Building Impressions Through Good Design

Before you build it, you've got to design it. Before your client says yes, they will most likely want to see your ideas, first. The concept visualized, communicated and understood is the key to earning the kinds of projects that I refer to as "building impressions." They're the ones that stand out and are put into their own category. They can be anything from signs and displays to exhibits or structures. In my experience it doesn't matter if it's printed flat or produced dimensionally. If it's going to build impressions, it needs a good design as a first step and as the means to winning the project.

Here are seven points to consider when it comes to design and the benefits it can provide to your clients, your team and the bottom line of your business.

Design Provides Confidence

If your shop is not as strong in the area of design as you'd like it to be, this should be at the top of the list. The reasons are numerous. But one of the main ones has to do with confidence. The better your designs, the more confidence you'll have and the more your customers will have in you.

Design Projects
The design concept visualized, communicated and understood is the key to earning the kinds of projects that I refer to as building impressions.

Better doesn't just mean in the creative and aesthetic sense. It involves the mechanical and common senses as well. Just because something looks beautiful or cool doesn't mean it will work or can be produced. The best designs will take a concept and develop it all the way through an application of the design that includes staying within the budget while specifying materials, sizes, and how the item(s) will be installed.

Design Leads to Commitment

Design has the ability to generate excitement, enthusiasm and positive energy‚ÄĒespecially when it pertains to the brand of your customer or their organization, product or service being branded. What you create will enhance their image. Once they start to see what they like, they also start to buy in. Before you even close the sale, you've already begun to secure a commitment. The faster you can do this, the sooner that commitment will flow more toward you and away from your competitors.

Along with great design at a quick pace, in order to maintain that commitment, you'll have to make sure you are designing something that the customer will be willing pay for. I've also found that by winning my customer's confidence and commitment early in the game through the design process, that they will also tend to open up and be more comfortable and willing to communicate their budget as well as provide the necessary input that will drive the design to the next rounds or revisions.

Commitment leads to collaboration and teamwork where you and your customer are working together rather than you having to figure everything out on your own with back and forth presentations trying to figure out how to win them over. Give them great designs up front and you'll increase the chances of gaining favor and commitment.

Three Types of Design

A job done right from start to finish will involve three types of design: for sales, for approvals, and for production. Design for each is very different and has distinct reasons.

When you are designing to sell your ideas, the artwork needs to look dynamic and tell the whole story. A complete presentation should show a concept straight on as well as from the side, top and in perspective. It’s even better when you show it from multiple perspectives and even distances of viewing. In this phase, involving dimensions and specifications in the artwork is not that critical; although, they should be considered while generating the layouts. They do eventually come into play. But I tend to focus optically in the beginning. Show the right things first. The customer knows when they see what they like. Do that, then move on.

"When you are designing to sell your ideas, the artwork needs to look dynamic and tell the whole story."

Design for approvals and production does not need to be as pretty. In fact, the less fancy the better. This is where those dimensions and notes do become necessary.

Artwork for approval should be detailed, to the point, easy to see and understand. Besides the approval from the client, you'll often need it from the local building department in the form of a permit or from a governing board. A city planner wants to see a clean concept with sizes, distances and square feet, not shading and artwork fluff. The same is true in production, but with even more details. Besides seeing what the customer and planner sees, your production team will want to know paint and color references as well as a complete set of instructions and notes on every component involved in the project.

The Design Team

The size of your operation and amount of project volume will determine how many designers to have on staff. You might even be the sole designer as well as owner and boss‚ÄĒat first. But if you choose to grow and evolve your business, your design ability will need to keep up.

With my business, I started out as our only designer and had two "vinyl guys" that could do general layouts but were not skilled as designers. I learned the hard way that you can't just turn people into designers just because you decide to grow a business. As we got busier, I put more design responsibility on my vinyl team. But that was a mistake. Though they had industry knowledge, they lacked the kind of creativity (and time) it takes to generate building-impression ideas.

Hiring the perfect designer with all the goods and qualities you want in your shop is rare. You'll have to be ready and willing to train and invest in your design team in order to keep generating and winning jobs that build impressions.


Design leads to new or strengthened relationships. People crave and appreciate well-applied creative talent in the realm of visual experiences. Your customers are in business. They want to establish and maintain a good brand. They depend on you to help deliver those meaningful visual experiences that express their brand and image while driving more sales to their business.

"People crave and appreciate well-applied creative talent in the realm of visual experiences."

I love it when a client who used to work with me on just a sign project here or there all the sudden starts to refer to me as "their designer." Even better is when the phone rings and the person on the other end wants to discuss design before signs. That's a great way to start a relationship.

Design Software

I personally use CorelDRAW almost exclusively. I design signs, structures, displays, wraps, logos, print and PR collateral, websites, newsletters and even books and book covers and package design all using Corel and Corel's Photoshop as my design software of first choice. I reluctantly work with some Illustrator as well, but my design team prefers the Adobe Illustrator Creative Cloud suite of design software over Corel, though they gladly put up with my design files. The fact is that Corel and Illustrator, to a tolerable agree, will play nicely together.

On the output side of things, my shop uses the OMEGA and ONYX products by Gerber Technology.

Design as a Means of Business Development

Similar to developing relationships, design will also drive business. Business opportunities will sometimes come through your door before a relationship is cultivated. Design can help take advantage of the invitations to look at or bid a project, then during the design process you can work on the relationship.

One way you can use your design ability to develop business and project opportunities is by branding yourself as a brand, image and design expert. I've spent my entire adult life and career doing this. Be sure you are ready for this, though. Your design ability has to live up to the reputation. But once design is mastered and you've begun to build a portfolio of projects that build impressions, consider all the options available to get yourself noticed. Write a book, or start a blog. Offer to speak or give presentations. Be willing to do some traveling.

There is a lot of business out there. Design is your ticket to winning some of it.

Article written by Scott Franko and reposted with permission from Sign & Digital Graphics.

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