The adjective “professional” is one often included in a job description when someone is looking to hire a designer. It’s used in phrases such as “I want my company logo to look more professional,” or “my marketing collateral doesn’t look professional, so I need to hire a designer.” If this descriptor is so commonly sought after for many businesses, then what is it, and how do you know if your company has “professional” designs?
Most people would probably answer this question with, “you know it when you see it.” As a designer, that’s one of the worst phrases to come out of clients mouth, because the subtext means, “I don’t know what I’m looking for, so I’ll need many rounds of revision until we stumble upon success.” That doesn’t have to be the method to find professional designs for your company. If some things look professionally designed and some don’t, then there has to be a way to determine the difference. To the common eye, it’s determined by a knee-jerk reaction. You know it when you see it. But there are real reasons why some designs look professional and others don’t make the cut. If you want your company to be taken seriously and see growth, you’ll want your designed materials to fall on the professional side of the fence. So let’s dive into what makes designs “professional.”
What Is A Professional?
We should begin by defining the word “professional.” In its most literal sense, it means a professional designer created it. But that’s still a rather broad definition, because you’d have to ask what makes a designer professional. If we just use the qualification of “they get paid to design,” that can be rather faulty. A student in their first year of college can get paid to design something, (I fell under that category at the start of my career,) but when someone is looking for a “professional designer,” a student is a few notches down from what they really want.
So to start with, we can determine that a professional designer has some experience under their belt. But if we expand that, we can get a more accurate identifier of professionalism. Let’s not limit the qualification to a certain number of years in the field. Rather, if they are experienced, they should understand fundamental design principles that make things look good. While some people determine what looks good based on the “gut instinct,” there’s actually principles behind what makes something aesthetically pleasing. Now we’re circling a quantifiable measurement of what makes a “professional” design.
Professionals Understand Some Fundamental Rules
Without giving you a full course of the design principles, there are some general guidelines you can use to determine if your company has professional-looking designs. Of course, rules are meant to be broken, so you might look at some big companies and say, “hey, their designs aren’t following the rules!” But these are good gauges to figure out if your company looks professional to the average eye. If you find a few of them broken, then it’s probably time to bring on a true professional designer.
Less is more.
This is one of the biggest factors in designs that look professional and designs that look like a business owner made them in their trial-version of Photoshop. The design principle behind this rule is “hierarchy.” A good designer knows how to control the viewer’s eyes to certain elements in a certain order. If you have too many things going on in a design, your viewer won’t know where to go. We all have short attention spans, so an effective design needs to grab someone’s attention and relay the most important info right off the bat. When you have a design packed full of things, you’re just going to confuse the viewer. They’ll probably just walk away instead of trying to discern what’s important among the mess.
The way to cure overcrowded designs are to edit down the copy (words used) and to eliminate things that aren’t needed, such as extra graphics or too many colors. You might think that having the full rainbow, fix pieces of clipart, and eight fonts will make your design “pop,” but all it will do is make it look unprofessional and and be too overwhelming to read.
Embrace the white space.
This goes along with the previous rule. It’s okay to let things breathe. Professional designers know when to let things have a cushion of negative space. This relates to the design principle of the “focal point.” The focal point is the primary element you want the viewer’s to notice. Using negative space is a great way to direct their eyes to the focal point.
The famous poster for Little Miss Sunshine is a great example of embracing negative space. The overwhelming space surrounding the van and people make them even more impactful and your eye is immediately drawn to them. Not every element needs THIS much negative space, but a great designer knows where and how to let things breathe, and they’re not afraid of a little space!
They can relate style to purpose.
If you have a law firm, you want all of your collateral to say “professional,” or “reliable,” or “trustworthy.” This is when the style comes into play. Style can be impacted by fonts, colors, patterns, illustrations, or textures. If your brochures have bright colors and handwritten fonts, then people might not associate your law firm with reliability. But if you were a flower shop, that style might be perfect to showcase the beautiful, carefree vibes you give your customers! A professional designer can understand who you are trying to reach, and create designs that have a style that relates to your purpose.
If you’re unsure if your company’s style relates to your purpose, show your friends and family some of your collateral, such as a business card or website. Ask them how it makes them feel, or what words pop to mind when they see it. If they’re not saying what you want to hear, then it’s probably time to find a professional designer that can revamp your style.
While the term “professional” can seem relative in regards to designers, these three principles are a good stepping stone to finding out if your designer is helping elevate your company. If you’re unsure, it’s also okay to test out other designers and see if one is a better fit for you. Every designer brings a unique set of skills, experience, and perspective to a company, so it can be beneficial to search for the one that’s a perfect fit!