In my last post, I made a case for why design matters to good causes. Here are some practical steps that organizations can take to harness the power of design to build a strong brand.

Key points to remember:
• Great visual design matters a lot, but design is about more than just beautiful websites and collateral materials.
• Great design is about telling stories and building a brand.
• Your brand is the way all of your constituents see you, feel about you, and interact with you across all touch points.

So how does an organization with limited resources build a strong brand and support it with great design? Asking questions is a great place to start. Answers to the right questions shine a light on assumptions about an organization’s identity. Leaders should pose these questions to people within their organization and compare responses; they also should examine both internal and external communications with questions like these in mind:

• What is the purpose of our organization?  Why does it need to exist?
• When people think of us, what adjectives come to mind?
• When people think of us, what adjectives do we want to come to mind?
• Who do we exist to serve, and what do they care about?
• What would we like our clients or customers to say about us?
• What do they actually say?
• Why should someone use our services instead of our competitor’s?

Keep in mind that these are not the only questions that matter, nor are they phrased in some sort of magical way. But questions like these help clarify your organization’s purpose and who you serve, with a focus on their needs, rather than your own.

It’s also important to start out by asking some simple questions to inform your strategy before constructing deliverables such as a Twitter account or website. Questions might include:

• Who is the audience for this method of communication?
• Why do we think this is the best way to reach them?
• What is the main thing we want to communicate to them?
• What do we want them to do after seeing this?

Even if you ask all the right questions, there is a chance that the new website, brochure, or program you just created just isn’t as great as you hoped. Silicon Valley has started adopting agile processes—a fancy term for iterating, which is just a fancy term for creating many versions and testing them. Iterating can save a ton of time and money, and produce a much better result. So before designing an entire website, you may want to show a few pages, even in rough form, to some of the people who you are hoping will use the website. 

There will almost certainly be things that you didn’t think about or assumptions that prove incorrect. Maybe no one watches the new video on your site because your clients have slow Internet speeds. Maybe your new brochure contradicts your green image, and it would be better to conduct a digital campaign. The point is, if you are willing to show things at an early stage and are willing to watch how people use them (rather than simply asking them whether they like the product), you are bound to learn a great deal. It will be tempting to keep your great idea to yourself until you perfect it, but that will just make you less willing to hear the feedback your users have about how it needs to change.

Finally, hire professionals. It’s a bad idea to have your administrative assistant, or your development director—even if they have an interest in graphic design—creating all of your materials. Find a designer whose work you love, and talk to them. Many great designers discount their work if it’s for a good cause, and if they can’t, they can often point you in the direction of a designer who can. If you get the strategy right, don’t mess it all up by skimping on the execution. Invest in good design, and it will likely pay off in a big way.