12 Most Dreadful Things My Clients Will Never Get from Me

12 Most Dreadful Things My Clients Will Never Get from Me

Businesses and solopreneurs sometimes have difficulty justifying the expense of hiring a professional branding and design pro. In other words, “What am I going to get for my money that I can’t get done on the cheap somewhere else?”

These types of questions are often asked by people either new to marketing, or those debating whether other priorities should take precedence in their spending budget. Even if they are the ones proactively seeking out these specific types of services, many still require convincing that a smart branding, design and communications program is worth the dollars they’ll be spending — and that it is an investment with countless dividends.

When prospective clients ask me what they’ll be getting for their investment in professional branding and design, I can answer in many different ways, but sometimes I think it best to tell them what they WON’T be getting:

1. A website that hurts the eyes, the brain and your business

People like to fly when they’re online — they zip from one page to the next, from news to entertainment, from Facebook to Twitter, around the world and back. When they land on your site, they will not be intrigued by a mess reminiscent of what two year olds leave on their bibs. Not only won’t they bother navigating past the home page, which is likely to be a masochistic exercise in search for something that will only leave them frustrated, but your crowded, ugly, chaotic website will convince people to make another one of those split-second clicks — to your competitor’s website.

2. A media kit that bursts at the seams with odd-sized materials that don’t match

Fitting that body into jeans three sizes too small may work in certain parts of town, but not when you are trying to convince somebody to do business with you. My son comes home from school with a book bag that looks like a sack full of dirty laundry, but he’s not going on client meetings with it. Not yet, anyway. And if he does, we’ll have to have a talk.

3. A logo that is a diagram, a mission statement, and ten years of strategy all rolled into one

A logo that tries to “say it all” and put every little thing into that one little graphic is never going to say anything. What it will say is that you have no idea what you’re doing, and no business wants to communicate that. Leave the laundry list of services and detailed illustrations to your brochure — you know, the one that doesn’t look like the one in #4.

4. A brochure that confuses, obscures and begs for the trash bin

People’s offices already have a lot of clutter. Your brochure comprised of all your best Word docs set in eight different fonts with fuzzy screen captures for graphic blandishment may get YOU excited, but everyone else will have a different reaction. Trust me on this.

5. A social media page that screams “DISENGAGE FROM ME” rather than engage with me

You see them everywhere — even from those you think should know better, which baffles me. I’m not even talking about the eggs and empty profile silhouettes — I mean the blurry little portraits, logos that look like they’ve been photocopied twenty times and bios full of hashtags and exclamations that make you cringe. That stuff just sends people for the hills. And those busy, confusing, garish visuals used for backgrounds and header images that would make Times Square laugh at you? Oh my.

6. A web banner that looks like one of those crass supermarket ads

Unfortunately, these tend to be the norm rather than the exception. Yelling “BUY ME NOW!” was supposed to have gone out a few years ago. Too bad so many businesses persist with this worn out tactic of trying to attract eyeballs and clicks. I tend to look the other way, how about you?

7. A newsletter that is tossed as soon as it is seen

This goes for about 95% of the newsletters out there: a flimsy page or two, crammed with small text, blurry photos and tired clip art. You may be enamored with your content and that you figured out how to create it “all by yourself” in Word or PowerPoint, but nobody else gives a rat’s ass what you learned on a rainy Saturday afternoon. You saved a few bucks, but your business will pay the price because the only thing you are influencing is a poor reflection on your business.

8. A business card that never leaves the dark recesses of somebody’s pocket, unless to dispose of a piece of gum

When I’m handed a business card on thin, crappy stock with an irrelevant stock image and ugly type, guess what I think of them and their business? “Oh, this is a person with weak skills, bad taste and not much respect for themselves or their business.” Be honest, you know you do it too.

9. An email campaign that doesn’t make it past my ever-increasingly quick-scrolling preview pane

Most people already sigh a giant “UGH!” at the amount of emails they receive every day. Throw in yet another overly promotional, ugly looking email with lots of big fonts and sparkly, futuristic 3-D images that look like they’re from some low-brow sci-fi movie from the ’70s and… well, good luck with that.

10. A PowerPoint that goes on, and on, and on, and on, and… *snore*

Not sure if you’ve seen many of these because you were probably fast asleep, but… you have certainly suffered through them. Repeating every word you are saying and putting up every piece of data you can for “graphic interest” kind of defeats your reason for being there in the first place, doesn’t it? Redundancy and boring your audience to tears is not an effective marketing strategy.

11. A web landing page that makes you sorry for landing there

Long, tedious forms with lots of asterisks that require you to give a lot of personal information are deal breakers. Your intention to capture prospects just turned into the opposite — they will leave and may never click on one of your links ever again.

12. An e-book that looks like that lame school paper you once whipped out the day it was due

This isn’t school anymore — this is business — and crunching to crank out something mediocre just because you can is supposed to be ancient history now. So why do so many e-books look like they were created under the same duress and lack of enthusiasm you had for that boring sociology class you once had? This is your business we’re talking about and doesn’t it deserve a little more care and professionalism? Of course it does!

Remember what your mother once told you: “You only have one chance to make a good first impression.” Usually all it takes is some clean underwear, brushing your teeth, flashing a winning smile and you’re golden. Sometimes it takes a little more.

