The essentials of aesthetics

NIedlov's Breadworks
The current logo for Niedlov's Breadworks was designed by Widgets and Stone.

Most customers probably don’t look at store logos, menu designs or website fonts to determine what bakery they want to buy their croissants from. A high-quality croissant should be able to sell itself. But just because most people don’t consciously make purchasing decisions based on these aesthetic factors, doesn’t mean they aren’t unconsciously affected by them.

And how does someone who’s never been to your shop know how good your croissant is? The only information they have to go on is your website or social network pages, the outside appearance of your store, and the appearance of menus and other materials inside (and of course, word of mouth). And while these things don’t necessarily guarantee quality items, they collectively contribute to your overall brand. A brand is much more than a logo or slogan — it is the sum of all parts: taste, price, location, ambience, appearance and the mindset of the ownership, among a number of other aspects.

The help of a professional

When John Sweet opened Niedlov’s Breadworks in October 2002 “on a shoestring,” he designed the logo himself with the latest, at the time, Microsoft Word software. “It wasn’t professional,” Sweet says. “I have no experience and I’m not an artist. I came up with something that worked for us.” But it wasn’t long until a new opportunity presented itself. Sweet was lucky, in that next door to Niedlov’s, which was located in the back of an old automotive shop, was Paul Rustand of Widget and Stone, a graphic and logo design service. Rustand approached Sweet about working together.


John Sweet created the original logo using Microsoft Word in 2002.

“At one point the conversation was initiated by him,” Sweet says. “It was something along the lines of, ‘We think it’s about time you have a better logo.’ Paul was a fan of ours from the beginning. He’s an incredible graphic designer, and is expensive. The end of that conversation was, ‘We’d love to have it, if you’re willing to let us pay for it over the course of 10 to 12 months. He didn’t charge interest. For him, he was behind it emotionally. Really it was a win, win situation — he wanted to do it, and he was willing to help us along with it.”

Your business likely isn’t located right next door to a design firm, and the first designer you reach out to probably won’t have a passion for the project like Rustand did for Niedlov’s. But talk to enough of them and, chances are, you’ll eventually come across somebody who you want to work with. Rustand says designers’ websites are helpful for getting an initial taste of the styles out there, but meeting in person is just as important. “Every designer is geeky about putting cool stuff on their website,” Rustand says. “So of course you’re going to see the kind of work they do, but that’s, at best, half of the story. The other half is what the people are actually like. There’s a lot of things you can find out when you sit down and have them tell about themselves, and you tell about yourself.”

Vesting your options

Rustand stresses that it takes time to sift through potential designers and find the one that your business fits best with, but the effort is worth it. You may spend a couple weeks getting a half-hour or hour meeting with three or four different companies. “But it’s going to give you a good idea of, ‘Oh, this is kind of standard for the industry,’ or, ‘Wow, these people were really different. It doesn’t seem like they really could help.”

Obviously bigger cities will have a plethora of options to compare, and your area may have a limited supply of professional firms. In these situations, some bakers turn to local university design students or freelancers. But don’t immediately rule out bigger firms just because you can’t afford them. “A lot of designers I know will work for trade,” Rustand says. “If you offer it as payment they may say, ‘Okay, I’ll take this much cash and this much trade that I can use over time.’ Maybe a card for $1000, and they can use it to get cupcakes over the next year and a half.”

When all else fails

If even trade agreements are out of the question for you, the next tier down may be more appropriate. “There are a lot of professional freelancers who do interact with clients,” Rustand says. “They don’t have the overhead of maintaining a huge studio because they’re working alone. I work with a team of collaborators, and we act like a larger agency when we need to. My fees are going to be a lot more per hour. A freelancer is often working out of their house, and they’ll cost at least ⅓1⁄3 of what I’d charge.”

When comparing freelancers, it’s still important to meet face-to-face to get to know the person behind the work. Finally, if your budget is so tight that neither design firms nor freelancers will work, your best bet is a university student or class. But Rustand emphasizes caution in these situations. “From what I’ve seen, more often than not, the people that work with students come out a little frustrated at the end. Either they don’t get what they wanted or they don’t get it on time. The recourse of a business not running itself well is that they lose business. A student’s still a student. And it typically tends to be, in today’s world, students have a lot less experience with printers, which makes a big difference. I’d say be very careful with that.”

But the bottom line when working with a designer of any sort is being honest. Look at Sweet’s approach — he was straightforward about what he could afford, and although he was lucky that Rustand was already passionate about the project, that kind of honesty led to an agreement both parties could work with. “People want to work with something that inspires them or that they’re excited about,” Rustand says. “A lot of times, retail’s pretty fun. You might be able to get a little bit of forgiveness there like, ‘Okay, we can take a smaller budget in trade for being able to work on something that’s pretty cool.’ If I can sense what you’re doing and that you’re going to succeed, then I know it’s not just going to be this one project — there will be many projects over time.”