I like wine. I have my stand-by favourites, but every once in a while I am prone to browsing the store looking for something new. Without fail, I will choose something with a great name or a pretty label.

I know I’m not alone. At Easter dinner, my dad admitted to choosing beverages based on the colours in the packaging. I once brought a truly terrible wine to a party simply because it was named, “Bitch.”

Basically, anyone who says they don’t do this is:

(a) way more knowledgeable about wine than the common person and understands what the hell “notes of tobacco” really means;

(b) lying.

The other night my friend brought over a bottle of wine and told a story about how the liquor store had drastically reduced the prices of this particular brand. Suspicious, she asked why this had happened. The response was that the current label was ugly and they were in the middle of a redesign. They were attempting to blow out the bottles with the old label.

Get that? The wine was exactly the same, but the design was not indicative of the value inside the bottle and therefore consumers were passing it by.

The solution? Improve the design, improve the sales.

When you are in business, your website, your brochure, even your business card becomes your label.

There will always be the odd person who immediately recognizes the value of what you supply, but the vast majority of people encountering you for the first time are judging you by your label(s). They wonder if it’s worth exploring further. Should they spend their time reading your copy and analyzing your sales packages or should they surf on by to the prettier label?

So yes, you get it, you need GREAT design. But what does that really look like? One thing I’ve learned from my clients is that they don’t always understand what great design really looks like. You might know you like X better than Y but how do you know if the logo you designed yourself is okay or is utterly atrocious and will lead to you leaving thousands on the table? How do you know if the designers you are considering are what you need?

The answer is NOT to poll a thousand of your closest Facebook friends. The answer is to look at your brand. (An aside, if you haven’t worked on your branding, DO THIS FIRST. Design without branding is a total house of cards; looks cool but falls apart with the slightest poke.)

  1. Look at brands you’d like to associate with your business. One of the mistakes I see clients make is containing their research to their industry. While it’s definitely a benefit to know what the competition is doing, it’s more important to look at brands who exist at the level you want to occupy. If you make teacups, and you have visions of being an international empire, then you should be researching brands who are already there. It doesn’t matter whether they make coffee or shoes or airliners, you can look at their visuals and start forming some opinions.
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  3. Consider your tribe. It’s really important to understand who you want in your community. It’s not enough to say, “I work with women so I’ll make it all pink.” You need to know what they read, where they shop, what they find funny. What types of things do they share on social media? What do they talk about with their best buddies? Make a Pinterest board of who this person is and see if you can find any common visual trends.
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  5. Review professional sites. When you want to just see what the pros are doing, it’s worth a trip to Dribbble. Not only can you see professional designers at work, you can learn a lot from reading the comments where other artists critique what already seems like very strong work.

Your turn. What tips do you have for recognizing great design? How’s your “label” holding up and if it’s time to upgrade, do you have some ideas on how you want to do it? Share in the comments.

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