With the introduction of Fiverr in 2010 (selling design services, amongst other services, starting at $5) many people’s assumptions that design could and should be *cheap* (or “lean” as Fiverr likes to call it) were affirmed.
Shortly after came the next wave of low-cost design. DIY Design.
Platforms like Canva (which launched in 2012) allowed users with no design background to create their own graphics using templates and plug and play tools with little to no cost. Great, right?
Not so fast…
The Value of Good Design
Before we get too far into DIY design, let’s get one thing straight: The real value of good design.
In a nutshell, good design creates a sense of professionalism.
It doesn’t matter how young your company is, if your branding and design are well-thought-out and original, you will automatically exude more credibility than a company’s that doesn’t.
This outcome may be hit or miss when it comes to DIY design.
DIY Design is a lot like DIY home improvement in some ways.
Yes, you probably could figure out how to retile your entire bathroom on your own, but I’m sure hiring a professional would be quicker, more efficient, and give you some peace of mind in knowing the job is done right.
Graphic designers are trained professionals and have years of experience and knowledge that you simply cannot replicate with a DIY software.
And again, like home improvement, with graphic design, you often get what you pay for.
Using quick cheap alternatives often leads to rushed, thoughtless, templated work.
When considering the upfront cost of hiring a designer, think of everything that you’re actually getting like idea brainstorms, professional opinions, drafts, revisions, mockup reviews, file exports.
You can even ask for an itemized invoice or proposal up front so you can see what tangible value you will be getting from your direct cost.
The Pros & Cons of DIY Graphic Design Tools
There are also actually hidden costs of using a DIY Design platform that you probably haven’t considered.
Let me break this down for ya’ in a good old fashioned Pros and Cons list.
Available templates can help create quick and easy graphics for social media, web pages, or other collateral. If you need something in a pinch and don’t have the time to wait on a designer, a template in one of these tools may help you get what you need done quickly.
Doing some DIY design may allow you to save your design budget for bigger, more important projects you may have down the road. If your budget is limited, you may not want to use it all on social media graphics for the quarter or one infographic. Prioritize what is important to you, or even consult with a designer to see where they think their help will be most valuable to you.
User-friendly software allows you to easily create or change up a graphic without the help of a designer.
Popular templates can be easy to spot. Now that these platforms have grown in popularity, you run the risk of your content looking unoriginal.
The results may not be exactly on-brand. Since these platforms don’t always give you full design control and you may not have clear brand guidelines to work with, the end product may come off looking off brand or not branded at all. This can make your work look low quality or in-cohesive, creating a poor experience.
Like with all new software you come across, there may be a learning curve on how to use it. Really the learning curve means that this might not be such a quick fix for you after all.
May save you money but not time. Yes, you may save upfront dollars by not hiring a designer, but how much time is that graphic going to take you to make. How much is your time worth?
Let’s also consider the “Jurassic Park” principle here... Just because you can, doesn’t mean that you should. Graphic designers are experts in their field, with years of education, practice, and insight that you probably just do not have.
Online Design Softwares are handy but simply aren’t as comprehensive as professional software like Photoshop or Sketch. This means you will not have as much control over the final product as a designer would. While you may have a brilliant, cutting edge idea, a DIY tool may not be able to bring it to life the way a designer could.
But Do DIY Graphic Design Apps Hurt Your Image?
I can’t give a definitive answer on whether or not you should or should not use “over the counter” design apps.
I honestly think it comes back to a case by case basis.
I’ve seen people that were able to create very brand-faithful materials with some simple coaching or direction, but also situations that were completely off target.
If the graphics you (or even a professional) create are of low quality or not visually appealing, that reflects poorly on your brand.
It tells your audience that you do not care about quality and if you don’t care about the quality of your own brand, that tells your audience you might not care about the quality of your products and services either.
There are so many things both small and large that could contribute to having a low-quality graphic. I could never name them all, but here are a few that I see in amateur print and web media constantly:
Stretched or distorted fonts
Too many different fonts being used together
Using type that is either too small or too large
Text that is difficult to read
Pixelated or low-resolution imagery
BAD STOCK PHOTOS (yes, I am yelling)
Using long URLs instead of short ones that are easy to type
Not including brand recognition at all (like a logo or URL)
If you don’t have a designer on staff, before you start using DIY tools, I have a few recommendations.
First off, perhaps you can have a designer create a template, or multiple templates, that any non-designer on your team can reuse with a few simple changes.
This could be made in a program you already use like Google Docs, PowerPoint, or Adobe Acrobat, or even in one of the many online user-friendly, DIY software (we’ll get to those below).
Maybe you only have to change out some wording, an image, or an icon but this allows you flexibility and peace of mind in knowing that what you’re doing is on-brand.
Another option is to have a designer create a branding guide that will guide your hand when you’re behind the wheel.
A branding guide can include guides for color, logo usage, typeface usage, as well as image and icon direction.
If you must DIY, there are some great tools out there…
With its extremely easy-to-use interface and countless templates, you’re sure to find a good starting place on Canva. They have a wide variety of icons, graphics, and fonts to choose from and even let you upload your own images.
They also have a great resource space that will help you learn some basic design skills to get you started.
Though their basic service is free, you are locked into what features you can use. To use the premium features, you’ll pay $9.95 per month per user. You will also find that if you want to use some of the graphics or images you may have to pay $1 per graphic.
Describing itself as “ridiculously simple image creation for social media marketers, bloggers, and small businesses, ”Stencil is specifically geared toward social and web images, which I honestly think is one of the best places to experiment with a little DIY.
Similar to competitors, Stencil will start you out with a free account, but limits what you can do with it. For full access, you will have to pay $12 per month for “Pro” Access or $15 per month for “Unlimited” Access.
Different from the other software I’ve mentioned Piktochart is directly focused on infographics, presentations, and print and their templates reflect as much.
Piktochart comes in as the priciest DIY’er offering a free basic account, but to unlock full access you will have to pay $24.17 per month for “PRO” Access or $82.50 per month for “PRO Team” Access.
So, will using a DIY design software hurt your brand image? No -- but using a DIY design software poorly will.
My best advice if you are going to give DIY a try is to use your best judgment, stay on-brand, and always get a second set of eyes on your design, especially if you know those eyes will give you the harsh truth you might need to hear.
Spend the money on good design when you can.
Good design like buying yourself a good pair of shoes is always worth the investment.
Figure out your design budget and outline what is most important to you, or again, consult with a designer who can help you determine this.
Even if all you can budget is getting help setting up a set of brand guidelines, it can make a world of difference in how your brand looks both in print and web mediums.