What Designers Should Know About Branding Themselves

As a designer, branding yourself is an altogether exciting and challenging task. You have awesome ideas, you know what you like, and you have the ability to make it all happen. But sometimes there are too many awesome ideas to choose from and it turns out that narrowing your personal style down can be kind of hard since you like so many things. Factor in the pressure on yourself to do an amazing job (you know, since you're a designer and all) and you've gone from being really pumped about the endless possibilities to the possibilities being overwhelming. Any of this sound familiar? Good, because that's how I felt too. 

 
Gillian Tracey Design Blog
 

Earlier this year I worked on designing a brand for myself, and since it's still pretty fresh in my mind, I wanted to bring to light common problems that designers frequently run into when creating a brand for themselves and the solutions to those bumps in the road. 

PROBLEM #1: UNDER PRESSURE

I'd say the number one reason for designers having such a difficult time designing for themselves is pressure. As creatives, we are always our harshest critic because we always want to push ourselves to be better. We know our true skill and the limits of our creativity and abilities, and when we don't feel like we're meeting our own high expectations the pressure begins to build. Plus, since we're designers we have to make our personal brands look awesome because it's what we do. On top of that, we have to make our brand identity look awesome so we can measure up to all the other designers who have sleek and polished brand identities. All of those things combined add up to all kinds of crazy pressure.

SOLUTION

  • Find the proper balance
    As a designer, yes, your brand identity absolutely is a big deal. However, it's essential to find the proper balance between requiring excellence of yourself and putting too much pressure on yourself. Think of it this way: your logo, all the coordinating elements from your business cards to your email signature, and your website will speak volumes of your attention to detail, personal aesthetic and abilities. Instead of getting overwhelmed and reaching for a bag to breathe into, think of it as an awesome challenge and the perfect opportunity to showcase your strengths. If you want to attract clients who appreciate your design aesthetic, then what better why to reel them in than with the brand identity you design for yourself?
     
  • Trust yourself and remember to have fun
    If you're anything like me, you're a designer because you love finding the best creative solution for things by uncovering just the right mix of design elements. Trust your gut to make the right choices for yourself, and have confidence in your abilities. If you're still getting caught in the pressure-filled mindset, shift your thinking to be more positive. Take the pressure off yourself, and have fun with it! Crafting a unique brand identity all for yourself is an exciting undertaking. Not to mention, it's really awesome to have the skills to do it yourself. It's a special talent! If you infuse the process with joy, the end product will reflect that.
     
  • Knock it off with the comparison!
    That's easier said than done, I know. Comparison is ugly, and it's so incredibly destructive to creativity. With so many creatives putting their work out there, it seems impossible to avoid seeing what everyone else is producing. And with other people's work always in front of our faces, it's hard to keep our minds clear from wondering if our work measures up and if it's keeping up with current trends. However, you're working on creating your personal brand. That means it needs to be 100%, undiluted YOU. When you try and emulate what other designers are doing, it's going to be forced and inauthentic. If you've ever heard the phrase, "a photocopy is never as sharp as the original," then it applies perfectly to this situation. Why be a fuzzy, uninteresting photocopy when you could be the original? 

PROBLEM #2: FINDING FOCUS

When you start on the adventure that is creating your personal brand identity, it can be hard finding your focus. When you work with a client, you listen to their vision, wants and needs; then you apply it to the designs you create for them. Sure it's a process getting to the finished product, but you're able to be objective and make clear and concise decisions based on the client's wants, needs, and what will be the most effective. So how to you take that objectivity and focus and apply it to your own personal branding project?

SOLUTION

The solution to this problem is simple: treat yourself like a client. I took Courtney Eliseo's "Beyond the Logo: Crafting a Brand Identity" class on Skillshare, and I found it incredibly helpful. Since the class assignment is to produce a brand identity either for yourself, a client, or the sample client provided, it gave me the opportunity and mindset I needed to sit down and focus on what I wanted for my brand identity. At this point I had a logo that I was happy with, but I still felt pretty unfocused on the identity I wanted to build around it. The first step of the class what to fill out a creative brief about your client. In this case, the client was me. Starting a branding project with a creative brief serves as a solid framework and a guide for the duration of the project. For example, if you aren't sure about a design decision you're making, you can go back and measure it against what you have drawn up in the brief. Below are the questions and fields that should be filled out for a creative brief. (If you're a designer, you may already have some kind of questionnaire that you have your clients fill out before you start working with them on a brand identity, so go ahead and fill one out for yourself.)

  1. Background
    Who is the client and what is their current situation? Do they have a brand they just want to spruce up? Do they need to rebrand entirely?
  2. Objective
    What are you trying to accomplish?
  3. Target Audience
    Who are your client's ideal customers? Be as specific as possible.
  4. Message
    What is your client trying to say? Write this in a way that's directed to the customer. 
  5. Competition
    Who are your client's biggest competitors? You can list specific competitors or you can describe a type of competitor.
  6. Distinguishing Characteristics
    What makes your client unique? What sets them apart from competitors? This can be anything from personality to business practices.
  7. Creative Considerations
    Does the client have any specific directives that should apply to the work? Do they have their heart set on a color or have any extreme dislikes you need to take into consideration?
  8. Tone or Key Words
    What personality does the client want to project to their audience? Limit the list to 3-5 adjectives. Think of it this way: if the business were a person, how would you describe them?

I also put together a freebie with all this info that you can get below! It's a fillable PDF, so it's digital and printer friendly :)

Creative Brief and Brand Questionnaire Freebie from Gillian Tracey Design

PROBLEM #3: DECISIONS

I know that for me, the variety of styles I like made it really hard to narrow down what I wanted my brand identity to be. For color palettes, I love black and white, but then there's warm, peachy colors and blues and greens and understated but elegant neutrals. And don't even get me started on choosing fonts! How do you choose between beautiful and classic serifs, delicate and thin-lined or strong and blocky sans serif, feminine scripts and grungy brush lettering? How do you make the best decisions for your brand identity?  

SOLUTION

It all comes down to what you like (yes, you'll have to pick favorites) and what best fits the vision you've created for your brand. This is where having a creative brief really comes in handy! Let's say in your creative brief you described your brand as organic, feminine, airy. It's pretty obvious that you can rule out using a bold, blocky sans serif. With all the endless possibilities and combinations, and all the things you like, you have to choose what feels right and what is going to best reflect the image you want for you brand. Your branding is important, and it isn't something you should rush through. Take adequate time and be thoughtful about your choices. You don't want to choose something you'll be tired of and want to overhaul in six months. Start with a foundation that you can keep building on. Consistency is key for brand recognition, so start with something you really enjoy and will continue to get more excited about as time goes on.


Creating a brand identity is like a big puzzle with all different parts that need to come together into one cohesive, whole picture. It's a fun journey with lots of possibilities! Even if you're not a designer (maybe you're a small business owner considering the DIY route), I'm sure you have a vision for your brand identity too! Or maybe you're struggling to put your finger on exactly what you want. You can describe it, but you don't know what it would look like. This process and the freebie above will help with that, or maybe it's time to look into hiring a designer!

If you're feeling lost about creating your brand identity, I'd love to talk to you and see if I can help you along your journey to creating your one-of-a-kind brand identity! Just visit my "Say Hello" page and fill out the simple form with some info about your project or your branding questions. My digital door is always open!