Does your brand work hard for your business?

When starting a business many owners feel they can cut costs by ‘designing’ their own logo and marketing materials. However, unless they are particularly talented in the area of graphic design, they may find their plans backfire.

You see, design is not just about making something look pretty or trendy; your brand is your first point of engagement with your customers and needs to convey your values, inspire trust, recognition and hopefully admiration for your business.

We live in such a brand-conscious society where split-second assumptions are made on a subconscious level. Your logo, font, colour and even paper choices will reflect on how your business is perceived. (Think about that home-printed business card you were given – and quickly disposed of – when you were networking!)

Consider your target market

When designing a logo for a client, I always consider their market place; will their brand appeal to their customers; is it something they will relate to and identify with?

Sometimes it is difficult for a client to put aside their own preferences in order to establish a brand their clients relate to. For example, a client may like to have a logo which reflects the colours of his favourite football team, but this may be wholly inappropriate for his business and target market.

In styling your logo you need to consider who you are aiming at; is it going to be a luxury or low-cost brand, is it B2B or B2C? There are many aspects to consider when creating a successful brand. I always ask my clients to tell me who their target market is when I am designing their logos.

Technical principles

There are also three technical principles to bear in mind; your logo should be ‘describable’, ‘memorable’ and ‘scalable’. Think about well-known brands such as Apple, Nike, McDonalds etc.

McDonalds, Apple and Nike logos

describable, memorable and scalable

I overheard a conversation at a networking event, where on exchanging business cards, one said to the other “I’ve seen your logo everywhere, I could just about draw it!”

From a practical point of view then, a successful logo should reflect these qualities. You should be able to apply your logo across many different materials; from your business card (often your first point of contact) to your website, a billboard poster to your vehicles. The best and most memorable brands are often the simplest.

Building your brand – building your business

There are many factors to consider when building your brand and preparing your marketing materials. It really is worth investing in your brand to make sure you are conveying the right messages to the right customers. If necessary get professional design assistance as it can really make a difference, significantly improving sales, turnover and profit.

At The Malting House Graphic Design Studio we help our clients create appropriate, memorable brands that are appealing to their target customers. It’s an investment that we believe will make a huge difference to your business.

Malting House logo designs

Logo designs by The Malting House Graphic Design Studio

Form vs. function – communicating effectively

Recently, while searching online for a farm cottage to book for a family holiday, I came across a lovely-looking website which at first glance seemed to tick all the boxes; good area, number of bedrooms, renewable energy systems, and most importantly for my children – chickens!

However, after looking more closely I was unable to find any information regarding availability or pricing for the week we wanted to book. Without the information to make a decision, I rather quickly moved on to other sites, making a booking elsewhere.

Arguably, you could say “just give them a call or drop them an email”. Well, I called twice to no avail and it took 3 days for them to respond to my email. (I’m so impatient…)

This got me thinking about the importance of the balance between aesthetics and information. No doubt, the owners of the farm had invested in a good web designer but, without the necessary information to make a decision, I could ask have they wasted their money?

Successful design solutions must have a balance between a visual hook and the information needed to get across your message or make a decision. My feeling is that design education tends to focus on aesthetic appeal, and whilst this is important, effective design solutions should always include appropriate information in an accessible way.

In a culture where everything moves at speed, we spend seconds skimming web pages. If we can’t find the information we need we move quickly onto the next page. And this can be applied across many aspects of design; your business card may look great but can your clients read the ‘trendy’, miniscule typeface? Do your marketing leaflets grab attention but not follow through on the details?

A bit of strategic thinking alongside creativity, in line with your visual branding, needs to be applied to every piece of design work or marketing material to make it effective for your business or organisation.

Branding Case Study – Otocos

Research, design, development

Over the past few months I have been working with Wendy Inglis Humphrey to help her develop a new brand for her science-based business Otocos (on time, on cost, on spec). Collaborating together with Stephen Gorton from Fraktul Thinking we began the process with a Mindmeister Map. The Mindmeister application lets several people working on a project add their thoughts and ideas to an online mind map.

The application allowed me to ask Wendy many questions about her business, her clients, competitors, how she wanted her new brand to be perceived; it’s ‘personality’, colours etc. We then met to discuss the mind map in more detail. Wendy wanted her new brand to have a balance between being creative and enterprising but also representing her strengths in planning and delivery. Her business covers vast areas within the field of science including project management, data mapping, research, innovation and organising science events. She wanted her new brand to reflect the many aspects of her work coming together to form useful solutions for her clients summed up in her strap-line “making sense of complexity”.

We took some time to look at other brands that she liked and also those of her competitors. It was important to Wendy that her brand was unique but also not look out of place in her market. From this point we agreed that I would prepare some design options for discussion…


Otocos Branding Development

Initial designs

Here are two of the initial designs presented. Both using triangular forms to illustrate Wendy’s 3-part business model and circles to represent completion. Already a colour palette was emerging – dark blue with highlights of bright pink, orange and lime green.

Wendy was intrigued by the first design. We both liked the mosaic qualities of the logo; bringing order out of many chaotic elements. However, after discussing the logo with her family and friends we decided to develop the design further.


Otocos Development 2

Further development of the logo design

This time I presented two further designs; a triangular sail shape and a ring shape. Wendy was very happy with the ring design and felt this represented her business on many different levels and after a bit of tweaking we finalised the artwork.

