If you represent a corporation, institution, advertising agency, investor or public relations firm, or are an individual in need of graphic design, you’ve landed exactly where you need to be. Welcome.

Unlike so much in today’s business world, graphic design is not a commodity. It is the highly individualized result of people coming together to do something they couldn’t do alone. When the collaboration is creative, the results usually are too. This brochure is about how to get creative results. Developed by AIGA, the discussion that follows will give you realistic, useful information about the design process–from selecting a design firm to providing a clear understanding of objectives, evaluating cost and guiding a project to a desired end. It is a kind of “best practices” guide based upon the best thinking of many different designers with very different specializations and points of view, as well as clients of design who have a long history of using it successfully for their companies. The fundamental premise here is that anything worth doing is worth doing well, but if it’s to be done well, it must first be valued.

The value position
Design—good design—is not cheap. You would be better served to spend your money on something else if you don’t place a high value on what it can achieve. There’s a view in Buddhism that there’s no “good” karma and no“bad” karma, there’s just karma. The same can’t be said for design. Karma is a universal condition. Design is a human act (which often affects conditions) and, therefore, subject to many variables. When the word design is used here, it is always in the context of good design.

A lot of famous people have written many famous books on the importance of design and creativity. The subject matter ranges from using design and creativity to gain a strategic advantage or make the world a more livable place—and more. Much more. The focus here is on how to make the process of design work in the business environment so that the end product lives up to its potential.

We live in a time of sensory assault. Competing for “eyeballs” —which is to say, customers— is more than just an Internet phenomenon. The challenge for companies everywhere is to attract consumers to their products and services and keep them in the face of fickle markets.

The answer to this challenge starts with each company’s people, products and services, but it doesn’t end there. How companies communicate to their markets and constituencies is becoming the primary means of differentiation today. Never, in fact, has effective communication been more important in business. And it has increased the pressure within companies to establish environments and attitudes that support the success of creative endeavors, internally and externally. More often than not, companies that value design lead the pack.

What design is and isn’t
Design often has the properties of good looks, which perhaps is why it’s often confused with style. But design is about the underlying structure of communicating— the idea, not merely the surface qualities. The late, great designer Saul Bass called this “idea nudity”— messages that stand on their unadorned own. Certainly, it’s possible for a good idea to be poorly executed. But bad ideas can’t be rescued. When, for example, a global fashion house put verses from the Koran on the back pockets of its designer jeans for all the world to sit on, that was a bad idea before it was ever designed and produced. And the outcry of indignant Muslims worldwide loudly attested to this. Using a different color or type style wouldn’t have changed the outcome.

Ideas give design its weight, its ability to influence audiences positively, negatively or not at all.

The objects of design
Design is about the whole, not the parts. If you wear your $2,500 Armani suit with the wrong pair of shoes, you are apt to be remembered for the shoes and not the suit. Inconsistency raises doubt and doubt makes people wary. This might not matter much if customers didn’t have alternatives, but customers do. And they know it.

So?

So, it isn’t enough for a company to have a great logo if the communications effort isn’t carried out across the full spectrum of the company’s interaction with its marketplaces— from how the telephone is answered to corporate identity; branding; packaging; print materials; advertising; Internet, intranet, interactive multimedia and web-related communications; and environmental graphics. The “swoosh” didn’t make Nike a successful company. Nike made the“swoosh” an iconic reflection of a carefully orchestrated approach to the marketplace. (For better or worse, the marketplace is now deluged with “swoosh”-like shapes, identifying companies ranging from sportswear to software. It’s the frame of reference for what many think of when visualizing the word “mark.”) It’s unlikely the “swoosh” would be so memorable had it stayed confined to, say, hangtags on shoes.

Finding the right designer
People with a great deal of experience—both as designers and as clients—will tell you that if you really do your homework in the selection process, the chances are excellent that what follows will bring about the hoped–for results.

A Client’s Guide to Design: How to Get the Most Out of the Process. © AIGA