Designing your brand identity.

September 2nd, 2014

Our latest guest contribution is from graphic designer and author, David Airey. It specifically caters for graphic designers who are considering setting up their own practice and, in turn, have the need to create their own brand identity. The following article is based on an excerpt from one of David’s books, Work for Money, Design for Love – a straight-talking advice guide that answers the questions all designers have about launching and running their own design businesses.

Your brand is how others see you. Your brand identity, on the other hand, is the language you use, the smile in your voice when you answer the phone, the voicemail message you record, how you talk about other businesses and people, the sign on your door, the company car you drive, the way you dress, the copy on your website, your website’s ease of use, and it’s the promises you make (and keep, because when you tell a client you’ll do something, you need to do everything you can to deliver).

Your complete identity also includes visual elements such as how your website looks, from the amount of white space and the logo at the top, to the fonts and font sizes used for the headings and body text. It’s how your site functions, too, whether it’s simple and obvious to navigate or whether you’re showing off your skills with mouseovers and hover effects. It’s the grids you use in your invoices and letterheads, and how these relate to every other visual piece of your professional appearance.

There are a myriad of other potential elements of your identity, but let’s look at what many consider to be the tip of the iceberg: your logo.

You might ask why you even need your own logo or wordmark. Won’t your portfolio do the real talking?

A graphic that sums up in a very basic way who you are is important. It begins to tell your story, and it serves as first impression, long before your portfolio arrives. Even a very simple wordmark can form a meaningful representation of you, your talents, and your values.

I leave the brainstorming and design to you. But I do want to share a pointer from the process that I learned while creating my own visual identity.

Ask for critique

When I say you’re designing for yourself, in reality, your brand identity’s ultimate audience should be those who will interact with your business—your future clients and the creative specialists with whom you want to collaborate. These are the people you should ask to critique your visual identity. These are the people with whom you absolutely must make a good first impression and build a lasting relationship. You might think you’ve created the best design since Lindon Leader’s FedEx logo, but this isn’t a work of art for your eyes only. It must strike others in the heart and brain as well. Ask them what they think.

You’ve got to do it properly, though. I get tons of emails from budding designers wanting me to critique their logo, and that’s all I get, too: a logo, in isolation. No description, no context, just a logo. Sometimes I’ll receive a few variations in order to choose my favorite, but the general idea across each will be exactly the same, except with a minor edit of some sort.

Those kinds of requests are just asking me to micromanage their project. Do I like sample A or sample B better? I don’t know. I don’t have enough information.

Remember that you are not asking people for their aesthetic favorite. You’re asking for an overall, informed opinion on whether the visual identity is appropriate for identifying your business, your goals, and your future success. Show them your designs in context, and offer a description about what you want it to say about yourself.

Don’t show an idea that you don’t believe works. The worst outcome would be to feel forced into living with a design you aren’t 99% comfortable with (the designers I know are never 100% comfortable).

Think carefully about who is giving you the feedback, because many people consider design to be the same as art, that is, a subjective work that isn’t created to serve a purpose. Those people won’t be able to give you an informed opinion. So if you’re showing the work online where anyone can comment, be sure to filter out opinions that are off-topic and shouldn’t sway your thought process. The best way to avoid remarks with little value is to choose exactly who to ask, either by sending a personal email or by meeting face-to-face.

But when the criticism is valid, take it to heart. Don’t ignore it because it hurts your feelings or shoots down your favourite design or even sends you back to square one. Back in my student days, I used to hate having my designs critiqued. My work was bad, and the feedback reflected the work’s quality. But that’s one of the major benefits of a formal design education: You learn to take critical comments on the chin, and that’s excellent preparation for the world of client feedback. Almost all feedback is a gift: Accept it gracefully.

This article is based on an excerpt from David Airey’s book Work for Money, Design for Love – a straight-talking advice guide that answers the questions all designers have about launching and running their own design businesses. It includes tips and lessons from designers around the world including such creative pros as Ivan Chermayeff, Jerry Kuyper, Eric Karjaluoto, Simon Manchipp, Alina Wheeler, Armin Vit, and Khoi Vinh.

David Airey is a graphic designer and occasional author who specialises in brand identity design. Self-employed since 2005, he works from his studio in Northern Ireland where he designs with forward-thinking companies all over the world.

David’s books are available in 10 languages and are consistent bestsellers in Amazon’s branding category. He has appeared in magazines including Creative ReviewComputer ArtsDigital ArtsHOWEsquire, and on websites such as BBC and New York Times.

David’s blogs continually receive more than 1 million monthly page views.

You can follow David on Twitter.

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