Rolling out the brand

Following completion of the logo, the initial requirement was for some business cards and this provided a great platform to try out the new brand! I have also developed a simple brand guideline document and Wendy is currently working with Stephen to publish a her new website.

Otocos Business card

The Otocos branding applied to the business card

Investing in your brand

Your brand says so much about your business and it is important to get it right. Your brand displays your professionalism, provides confidence to your clients and gives you the edge over your competitors.

iStock – royalty free photography? and other similar websites have made quality photography very accessible to every business, but it wasn’t always that way…

When I started my career XX years ago, design agencies up and down the country had bulging bookshelves full of catalogues from photograph libraries. When you wanted to use an image in a particular job you could spend hours searching through these books to find just the right photograph. On finding the ideal image, you then had to negotiate a usage fee with the library based on a host of factors including size of image, position in the document, industry sector, print run and how long the document would be in circulation. They would then mail you a transparency which you would have to send to a pre-press company to be scanned to the required size. These “rights protected” images often cost hundreds of pounds to use for just a few months. (The only benefit of rights protected images being that no-one else could use them at the same time as you for the length of the contract.) However, in many cases it was more cost-effective to hire a photographer to take an original photograph!

Moving on several years and with the establishment of the internet many of these photograph libraries began to get their portfolios online. With good search facilities the whole process became much easier and quicker, albeit still expensive to use. Designers were able to download the images directly to their desktops skipping the pre-press scanning stage altogether.

In 2000 there was a bit of a shake up across the industry when iStock began to offer low-cost, quality “royalty-free” photography using the micropayment model. (Lots of people paying small amounts to use photographs without restrictions). These libraries were built by contributing photographers whose work was vetted for quality and suitability.

In 2006 iStock was bought over by big industry player Getty Images and prices began to eek up. However, the site benefited from Getty’s search engine capabilities and continues to offer low-cost images. Alongside photography, iStock now also offer vector art (illustrations), soundbites and video, making it a great site to investigate when you need material for websites, presentations and printed marketing material.

Is it really royalty-free?

Well, I decided to write about this subject after one of my clients had concerns about some images I had bought for her marketing materials; were they really royalty-free?

It is true that there are some restrictions, and unless you have taken time to read through pages of licensing agreements you may not be aware of them. Here is a quick summary of the main issues…

  1. Firstly, unless you want to pay a small fortune for an extended license, don’t apply the image to anything that you intend to sell. That could include things like greetings cards, mugs, t-shirts etc. (It’s ok to use images on promotion material that you give away!)
  2. iStock don’t license their material for use on logos… This means that if you find a nice piece of vector artwork that you think would make a great logo for your business – unfortunately, you cannot use it! (Contact your graphic designer to create a unique logo tailored to your business instead!)
  3. iStock restrict the number of impressions (eg number of printed leaflets you use the image on) to 499,999 uses. However, this is probably adequate for most businesses and gives you the opportunity to use an appropriate image across a whole family of marketing materials from brochures, leaflets, advertising, exhibitions etc.

How to use

I encourage lots of my clients who need images to log onto the site ( and have a look around. Use the search facilities to define what you are looking for – you may be pleasantly surprised. One of my clients, an organic potato farmer, was delighted to discover literally hundreds of images of potatoes, fields etc… (The postcard on the left for a European conference uses a mixture of iStock images and a commissioned photograph of the client)

The lightbox is a nice feature allowing you to collect groups of images together for the project you are working on. It’s a great tool which allows my clients to see the images I have considered for their design work.

Images are priced by number of credits. A small low-resolution image for use on a website could be 1-4 credits, whereas a large high-resolution image to use on an exhibition banner may be 15 – 20 credits or more. When buying an image purchse the size appropriate for your largest requirement, you can then reduce it for use on websites or smaller print materials.

To purchase images you first need to register with the site and then buy credits for your account. Credits are sold in bundles of 12 – currently around £15. (This isn’t great if you only need a small image for your website!) Once you have your credits you can download the image you want to your desktop. I always take care of this for my clients but they can use the site to select images for their project and either pass me the reference numbers or a link to their light-box.

iStock and other similar image libraries have revolutionised the way we purchase and use images, making photography accessible to most businesses. For me, technology has increased the speed in which a job can be turned around and the whole design process from taking a brief, choosing images, creating artwork, proofing and sending the work to the printer can be done from my desktop allowing me to provide design solutions for my clients quickly and cost-effectively.

Understanding the jargon…

Rights Protected Images – These are images which you buy the rights to use. You have a restricted contract with the library to use the image in a certain way for a certain amount on time. In return they promise to protect that right and don’t allow any other business in your market place to use the same image at the same time. Contracts for worldwide exclusive rights can be purchased but the expense involved is more than employing a photographer to take the shot for you!

Royalty Free Images – Suggesting that you don’t pay royalties to use the image. In the past these images tended to be inferior quality to their Rights Protected brothers but much cheaper to use. You have no protected rights when you use these images – anyone can access them and the downside is that you could find your competitors using the same photographs on their marketing material. The quality of these images has greatly improved with libraries like iStock vetting their photographers and images.


The Malting House has arrived on WordPress!

Have a browse through some of the pages to find out more about The Malting House Graphic Design Studio. I’m hoping to use the blog to write topical articles to demonstrate how you can use design effectively to grow your business and increase your profit margins.

There is also a link to the portfolio on my website to let you see the kind of projects that I am involved in.

Please get in touch if there is anything I can help you with!