Yes, Judge a Book By Its Cover. Also: Don’t Hire Your Niece.

Let’s just clear the air, here: I’m no artist. I run a marketing agency that offers design services. I can design better than a lot of people. But I never went to design school, I only kind of know who Banksy is, and the last time I took an art class, I thought The Fresh Prince was the bomb, yo.

But I do know HOW to design a good document. Through a lot of self-study, I’ve learned the principles of layout. I know how to format documents for printers. I know when to use vector art and when to use raster art. And I know what looks professional, and what does not.

In short, I’m a respectable graphic designer. Workman-like, even. I do good work. Do I know that there are more talented artists out there doing design? Yessir, I do. But that doesn’t stop me from putting my own design work in my portfolio. I’m proud of it. And at the end of the day, I’m proud to offer that particular service to clients.

My point is, I may not be the best designer I can think of. I may not even be as good as the actual, professional designers I know. But I do know something that seems to escape a lot of people these days: your niece probably can’t design herself out of a paper bag, no matter how much she says she knows Photoshop.

I’m not trying to knock your niece, bless her soul. But just because someone knows more Photoshop than you does not mean they can do good work for you. Listen: My mother used to tell me that you can’t judge a book by its cover. What she meant to say is, you can’t judge a person by the way they look. Your mother, teacher, or other scary authority figure probably told you the same thing.

Now that we’re all adults, we know how wrong that is. If I meet someone new and I am wearing sunglasses, a dirty t-shirt, 10-day stubble, and a bandana around my head, I’m going to get a different reception than if I’m wearing a pressed shirt and a jacket. The positive reception might even improve based on the quality of the shirt and jacket – bonus for shined shoes. (P.S. I shine my shoes like a boss.)

Your company’s brand is no different. Unless your niece is a professional designer, with years of experience and a portfolio of great, polished, and effective work, you’re probably doing yourself a disservice by hiring her to do your logo. In a similar vein, if your buddy “does websites” but does not actually do them on a professional basis, you’re not doing yourself any favors. It’s like hiring the neighbor’s kid to paint your house — sure, it’s cheap, and you may feel like you’re being nice, but your house is going to look like a Picasso (and not in a good way).

Your logo, your website, your business card, your brochure – all these things are the clothes your company wears. They are part of what helps open the doors for your customers. You don’t wear a grubby sweatshirt to meet your fiancée’s parents for the first time – so why would you dress your business in below-par work? The days of “build it, and they will come” are long over. You literally have to dress to impress.

Unless your niece is the Vera-goddam-Wang of graphic design, do your business a favor and find the best dressmaker you can afford. Because if you’re a premium business – or even a not-premium business – and you’re dressed like you don’t care, you can’t expect your customers to, either.

Matthew Chabe

About Matthew Chabe

Matt Chabe is the President of Chapter Two Marketing & Public Relations, an integrated marketing agency based in Bangor, Maine that helps startups and businesses around the nation maximize growth. He is a seven-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, an active SCORE volunteer, and drives way too fast for his own good. Matt graduated from University of Maine with a BA in marketing and a minor in psychology.