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Can a company really own a color?

February 18, 2014

T-Mobile wins civil action suit against Aio Wireless for trademark infringement regarding the use of color.

U.S. District Court Ruling: CIVIL ACTION NO. H-13-2478, T-Mobile US Inc. v. Aio Wireless LLC

“…the court orders that Aio Wireless LLC, its agents, employees, representatives, affiliates, subsidiaries, successors with notice of this order, are enjoined from using large blocks or swaths of Pantone 676C or similar shade, in marketing and advertising, and including but not limited to in-store design, displays, and appearance; television, electronic, and movie commercials; print advertisements; billboards; websites; social media websites; and other promotional materials.”

I’ve read several articles on this court ruling. Several of them make fun of the issue, asking how can a company “own” a color? Those making fun obviously do not know anything about branding. The use of color is an integral part of a company’s brand, and when a competitor uses a similar color that could be confusing to customers, it can be trademark infringement.

Companies spend millions of dollars a year to have brand consistency and be recognized in a crowded market. Not only do they spend money, but it also takes years to gain brand equity. T-Mobile did not become recognized as the magenta mobile phone company overnight. They chose a very distinctive color, that is not widely used in this industry, and consistently used and promoted it over many years. That strategy helped differentiate them from their competition.

Why Your Business Needs Great Graphic Design to Compete

October 10, 2013

You have a great product or service. You have a compelling message. But if no one reads your marketing materials, then it doesn’t matter. You will be lost in the clutter.

This is where great design can help.

Design is about more than just making it pretty. Sure it has to look good, but effective graphic design is the art of translating complex ideas into a visually compelling piece that speaks to your target market. Great designers seem to do this instinctually. They use colors, shapes, textures, and other elements that people are naturally drawn to and engaged by.

A great design must address three phases of the audience engagement:

  1. It has to grab your audience’s attention
  2. Hold it long enough to get your message across
  3. Then release it in a way that leaves them with a positive view of you and the basics of your message.


With so many competitors out there, it can be hard to stand out. The best marketing message in the world is no good if no one reads it. A great design can provide the edge that grabs your audience’s attention and draws them to your message.


Once you have their attention, you have to hold it long enough to get your message across. In today’s world, with so many distractions, this can be a real challenge. You may only have a few seconds, so the most important parts of your message need to stand out and pull the reader in. Using shapes and colors that highlight the main points, and a flow that draws them to the next important item is crucial to keeping them reading.

Without proper design, you can accidentally create gaps or rough transitions that may be all it takes for something to distract them away. You can’t afford to lose them at this point. They are so close to getting your message.


Even the best design and copy will only hold their attention for a so long. Just as important as controlling their flow through your message, is controlling how they leave. If you don’t, then they will just read until they get bored or distracted, and then they are gone. That is not how you want them to remember you, and who knows how much of your message they got.

By providing natural stopping points, and highlighting your key points throughout, you can control the impression they are left with. You want to make sure that they leave knowing your basic message and with a positive view of your company, products, or services.

Bottom line

Don’t leave your message to chance. Engage a graphic designer to help you make sure you grab, hold, and release your audience to maximum effect.

Choosing the Right Graphic Designer

October 1, 2013

Choosing a designer can be a daunting process. There are many types of design companies out there, each with their own style, size, and price. Here are some tips to ensure you get a designer that fits your needs.

Look at their work

There are many styles of design, and most designers can work in varied styles. But most will specialize to some degree.

Look at their on-line portfolio.

  • Do you like what you see?
  • Is it professional and well-presented?
  • Is the design style a good fit for your business?
  • Can you envision your project fitting into the examples?

Look at testimonials

See what other clients have to say about working with them.

  • Are they professional?
  • Are they easy to work with?
  • Are their clients happy with the results?

Evaluate their experience

You need to be sure that they will have the ability to do what you need.

  • How long have they been in business?
  • Have they worked on projects like yours before?
  • Do they understand your industry or your type of business?

For example, if you are a larger B2B company, you don’t want a designer who only has worked with small, consumer-based businesses. You need to make sure their experience matches your needs.

Talk to them

You will be working closely with your designer. Talk to them to see if you get along well. Even a short phone call can give you a pretty good idea of what they will be like to work with.

  • Are they easy to talk to?
  • Do they listen to your needs?
  • Are they interested in your company?
  • Do they ask relevant questions?

Get an estimate

Rates vary, as do types of estimates. The estimating process, as well as the estimate itself, will tell you a lot about the designer. A good estimate should be professional, clear, and show you exactly what is included, and what is not. It should also identify your needs and how the proposed solution will meet those needs. In order to get to that level of detail, the designer should get an understanding of your company as well as what you are trying to achieve. For small jobs, this might be a quick phone call or email. For larger jobs, this might mean several discussions, an on-site visit, and looking at examples of your other marketing materials. In any case, the estimate or proposal should address your goals.

Understand the value

Make sure you understand the value of what you are getting. Remember that it is not just about the lowest price. You get what you pay for, but make sure you understand what is included and what is not.

Think of design as an investment.

  • What is the value of a great marketing piece to your business?
  • How much is a new customer worth to you?
  • Can you afford to be lost in the clutter?

Choose a partner for success

A designer should be your partner in the critical process of getting your message out there.

  • Are they someone you can trust?
  • Will they take your budget and schedule seriously?
  • Will they work well with your team?
  • Will they add value beyond just making it pretty?


There several types of designers and design firms out there. You need to make sure you choose one that is a good fit for your needs.

