I was driving to work one morning and, while stopped at a traffic light, I glanced at a white van in the next lane and read the business name and other information stuck there using the now ubiquitous vinyl signs. Though it was easy enough to read, I wondered if the business owner knew what his signage was saying. It was apparent that someone involved in the design of this logo had a penchant for heavy metal music and the fonts associated with bands that ilk. I wondered if a long–haired, flannel clad “rocker” would show up at my door asking, “dude, where’re the locks that need changing?”
Design is powerful. I won’t go so far as to say “design will cure world hunger,” but it does have a great deal of influence on aspects of individual and group behavior. I’m a believer, a true believer. I’m one of those graphic designers who constantly looks at design in the every–day world and deconstructs them. I’m that designer who looks at the formatting of the menu before getting around to choosing soup or salad. It may sound strange, but that’s what I do for fun. I believe in the power of design, good or bad, to provoke a response from the viewer.
There are myriad ways to measure customer traffic and the number of new as opposed to return customers. There is, however, a number that is almost impossible to quantify and that’s customers you lost before you even have a chance to provide them products or service; my “Key and Lock” company for instance. Did I call them or visit their place of business? No. Would I in the future? Unlikely. Why? Ignore the fact that the last digit of the phone number is mostly missing. Their logo/sign’s sub-textual message is neither professional nor trustworthy. It said a lot of things about the company as well; none of them very positive. Whether a business owner is aware of it or not, the logo, website or the sign on the side of their white van is saying things about their company. Business owners need to be aware of the message they are broadcasting, and in this day of the Internet and social media, I do mean BROADCASTING.
Consumers may or may not (most are not) be aware that they respond viscerally and quickly to a company’s visual ambassadors. Marketing and business messaging is below the awareness of the customer or recipient. Read that last sentence again, if you have to, so it will stick. Designers and Marketers don’t need to employ subliminal messaging to encourage patronage or behavior. All they need is an awareness of it, and pay attention to the sub–textual content (or message) of the project at hand. Whether it is color, font or the direction of the gaze of that woman in the picture you chose to put in your ad, all have sub–textual messaging possibilities that need to be considered.
Does this sound like a really great reason to retain the skills of a talented designer? You could think of it that way. The real message here, and my intent, is to encourage vigilance and thought when placing visual representatives for your business in the public eye. I’m a true believer. I think this stuff is cool. I could spend the afternoon talking about what this font or that color represents and consider it an afternoon well spent. You on the other hand have to wonder about that customer you’ll never know you lost.
Max Swenson is the Graphic Designer and Animator for Idaho State University’s Office of WORKFORCE TRAINING.