Villing & Company

Why Lousy Design Can Diminish Your Company's Perceived Trustworthiness

There is good design (the kind that does its job well), and there is bad design (the kind that doesn't). This is true of billboards, TV commercials, websites, brochures, magazine ads, mobile apps, online videos, logo animations—you name it. Of all the message-carrying vehicles released to the masses, there's a whole spectrum of design quality, with excellent on one end and crumby on the other. Sadly, there are too many good companies that regularly put out ads that lean more toward the crumby end. While mediocre design probably won't kill you, bad design can make your company look like it can't be trusted. Maybe that seems a little far-fetched, but let me explain why I think that.

When I say "design" here, I'm talking about the overall look, style, color choice and layout of a message in any given medium. In this sense, I'm including the concept, word choice and execution, so by "design" I mean the overall final impact of an ad.

As an illustration, let's narrow the focus to one of the simplest types of ads around: billboards. Because of the line of work I'm in, I nerdily pay attention to billboards more than a lot of folks. The majority of billboards are just fine: not amazing, but certainly not terrible either. They're adequate enough to do their job. But every once in a while, I spot a great one and I think to myself, "Wow, we should really be doing more stuff like that!"

Occasionally, I'll see a billboard so terrible that I marvel that a company is actually paying a monthly fee to essentially embarrass themselves. There's one such billboard in Indianapolis (don't worry, I won't name any names). The billboard in question is for a local car dealership. There are so many things wrong with the billboard that it's hard to know where to start. For one thing, it's ugly. Real ugly. The abandoned suburban strip mall right behind it is easier on the eyes. A first grader could explain why the colors they chose are abrasive to the viewer's eyes (and soul). There are about twenty car logos crammed onto the center of the billboard, all about equal in size surrounding the dealership logo that is only slightly larger. In the midst of this are several lines of copy, all in different colors, sized and placed oddly enough that the viewer doesn't know what to read first or whether they should even bother. The net effect is a forty foot eyesore, a jumbled mess of letters and symbols next to a giant psychopathic computer-generated "cartoon" of a "man" holding a toy "car" that looks like it was rendered on an Apple IIe. As a marketer, something deep inside me withers and dies when I look at it.

What is the most surprising about these experiences is that I often find that the company being advertised otherwise seems totally legitimate and trustworthy. In the case of the crappy billboard described above, contrast it with the dealership itself. The building is nice, new, modern, clean. The large selection of sparkling cars in the lot appear to be in pristine condition, organized by make and model. The grounds are neatly trimmed and landscaped. Needless to say, the billboard is not at all reflective of the quality of the company or its products and services. But if you just saw the billboard and had never seen the dealership, you would probably form a mental picture of a real dump surrounded by a half dozen lemons of questionable origin.

This phenomenon arises, I think, out of a misplaced do-it-ourselves attitude that some companies apply to marketing and design. While some companies are truly able to learn the basics enough to pull this off, others end up inadvertently putting out work that makes them look bad, when that is certainly not their goal.

Here are a few ways that I think bad design can hurt a company's perceived trustworthiness:

  • Bad design can imply that you don't know any better or that you have bad taste.
  • Bad design can imply that the design of your products or services are also poor.
  • Bad design can make your essential message confusing or even meaningless.
  • Bad design can imply to your competitors that they don't need to take you seriously.
  • Bad design can make it appear that you like to cut corners in order to save a buck.
  • Bad design can actually damage your brand instead of strengthen it.

The trouble here is that some folks really don't know whether their ad is good or bad. I mean, if they really knew, they wouldn't be doing it. Some people high up at good companies might not have a natural knack for design. And that's okay. But this is why it's important to hire people who do get it and who can give honest, constructive feedback. If you're just surrounding yourself with people that nod and say okay, you could be hurting your company's perceived trustworthiness in the long run.

Filed Under: creative

Villing & Company

Villing & Co
Here to Serve You

130 S Main St, Suite 315
South Bend IN 46601

Get Directions

All fields are required.