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Graphic design tips for a strong brand

An interview with a brand design expert

Good copywriting and graphic design go hand-in-hand in creating a strong brand. I’ve interviewed Jeff Ames, a brand design expert, to get his tips on how to engage your audience and improve your image through graphic design.

Jeff Ames, brand design expert

As a Denver copywriter, I get to partner with many talented graphic designers — including Jeff Ames, a graphic designer with extensive experience in brand design.

I recently sat down with Jeff to discuss graphic design tips for businesses that want to build a strong brand.

Jeff brings a unique perspective to branding because he collaborates with companies of all sizes. He is the owner of Jeff Ames Creative, a Denver brand design firm for small to mid-size businesses. He’s also the creative director for Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, a national restaurant company based in Colorado.

The American Graphic Design Awards, the Web Marketing Association, and the Art Directors Club of Denver have all honored Jeff’s work. In addition, many of his logo designs have been published in LogoLounge Master Library Series — a leading logo resource for designers.

Here’s what Jeff had to say about branding, graphic design tips, and investing in a professional graphic designer…

Brand Design Tips

Ann Kendall: People define branding in different ways. I’m curious, what’s your definition of a brand?

Jeff Ames: I define a brand as how a customer or an audience feels or reacts to your business. When people see your logo or a piece of communication from you, what’s the gut reaction they have?

A brand is a feeling. It’s the experience your customers have when they hear your name or interact with your business.

Managing a brand is about managing people’s perspectives and feelings about you. You have to do that through your marketing. You have to do your best to manage how someone is going to feel about your business.

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Ann Kendall: I’m sure there are many Denver companies that would love some graphic design tips. What are some simple changes that a business can make to improve its design and image?

Jeff Ames: De-clutter!

Strip down your message. Strip away all the excess garbage you don’t need.

Don’t fill space just because you can. Make sure everything that’s on a page or a website has a reason for being there. Give yourself a better chance to have your audience read what you’re putting out there.

Talk to your audience in a way that they want to learn more about you. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes, and ask yourself, what would make me want to learn more about this company? Answering this question helps to strip away the clutter.

Stick to a nice, simple logo, and make sure it’s consistent across your brand.

Lay out all your collateral, and ask, do I have a consistent visual identity? Can I pick up a piece and know it’s from the same company? It’s about more than just your logo. Are you using the same color palette, fonts, etc.?

When you make these changes, you help to refine the gut reaction that people have about your brand.

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Ann Kendall: What do you wish that more businesses understood about design?

Jeff Ames: The value and power of simplicity. The whole idea of ‘less is more.’

If you try to communicate everything, you communicate nothing because you aren’t inviting your audience in.

I’ve worked with businesses that say, ‘But there’s all this white space!’

Yes, there is an opportunity to stuff a message in there, but as you do that, you take away from your core message and what’s most important.

It may seem easy to convey a simple message, but it’s not. Even for me as a professional. I’ve gone through years and years of learning how to simplify a design, and I’m still learning.

Choosing a Graphic Designer

Ann Kendall: Why would you encourage a business to invest in professional brand design, rather than doing it themselves?

Jeff Ames: If you take your brand seriously enough to invest in outside help, others will take your brand seriously.

Professional design can make a tiny, tiny company look much bigger than it is.

If you aren’t working with someone with a lot of design experience, your logo or communication can end up looking ‘hacky.’ You may think it looks good, but the professionalism will not come across. And that will affect how people perceive you. Your audience will not take your brand seriously.

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Ann Kendall: What do companies need to know about choosing a graphic designer?

Jeff Ames: If you’re looking for strategic guidance, you’ll need to pay more. But hopefully, you’ll get more return on your investment.

The value of a strategic designer is in simplifying your brand. Getting your value proposition on the page. Delivering a more successful message to your target audience through the design and copywriting.

If you just need someone to take the concept in your head and put it on paper, you won’t pay as much for that… But your concept better be great. Otherwise, you may not get the results you want.

Brand Design Mistakes to Avoid

Ann Kendall: For a company that wants to build a strong brand, what would you say are the biggest graphic design mistakes to avoid?

Jeff Ames: Not empathizing with your audience…

Not thinking about the experience you want someone to have with your brand…

Starting to design before you understand what you’re trying to communicate…

Not knowing your value proposition…

If we’re talking about tactical things – such as designing a page – I’d say not considering what’s going to compel someone to turn to the next page.

A lot of people plop a logo on the cover of their brochure and make the logo the centerpiece. But if your audience doesn’t know who you are, they aren’t going want to open your brochure based on your logo.

It’s really important to step back and ask yourself, who is picking up this brochure? What is our company’s value proposition to this audience? What need are we trying to fulfill for our audience? That’s what you want to communicate through your design and copywriting.

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Ann Kendall: Will you explain more about a value proposition?

Jeff Ames: Every successful company has something distinct that they offer their audience.

Each business needs to the get to the meat of what they offer that their competitors don’t – or what they do better than their competitors.

It boils down to asking, what can you offer than no one else offers, and why should your audience care? That’s your value proposition.

Why to Create Brand Standards

Ann Kendall: We can’t discuss graphic design tips without touching on brand standards. Why should a company create brand standards?

Jeff Ames: When you have standards, it’s so much easier to keep your message and visuals consistent. You can just hand off your brand standards to the vendors or designers who are working with your brand.

It’s important to keep in mind that brand standards are meant to be guidelines. They shouldn’t be handcuffs.

Some companies need to have looser standards because they’re talking to different audiences. For example, in the restaurant world, how you sell a burger to a family is different than how you sell a beer to a dude.

Make your standards flexible enough to talk to different audiences.

And if you’re working with an agency, make sure your agency isn’t using your standards document as a crutch to get projects out the door quicker. It’s not a reason to give up on being creative.

Parting Thoughts

Ann Kendall: What do you enjoy most about graphic design?

Jeff Ames: Solving problems.

Typically, when people come to me they’re at a point where they’ve gone through friends, or another designer, or a sister’s distant nephew’s cousin who is a ‘graphic designer.’ They’ve realized their problem isn’t being solved.

For me, the most satisfying thing is getting to the end result where the communication solved someone’s problem or did a lot more than expected.

If the communication can live within a broader brand, even better. If it can blossom into a brand, even better.

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Ann Kendall: Jeff, thanks for joining me today to share your ideas.

Jeff Ames: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

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To learn more about Jeff Ames Creative, please visit www.jacreative.org.

Until next time!

Ann