And oh yeah, even if you have the skills to create some of these things yourself, you need to be a cut above the rest if you really want to make an impression in this hyper-competitive world. Hiring a pro is well worth the investment, and could very well be the difference between success and failure.

So… what terrible, awful, dreadful things will you not be giving your clients?

Featured image courtesy of Nina Matthews Photography licensed via Creative Commons.

Article by Paul Biedermann

Paul Biedermann


Paul Biedermann is Creative Director/Owner of re:DESIGN and Managing Partner/Editor-in-Chief of 12 Most. re:DESIGN specializes in Strategic Design, Brand Identity, and Visual Content Marketing. Paul intersects smart, custom design with visual business strategies that reach, engage, and inspire people to action. He also founded the vibrant re:DESIGN Google+ community for those who value what good design can do for business, and served on the Board of Directors of the Social Media Association. Paul began his career at ABC Broadcasting before moving to a design agency that created innovative campaigns for ESPN and then becoming Art Director for NFL Properties. As Creative Director for The McGraw-Hill Companies, Paul spearheaded projects for such leading brands as Standard & Poor’s, BusinessWeek, J.D. Power and Associates, Architectural Record, and McGraw-Hill Education. You can follow Paul on Twitter, "Like" re:DESIGN on Facebook, circle him on Google+, follow him on Pinterest or visit his blog.

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Paul, I think you will appreciate this article. It talks about the value of good design in business. I think companies are finally beginning to get it. http://www.fastcodesign.com/1670679/good-design-is-good-business-an-introduction

I love this article. I mentioned that to you when I first read it. Have you read Steve Krug's "Don't Make Me Think" about usability in web design? It's old but the ideas are still so relevant. Many can be applied to design too. Simple is always best. However, ironically, 'simple' is also the more difficult to accomplish. It truly needs experience. Not to mention, design is always evolving.

PegFitzpatrick moderator

All of the above reasons are why I'm so happy that I had YOU create all my social media branding design work. I get compliments on 12 Most, my website and my own profiles everyday. People don't need to have design expertise themselves but they do need to make sure that they choose to work with people who get it. I hope as social media evolves that people will realize how important it is to have everything pulled together.


So many good ones here. I think we actually had a website that hurts the eyes...I despised it for years...but we finally addressed it. Most of our media collateral are "one-pagers", so they are fairly succinct and consistently formatted.

I still need to order new business cards, but I do not like them. I'm the guy who would rather somebody hold up their phone with a QR Code I could read with my own phone...and get all of their info immediately in my Contacts. I am debating whether I should include a QR code on my business card at least...just to save folks some typing, and I do not want people to use that card for their gum until they store my info!

PaulBiedermann moderator

@AidaofNubia Thanks for that, Aida — and thanks for sharing that great article, “Why Good Design Is Finally A Bottom Line Investment”! I have shared it on the various channels because I think it sums up the importance of design to business very nicely. 

Good design is increasingly becoming a common sense investment and a no-brainer for business on multiple levels. As the article said:

“A mix of factors, ranging from commoditization to evaporating barriers to competition, are conspiring to push design to the fore of business thinking… Innovation today is inextricably linked with design — and design has become a decisive advantage in countless industries.”

I hope more people (and business leaders!) learn to appreciate the true value of design beyond just making something look nice. In fact, extraneous decoration often gets in the way of good communication and functionality. Simpler is vastly more difficult to achieve — and it certainly does not mean “without design.”

PaulBiedermann moderator

@PegFitzpatrick Thanks, Peggy! It's always nice to hear firsthand the impact that a polished brand image can make. Especially now, in this hyper-chaotic world of endless new platforms, profiles and touch points - both online and off - a solid, consistent presence is critical if one has any hope of making their message heard and understood.

PaulBiedermann moderator

@dbvickery Glad you got rid of that painful website! I wouldn't diminish the value of a traditional business card - done well, they can make quite an impact. And remember, just because you'd rather scan a QR code doesn't mean that everybody else does. Is your card for you or for someone else?

As for whether one should include a QR code on the card or not, I've done that for clients but it's really more for effect as a tech novelty than anything else. The promise is a good one, but in reality, I don't think people use them very much.

Thanks for the comments!


@PaulBiedermann Sure thing, Paul. That article first featured on the October 2012 issue of Fast Company. The entire issue was named "The Design Issue" and was full of really good articles on the state of the industry. The cover story was about Pinterest, the founders and the design-driven nature of their business. It's still available as a back issue on iBooks but I'm sure you can find it through other sources online. I'm re-reading it a second time.

I do think times are changing. I think we are seeing a real shift in value, focus and strategy in the business world. In a few short years, designers will be exactly where they were supposed to have been from the beginning - at the helm. Indeed, designers are the true visionaries.

PaulBiedermann moderator

@AidaofNubia It is becoming increasingly clear that people are influenced and inspired by visuals. Just like in traditional media, it is visuals that attract attention in the online world, especially now as people zip around from one thing to the next — it only makes sense for business to harness this phenomenon.

Just as important, a good design strategy simplifies and unifies a business’s marketing efforts — critical for preventing the weak, fractured brands that so many companies succumb to.

This all seems like especially good common sense in this busy, hyperactive business climate — it will be interesting to see how this develops as more and more businesses make the investment in good, strategic design.