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The Real Cost of Cheap Design

a broken plate symbolizing how fragile cheap designs are

“Good design is good business." This axiom, attributed to Thomas J. Watson Jr., the second president of IBM, speaks volumes about the relationship between design and business success. When it comes to design quality, there's a significant correlation between the investment made and the value received.

Design, whether it's for a product, service, or brand, isn't just about aesthetics. It's about the user experience, brand perception, and communication. Investing in good design can be the key to achieving a competitive edge in today's saturated market. Conversely, the cost of cheap design may be far greater than many businesses anticipate.

image showing cheap street next to a brand.

The Cost of Cheap Design

Low-cost design often equates to generic, unimaginative, and inefficient solutions. A cheap logo or website might save you money in the short term, but it can compromise the perceived value of your brand, making it less appealing to consumers.

A prime example of this is the logo redesign fiasco of GAP in 2010. After using the same logo for over 20 years, GAP decided to introduce a new one without any clear reasoning or strategy behind the change. The redesign, which appeared to be a simple and cheap solution, resulted in a massive outcry from the public, causing GAP to revert to its original logo within a week. This blunder reportedly cost GAP millions and severely impacted their brand reputation.

In a research article published in the Journal of Marketing Research, professors C. Whan Park, Andreas B. Eisingerich, and Jason Whan Park highlight the importance of strong brand logos. They argue that well-designed logos can boost brand equity and consumer loyalty. When businesses resort to inexpensive design services, they miss the opportunity to enhance these vital aspects of their business.

brand showing the apple logo

The Return on Investment (ROI) of Good Design

While good design comes at a price, it also delivers significant ROI. A report by the Design Management Institute revealed that design-led companies, such as Apple, Coca-Cola, and IBM, outperformed the S&P 500 by an astounding 211% over a ten-year period. This data underscores the long-term financial benefits of investing in high-quality design.

Apple, in particular, is a shining example of the impact of design on business success. The company's unwavering commitment to sleek, user-friendly, and innovative design has made it one of the most successful and recognizable brands in the world. Apple's willingness to invest heavily in design is a significant factor in its market dominance and customer loyalty.

image showing airbnb brand

Strategic Value of High-Quality Design

High-quality design is a strategic investment that goes beyond monetary value. It helps companies to effectively communicate their brand message, engage with their target audience, and stand out from the competition.

One company that exemplifies this is Airbnb. When the company decided to revamp their brand and website in 2014, they did not skimp on design. The result was a unique, visually appealing logo and an intuitive, user-friendly website design that strongly reflected their brand identity. This rebranding helped Airbnb expand their global presence and increase their market value.

"Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works," said Steve Jobs. This philosophy encapsulates why successful businesses invest in quality design. It’s not about spending money frivolously; it’s about recognizing the importance of design in shaping user experience, driving customer satisfaction, and ultimately, impacting the bottom line.

picture showing sign that says wrong way. meaning the cheap design way isn't a good way for business owners

The Bottom Line

In the world of design, you get what you pay for. Cheap design might seem appealing at first, especially for businesses trying to cut costs. However, the potential damage to brand reputation and customer perception can far outweigh the initial savings. On the other hand, a well-thought-out, quality design, albeit expensive, can deliver exponential returns, contributing to the overall success and longevity of a business.

Remember, your design is the first thing your customers interact with - it's the face of your brand. Investing in it is not a luxury, but a strategic business decision that can set the stage for your success.


Undoubt Studio is the No.1 Branding & Web Design Agency in Malaysia. Since 2019, the team have worked with businesses all over the world in growing their brand. Looking to start a project? Contact us at

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