How to best use graphic design for your small business

By Eleanor Hecks

Before a purchase, customers have to judge by appearances — like the look of a product, the style of a logo, or even the colors a brand uses. Customers know this themselves — to the point where 7 out of 10 consumers agreed in a recent survey that packaging design influences their purchasing decisions.

Good graphic design — like a unique logo, strong advertisements, and powerful visuals — can go a long way in helping your business stand out. Design can also help you build a brand that people remember long after they see one of your ads or interact with your business online.

However, good graphic design is just like web design, accounting, and any other professional skill — it can get expensive. While freelancers may be an option, working with a graphic design or branding agency is likely out of the question for small businesses with a limited branding and design budget.

Fortunately, it’s possible to create powerful and compelling graphics on your own by using the right tools and knowing a few basic graphic design rules that can get you started.

This is how small businesses can use graphic design to its full potential — even if they don’t have the budget to work with a big graphic design agency.

– Know what tools are out there

There are lots of beginner-level graphic design tools designed for people, including small business owners, who need good graphic design but don’t have any serious design experience.

Canva is one of the most popular design tools out there. It comes pre-loaded with a wide range of templates, palettes, and graphics assets that will help you quickly assemble logos, flyers, promotional materials, and other designs. It’s also built with beginners in mind, meaning you can use it even if you have little or no graphic design experience.

Importantly, tools like Canva often have free versions or free trials you can use to test out the software while creating valuable graphics.

You can also use tools like Adobe Spark. This is part of Adobe Suite, which includes professional graphic design software like Illustrator and Indesign. Unlike those tools, Spark is intended for people who don’t have much experience with graphic design, but still need to create strong visuals.

The program, like other beginner graphic design tools, has a deep library of photos and icons you can draw from. It also includes features that can help you identify winning color combinations and powerful typeface choices.

Other, more specific tools can help you nail down specific brand elements — like what colors or fonts you’ll use in your branding. Adobe Color and Colormind, for example, are two online tools dedicated to color palettes. Both can help you quickly sort through different color combinations and pick out one that will look good and work for your brand.

Then, there are tools like WhatFont, a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox that help identify fonts on the Web. If you spot a font out in the world that you think would be a great fit for your brand, the extension can help you name it, potentially allowing you to use it in your branding and design work.

– Learn the basics of good branding and design

Even with these tools, you can still make common design mistakes that may make your ads, logos, and promotional materials weaker. Learning some of the basic rules of graphic design can help you minimize these small errors and ensure your branding is as solid as it can be.

For example, many graphic designers recommend that you limit your palette to three to five colors that you’ll use consistently across your branding. This is a good way to avoid designs that are “busy.”

You’ll also want to make sure any text you use is easy to read. High contrast — like black text on a light pastel background — will ensure your copy is legible.

Other common graphic design rules include prioritizing consistency, using vector images instead of raster graphics when possible, and limiting yourself to three fonts or less.

When designing packages and physical promotional materials, you should also be sure to take advantage of the range of materials and special printing options you have access to.

Research on customer decision-making, for example, has found that special print techniques can sway purchasing decisions by up to 67% — meaning a little investment in unique materials or design elements can go a long way.

– Consider working with a designer

Working with a designer on a per-project basis can be a great way to round out your collection of advertising materials or bump up existing brand assets — like your logo.

You may also be able to get advice or consultation on some of your branding decisions, potentially helping you pick a better color palette or more effective set of fonts for your business.

Before you commit to working with a designer, however, you should have a good idea of how much they cost. For example, freelance logo design services may cost anywhere from $100 to $1,500, depending on the kind of experience your freelancer has.

Use graphic design to drive sales and build your brand

Graphic design can have a major impact on your ability to drive sales and build a lasting brand image. Everything from package design to the colors you use may help encourage customers to give your products a try or investigate your company further.

Even if you can’t afford to work with a big-name graphic design firm, you can still create powerful visual assets for your business. Free online tools and freelance designers can both help you build your company’s visual identity.


Eleanor Hecks is editor-in-chief at Designerly Magazine. She was the creative director at a prominent digital marketing agency prior to becoming a full-time freelance designer. Eleanor lives in Philadelphia with her husband and pup, Bear.

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