"I don't like the look of that restaurant. I bet the food isn't any good."

"This website looks like a ten-year-old designed it. I wonder how trustworthy the information is."

"He's so unkempt. Do you think he knows what he's talking about?"

"This cleaning product looks like it will work better than that one."

How often have you made a decision based on how something looked? We all do that - all the time - and don't even realize it. We may think that we make unbiased judgments, but the success of the advertising, design, and fashion industries attests to how influenced we are by appearances.

As in the situations above, you may be losing business because you are making a poor impression on your prospective customers.

You may have a superlative teaching staff. Your prices may be reasonable. You may be offering just the right mix of classes for your clientele. You may have a long list of happy alumni. But if your business is presenting a sloppy, amateurish face to your public, you may be undermining all your hard work.

You may be asking your prospective customers to choose your studio over your competitors' despite their initial perceptions of your company.

Wouldn't it be better if you could instead project your excellence?

Good Design is the Secret

A well designed, professional appearance will attract and reassure new customers - and encourage loyalty among current customers. Such an appearance has three components.

The first is visual consistency. If you think of any major brand from anywhere in the world, you will probably have a single visual image of that brand in your mind. Starbucks: earthtone interiors, subdued lighting, circular green mermaid logo. Apple: white, minimalist design, apple silhouette. UPS: brown and gold, boxy truck, shield shape.

Each brand's imagery is consistent no matter the medium in which the brand is seen: signage, products, website, vehicles, retail stores, advertising, and so on. This attention to design detail is seen by customers to be a demonstration of the brand's commitment to excellence in the other areas that matter to them, like product quality, service, and overall trustworthiness.

When a company's logotype, symbol, colors, and typefaces (as well as three-dimensional components) look different everywhere they are seen, it's an open invitation for customers to suspect that the company is second rate, that it doesn't have its act together.

Hire a Good Designer!

The second component of a professional appearance is what we will call "design quality." That refers to the aesthetic excellence of your visual appearance, its uniqueness, its ability to stand out and to be remembered, and its functionality.

People gravitate to beauty and clarity, not visuals that are unattractive and unintelligible, either by poor design or lack of color contrast. Fresh, novel designs suggest that a company is forward thinking and not stale.

Uniqueness, impact and memorability ensure that a company's visual materials will be readily seen, identified, and remembered, and will differentiate it from its competitors. Think of how hard it can be to find a brochure in a rack of other brochures, or a storefront in a strip mall.

Proper functioning is a basic requirement. That includes readability of printed and online material, visibility of signage, comfort of interior furnishings, traffic flow of interior spaces, ease of website navigation and online purchasing.

Hiring a professional designer, who has experience suited to the job at hand, is essential to achieving professional design quality and consistency.

Express Who You Are

The third component of a professional appearance is communication - accurate communication of what your business stands for. Every element of your two-dimensional and three-dimensional appearance - typefaces, symbols, style of photography, shape of signs, style of seating, colors and textures, logo clothing, website layout - must work towards telling your customers what it is about your company that is special and meets their needs.

Referring again to our three global brands, none project a visual image that is out of sync with the way you perceive them. In fact, for most well designed brands, their visual identities actually enhance and expand your perceptions of them.

Other articles in this series cover this subject of branding in greater detail.

Neatness Counts

An additional aspect of overall appearance is often overlooked - the maintenance of your professional image over time. In the course of everyday activities it's easy to miss the gradual erosion of your visual standards: untended plants around your building, personal items left behind in the studio, dated posters on the walls, informational bulletins that bit by bit depart from the designer's original models, overly casual dress and behavior by your staff, poor quality photos on your website, and so on.

Every few months it's wise to pretend that you're a prospective customer viewing your business for the first time. Navigate your website to try to find answers to likely questions. Collect all your printed materials and assess them. Drive to your studio, park, walk into the building, stroll through the spaces as if you are on a first-time tour of the premises. What do you see? Are you still projecting the impression of a first-class, professional enterprise? Ask a friend to call your company for information and then visit for a tour. Elicit her reactions to what she sees and hears.

In summary, the development and maintenance of a professional appearance in all aspects of your business plays a critical role in projecting your excellence and capturing new customers.