what we are, a service like no other that wants to make your business a success as much as you do, getting the branding right is key, time is something no one gives to the branding – only time will tell but time is something I overspend on saying what others call pressing buttons, anyone can operate a machine if given time to learn, only real creative people get the brands that grow over time coming back year after year and that time should be valued as it is essential for all.


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