4 Main Reasons Pretty Graphics Won’t Help You


Tremaine / I help solopreneurs craft authentic brands and design for shoestring budgets. Plus, I hoard chocolate.

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I’ve had so many potential clients run away from me screaming when I told them they needed to sort out a few things before I even considered taking a look at the messy-but-detailed sketch they brought/sent to me. Outside of the funny looks, rolled eyes and unanswered emails, they say things like “Who do you think you are?” and “You don’t understand. This is the brand!” or my favorite “It doesn’t matter as long as you get paid, right? Just do it.” And I’m caught between wanting to smack them upside the head or hug them.

The thing is, if I didn’t make sure up front that you have some things sorted out before we start working together, one of two things are going to happen. Either you leave pissed halfway through the project because I can’t give you what you want or you leave with a nice completed graphic that kinda works but that you don’t love. In both those scenarios you don’t get what you want because you didn’t take a moment to define what you wanted. In both those scenarios I’m left frustrated that you still don’t understand half of your problem, and likely won’t for a while.

So, what is the problem?

The problem is that you want graphics done for your project but you don’t know what the graphics are for.

That’s crazytalk. I DO know what I want these graphics for! Really? Let’s test it. Are any of the reasons below your reasons?

  1.  Look more professional online
  2. Need a business card
  3. Have an event coming up
  4. Just think you should
  5. Everyone else seems to be doing it

If any of those answers sound like your reasons for having some graphics done for your business but you don’t have any of the following already defined:

  • Brand voice
  •  Brand audience
  •  Brand personality
  •  Brand values
  •  Brand identity
  •  Brand visuals

then you don’t have good enough reasons to begin the graphic design process. But you do have a fantastic reason to read the rest of this blogpost!

So, here are 4 Reasons Pretty Graphics Won't Help You

1. Pretty Graphics Don’t Say ‘Who’

There are two ‘who’s you should be concerned about if you’re in business:  who you are (as the business) and who is your customer?

If you don’t know who you are as a brand, be it personal or business, then no graphic designer on the planet is going to be able to tell you. We’re good, but we’re not mind readers, and I think I speak for all of us when I say we don’t want to be. Our minds are crazy-busy enough without having to deal with anyone else’s. You need to define who you are (you the business or you the personal brand) at your core. Think MMORPG games. Are you a fighter? Are you a healer? Magician? Define or discover your core identity, your purpose and what that means before you dig into getting any graphics done. It will help. I promise.

Likewise, you MUST know who your audience is. Who are the people you want to help? Who do you love to serve? Zoom in on one person who is the legit epitome of the perfect customer, grab a sheet of paper (or six) and describe them. Flesh them out like you’re telling your bestie about your new crush. Yes your audience is made out of more than one person (hopefully) but you want to speak to one person at a time to reach the 1000 others like them. And if you don’t know who you are talking to or serving, and who you want your graphics to speak to, how will we know? Again, we’re good, but we can’t read minds.

2. Pretty Graphics Don’t Say ‘What’ Properly

This one sounds a little bit ridiculous, but quick question: Do you know what your USP is? No? Likely your ideal audience doesn’t know it either. USP stands for Unique Selling Proposition, and it’s the thing that you do that sets you apart from your competitors and makes working with you compellingly attractive to your audience.

Chances are there are at least 50 other people in the world doing exactly what you do in business, and if you, as a fancy plant sculptor, don’t what your Unique Selling Proposition is that tells your customers what sets you apart from the 50 other fancy plant sculptors they’ve come across then they don’t have a compelling reason to become your customer.

The great thing about this is that there is literally a customer base for everyone. You can be a fancy plant sculptor specializing in vintage alien renderings or a coffee mug artist that renders children’s drawings to oversized mugs for coffee-drinking  and besotted-with-their-offspring parents. It doesn’t matter what it is you choose to use as your differentiating factor, there are people who will dig it.

But if you don’t know what makes you stand out from your competition, there is nothing even a stunningly designed logo or flyer for your business can do to make you more customers. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. No USP=boring graphics=no customers=no money.

“Well, how do I find my USP, then?” you ask. This worksheet should help. You know, if you fill it out.

3. Pretty Graphics Don’t Say ‘Why’

Generally, customers care about two things:

  • What you do and
  • Why they should care

Blunt but true. Zig Ziglar once said that the radio station most customers listen to is ‘WII FM: What’s In It For Me’ and that couldn't be more true if it’s last name was Jackson haha that was a TeenNick joke. And there’s something else, too. They care about the second thing more than they do the first, but if you can convince them of the first, it empowers the second. How do you convince them of what you do? You do the best do ever in the history of doing. You be so good at whatever it is that you’re doing that your audience can’t help but follow you, even if they didn’t want to.

Think Coca Cola. If the company never established itself as the go-to cola brand, no one hardly would have cared if they did any of the foundation or conservation work they do. It would have been nice, but not important enough to sway a buying decision. I’ve seen Coca Cola fans on a strict diet justify a bottle on a non-cheat day because “Coke helps protect polar bears in the arctic” (an actual quote). The answer to the question ‘Why should they care?’ doesn’t have to be some huge overarching theme about saving the rainforest or obliterating childhood obesity, though those are awesome and if they line up with your business people will definitely get behind them. It can be as simple as allowing them to self-identify with a group they’d like to be a part of, like successful men or beautiful women.

When you’re that good or with an experience that deeply ingrained in your audience’s mind, they won’t care so much about what you do, though they’ll love it wholeheartedly. It’s just that it takes a backseat to the experience and the feeling they have when they use your product or interact with your brand. My dad once made me walk around downtown Chicago for more than 20 mins so he could find a Coke under $1.50 because he simply had to have one (he failed, I had blisters). But when he finally bought a Coke? He parked himself on a bench for five minutes and savored those first few gulps like he’d cracked open a wineskin from ancient Greece. No joke.

My point is, you have to establish these ‘why’s before you attempt to have any graphic design work done.

4. Pretty Graphics Don’t Say ‘How’

No, I’m not saying you need to have an infographic of your entire process made up, though that’s not a bad idea. What I mean is your pretty graphics can’t say how your audience can take the next step with you, start their journey, get on the bus, any of that if you don‘t first decide what that next step is. This is a call to action and it doesn’t create itself. Something as simple as “Call Us Today!” or "Sign up at yadayada.com” can take your graphic, whatever it may be and be for, from pretty and pointless to thought-out and targeted, which is exactly what you want.

How would you feel if, after paying for an hour of water skiing, the attendant walks away to court some other would-be buyer but neglects to tell you what to do next to start skiing? Truthfully, if it were me the attendant wouldn’t get far lies I wouldn’t have paid for waterskiing in the first place because I can’t swim because I would have been half a step behind him, but you see what I mean? Every piece of design you have created has to have a call to action, has to lead your audience to take that next step in their journey with you. Otherwise, what’s the point?

I actually don’t have a worksheet for this, at least not yet. But if you sign up for my worksheet archive you’ll be the first to know when I do.

To sum it all up, pretty graphics won’t help you because pretty graphics are not your brand. They won’t help you establish your expertise or attract lifelong clients or set you apart from the 49-odd other biz owners doing the same thing you’re doing, at least not for long. Your brand is not what your images and graphics look like. It’s not a logo or color scheme and you can’t get it by throwing money at a designer, no matter what you’ve heard and what the designer tells you.

Your brand is the experience you create for your audience and the feeling they walk away from you with. If you’re lucky and do a good job crafting the supreme customer experience, then they walk away from you feeling exactly what you want them to feel.