Category Cost Pros Cons
Part-time or


  • May be someone you know
  • Inexpensive
  • May not have much experience
  • May not always be available
  • Probably not suited to large projects
Full-time freelancer


  • Potentially lower cost than a design firm
  • May be more experienced than part-timers
  • May not be able to support large projects
  • Limit by time of a single designer
Boutique design firm


  • Run as a true business, so understands business needs.
  • More available to support you
  • Team with wider range of skills
  • May be more expensive than freelancers
Large design firm


  • Same as boutique firm, plus …
  • May be able to handle very large jobs or jobs with lots of different skill sets needed
  • Most expensive
  • May have less individual attention
  • May be less flexible


Bottom line

You need to choose a designer who is easy to work with, understands your business, and has the experience to handle your project. Some research up-front on your part will go a long ways to make sure you find a good design partner.

How to Work with a Graphic Designer for Maximum Benefit

September 19, 2013

You have chosen a graphic designer, and they will be a key partner in your marketing process. Here are some things to know to get the most out of the relationship.

Make it a Partnership

Think of working with a graphic designer as a partnership, where you each have strengths and expertise that you can combine to reach your goals. You know your business like no one else. In the same way, your designer has experience bringing marketing messages to life. The partnership works best when each party does what they are best at. A good designer will have the expertise to meet your needs and give you the feeling that you can trust them to do so.  If you feel you have to micro-manage your designer, then you probably need to find a new one.

Have Clear Goals

Be clear and specific about your goals for the project. Understand your message and your target audience.

NO: “I need a brochure”

YES: “I want to introduce my new product to decision makers in the medical research field.”

A good designer should help you focus on your goals to make sure the project delivers what you need. The more you know about your goals, the faster the project will go, and the more effective the end product will be.

Know Your Budget

Understanding what you need and what it will cost is a key aspect to any design project. The old saying “You get what you pay for” is true. That does not mean that the most expensive is always better. But some messages and audiences require higher-end design and printing than others. Make sure your designer knows what your goals and budget are. They will do their best to work within those constraints, but good ones will also tell you if you are not being realistic, or what corners you may have to cut to fit within your budget. At a minimum, that should start a conversation about your goals and budget.

Talk About Your Schedule

Talk with your designer up front about your schedule. A good designer will take your schedule seriously, but that is only possible if you tell them when you need various parts of the project. Also, remember that the design process takes time. If you need a 16 page brochure in 2 weeks, you are probably going to be disappointed. While your designer should understand and work to your schedule, listen to them if they tell you it is not realistic. They do this every day and usually have a pretty good idea how much time it takes. If jobs are rushed, something is usually sacrificed in the process. It may cost more to compress a schedule, but there is only so much you can do before the quality or effectiveness starts to suffer. Work with your designer on a schedule that is realistic and will get you a quality product.

Also remember that schedules are a team effort. Your designer will do whatever they can to meet your dates, but you have a roll as well. Your designer will need you to be available for meetings or design reviews, respond to emails or calls quickly, and provide timely edits to proofs. It also helps to make sure your copy and goals are solid before you start, to avoid excessive revisions. With the proper expectations, and a little teamwork, you will get a great design project that meets your schedule.

Control the Revisions

No designer can be expected to work forever on a project. Most will specify the number of revisions that are included in the price. This may seem like a limitation, but it is actually to your benefit. This will help you focus on your message and goals up front. The entire process is better if you know what you need and have the content ready. This will get you a more effective end product, in less time, and for lower cost. Large revisions, especially late in the process, are the best way to ruin budgets, schedules, and the effectiveness of the design.

Communicate the Problem, Not the Solution

A good designer will have years of experience with ideas and styles you may not have even considered. If you try to design it yourself, you may limit their ability to help you. Wherever possible, communicate the desired result, rather than specific design suggestions.


NO: “Make this bigger and bold it.”
YES: “This is important. Make it stand out more.”

NO: “Move this to here, and this to here.”
YES: “The order of these is key. Make sure the reader see this one first.

NO: “Make this red and this blue, and add this photo here.”
YES: “I want the overall look to be vibrant. This needs more color and pizazz.”

Bottom line

Working with a graphic designer is a partnership to get you a marketing piece that will fulfill your goals, fit within your budget, and meet your schedule. The more you can tell your designer up front about each of those aspects, the happier you will be with the process and the end result.

How Much Does a Brochure Cost?

September 10, 2013

You would be surprised how often we hear this question. The answer can vary greatly depending on your needs or desires. The example I usually give is “How much does a car cost?” If you need a small, economical vehicle for commuting, you might get a Corolla. If you want to add some hybrid functionality, you may go to a Prius. If you want more style and power, you might get a BMW or Mercedes. And if you want lots of power and bling, you might get a Ferrari.

Obviously, the cost of each of those is very different.

What are your goals?

This is where the cost conversation starts. You need to be clear on what your requirements are, what additional features would be nice, and what is on your ultimate wish list.

Some questions to consider:

  • What are your goals for the project?
  • Who are you trying to reach?
  • Who is your competition?
  • How will be it be used?
  • How much content do you have?

Depending on your message and audience, you may be able to use a pretty standard piece. But if you are targeting high-end clients, or competing against larger companies, you may need a more complex design or higher-end printing.

What is your budget?

We ask this question early on in the conversation. This surprises many clients, but it shouldn’t. We can’t help you if we don’t know how much you plan to invest in the project. There is no point proposing a Ferrari if you don’t have the budget to support it.

You might think that if you tell us your budget, we’ll use it all. You are right! This is not a case of selling you the same thing for more. This is an investment in your business, and we want to give you the most value that you can afford. If we see that you don’t need that much, we’ll tell you. But in most cases, the more you put into it, the more we can help you stand out.

Also, if we see that your budget is not realistic to support your needs, we’ll tell you that too. Then we can start a discussion about either increasing the budget, or trimming back on some of the requirements.

Bottom line

We can help you, but to do that effectively, we need to know your goals as well as your budget. With that info, we can make sure that we hit your target and that you get the most value for your investment.