Building a brand didn’t seem to be that complicated not too long ago. You’d have a logo designed, have it printed on business cards, use it in a phone book listing, and maybe for an ad you’d run once a twice a year in the local paper. But those days are long gone. The collateral you use to build your brand has to do the job on websites, mobile apps and devices of all sizes. Yea, your logo now has to look good on a smartwatch.
In this interview, Patrick Llewellyn, CEO of 99designs, talks about brand design importance and how small businesses are using designers to build images to create brands that appeal to prospects across digital formats, form factors and social networks. (This transcript has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click on the audio player at the end of this article.)
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Small Business Trends: Can you tell us a little bit about your personal background?
Patrick Llewellyn: My background’s general business. I actually worked in corporate advisory in Australia for a number of years helping startups and small business raise money.
I joined 99designs in 2009 when we were only eight people and a small startup in Melbourne, Australia. We were actually a spinoff of another company called SitePoint.com. My job was to move to San Francisco and open our office here. I moved here early 2010 and now we’re just over 100 folks here in San Francisco and Melbourne.
Small Business Trends: I was one of about 225,000 small business customers you’ve been serving. Have their needs – particularly when it comes to branding and getting the right design – changed over the course of two years?
Patrick Llewellyn: I think what we’re seeing is a specific trend; customers are now thinking about more than just their logo. We do a lot of logos, and we’ve helped lots of customers get that first mark they need to get their startup off the ground. 99designs has a global community of over 800,000 designers who participate on our site.
Now when customers come to our site, we see them looking for not only their brand mark, but about what are the other areas to expand their brand. So we’re seeing the need for Facebook covers, Twitter backgrounds, email backgrounds and templates, and also of course, websites. People are starting to think about: how do I consistently apply my brand across all of these online mediums?
Small Business Trends: What about the process of finding the right designer and working with them? How has that changed over the years?
Patrick Llewellyn: We started with design contests, which is this notion where a number of designers submit their ideas and you work down that. Over the last three years, we’ve developed a product called one-to-one projects, where once you’ve found a designer you like, you continue to work with them.
Our analogy internally is a little bit like 99designs is a dating site. It’s a great place to meet, but sometimes once you’ve met someone you really want, you actually look to foster an in-depth relationship. And so more of our customers are actually continuing that relationship online with the designers they’ve met through 99designs. And that’s part of the changing nature of business.
Small Business Trends: What’s a good design in today’s world?
Patrick Llewellyn: Design is always a little bit in the eye of the beholder, but I think the trends we’ve been noticing a lot on our side is definitely flat design is in. Clean, crisp design is. Use of 3D, shadowing and things like that has really dropped away. I think simplicity is back, and because of the need for your design to be used across a lot of different mediums, I think that’s why simpler is better.
Your logo mark, for example, is going on a website, but it could also be on a mobile app. That mark needs to be able to translate from a very small form factor all the way up to large, high-fidelity screens. And so I think that’s why simplicity is certainly playing a part in today’s design trends.
We’re seeing a little bit of bold use of color, but lots of white, clean space – nice, simple fonts and a removal of that textured look that was the rage three or four years ago.
Small Business Trends: How often should a business refresh their branding content?
Patrick Llewellyn: I think if you’ve created the collateral you want and you’ve got the following you need, then changing that can have some risk to it. But I think we’re seeing brands continually making minor tweaks to their marks, to their logo, so that they can keep it fresh without dramatically changing it. I’m not a big advocate of necessarily needing to create wholesale changes if you’ve got something that’s working and is resonating. But you’re going to need to continually update it to keep it slightly relevant.
We actually have a service called Swiftly that allows you to take an existing design, ask for things like removing the shadowing, or to use it in a slightly different color palette. A designer then will take your small, short brief and turn that file around in under an hour. So it’s actually easier today than ever before to be able to do those small tweaks that can help keep your mark relevant. Those types of things can help keep it fresh, and ultimately that helps reflect in your brand.
Small Business Trends: Where can people learn more about Swiftly and 99designs?
Patrick Llewellyn: 99designs.com. Hopefully, you can find all you need there. Swiftly is Swiftly.com.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.