6 Common Mistakes DIY Designers Make with Their Branding + Simple Solutions

As a branding designer, you can bet your bottom dollar that I’m going to press the importance of a brand identity for blogs and businesses. However, I only strongly encourage it because it truly does make a big impact on the success of your business!

 

Having a professional-looking and one-of-a-kind brand identity will:

  • Attract your ideal audience and repel those who aren’t (trust me, that's a good thing!). 
  • Be an ambassador for your brand. People will see it and get a good grasp of what you do and who you serve. 
  • Show that you mean business.
  • Give your potential clients and customers a great first impression.
  • Instill a sense of confidence when you send people to your site or hand out business cards. 

All of those reasons make a worthy case for taking the time to build a carefully thought-out and intentional brand built around your mission, vision, and goals for the future. Having a strong brand that accomplishes all those things doesn't have to come with a huge investment. There are lots of business owners and bloggers who are DIYing it!

As a fellow small business owner, specialty aside, I fully understand the very real side of finances and the need to budget for extra expenses and investments. It’s not always a possibility to hire a designer to create a custom brand identity without paying the custom price tag. For those small business owners out there who are DIYing their branding until they can truly invest in working with a designer, I want to help you out! Here are some common mistakes I see when people DIY their branding and simple solutions to avoid them.

 
6 Common Mistakes DIY Designers Make with Their Branding + Simple Solutions. Find more branding and design tips like this on the Gillian Tracey Design blog!
 

 

Mistake #1: Too Trendy

The number one mistake I see DIY designers make is instantly gravitating toward incorporating design trends into their logo, regardless of whether or not it makes sense with their business. Sure, things like calligraphy, floral wreaths, and watercolor brush strokes are all beautiful. It's no surprise why people use them so often! However, going along with the trends just for the sake of fitting in isn't the best solution for your business. When I design for clients, I want to give them a brand identity that first and foremost fits with their brand and overall goals for the future. I want to give them something that will help distinguish them from their competitors, look one-of-a-kind, and stand the test of time. Oftentimes that requires going outside of what’s trendy, or, if their brand fits with what’s on-trend at the moment, give it a new spin. You may have noticed that my logo could fall into the camp of logos using the watercolor trend. While I did not intend that when I originally designed it, I was very intentional about why I chose this type of design and how I could go about making it break the trendy mold. Read more about it below!

Solution:

Do a brand discovery questionnaire! This will help give you an objective and thoughtful look at your brand, what you want it to help you accomplish, and what sort of visuals would best support the brand you’re building in the long-term. If your brand happens to fit with what's trending at the time, think of a new approach you can take. How can you take a popular design and recreate it to best fit your brand? How can you make your supporting visuals really work to create something memorable and one-of-a-kind?

 
I'm going to use myself as an example here! I'm sure some of you are looking at my logo, and thinking, man, that's really trendy. However, when I designed this, it was not with the intention of being trendy. Here is my thought process behind why I chose to hand-letter my logo with watercolor: 1) it reflected my brand message of creating hand-crafted design pieces, 2) it allowed me the opportunity to incorporate some other fun brand elements like hand-painted patterns and illustrations, 3) bringing in those other elements and a color palette that isn't pink, black and gold gave me the unique spin I needed to set myself apart, and 4) it attracts my ideal client. So the moral of the story is this: it's okay if your logo happens to be trendy or if the trends catch up with you. What makes the difference is the thought behind why you're choosing that particular style, the supporting pieces you build around it and how you make yourself different.

I'm going to use myself as an example here! I'm sure some of you are looking at my logo, and thinking, man, that's really trendy. However, when I designed this, it was not with the intention of being trendy. Here is my thought process behind why I chose to hand-letter my logo with watercolor: 1) it reflected my brand message of creating hand-crafted design pieces, 2) it allowed me the opportunity to incorporate some other fun brand elements like hand-painted patterns and illustrations, 3) bringing in those other elements and a color palette that isn't pink, black and gold gave me the unique spin I needed to set myself apart, and 4) it attracts my ideal client. So the moral of the story is this: it's okay if your logo happens to be trendy or if the trends catch up with you. What makes the difference is the thought behind why you're choosing that particular style, the supporting pieces you build around it and how you make yourself different.

 

 

Mistake #2: Lack of intention

There are a lot of reasons why simply going along with trends is a bummer for your branding, and one of those is the lack of intention. To piggy-back off the previous point, a common mistake I see DIY designers make is letting intention and thoughtfulness take a major backseat to the desire to be trendy. Just because you like how floral wreaths look and it seems to be “the thing to do” doesn’t mean it makes sense for your business. In fact, that approach doesn't make sense at all! By using similar visuals as so many other business owners out there, you’re getting lost in an ocean of unoriginal designs. Also, by opting for uber-trendy design elements over using supporting, intentional visuals in your logo, you’re missing out on a big opportunity to help attract your target audience and strengthen your message.

I’m not saying you have to be literal with the visuals you use, but what I am saying is that you should choose design elements that are thoughtful and purposeful. If a floral wreath logo is a great fit for your business and your target audience, then go for it! Just make sure you build supporting elements that will help set you apart.

Solution:

Start from the beginning and build a solid foundation for your brand, rather than finding a design you like and working backwards. Think of fun and unique ways to incorporate your brand message into your visuals—it can be a feeling, an emotion, an icon, and illustration, a metaphor, or a symbol. There are endless possibilities for the creative solutions you can find when it comes to designing your logo and supporting brand elements. 

 
By using visuals that support the nature of the products created by the business, this brand identity easily and instantly communicates it's message to viewers.

By using visuals that support the nature of the products created by the business, this brand identity easily and instantly communicates it's message to viewers.

 

 

Mistake #3: settling for unoriginal typography

I see it all the time: DIY designers find a font they like, type out their business name, and then check logo design off their list. There are so many ways to be creative, so why settle for that?! The point of branding is to give your business a unique visual identity. Using a font that anyone can download for free from dafont.com or Google fonts and using as-is won’t give you the unique look your business needs. It’s so easy to elevate your logo just by investing in a well-made font, or configuring a free font in a way that gives it a special touch, or adding in a texture or pattern for interest.

Solution:

The world of fonts is a big one indeed! And it can certainly be overwhelming. But typography is so fun, so you should embrace it! Fonts have personalities of their own, so when you find fonts that suit the tone and personality of your brand, it helps give a cohesive and quality impression. If you want to explore some fonts to invest in and use as your logo, Creative Market is a great resource. They even have their font categories broken up to help you sift through all the options for serifs, sans serifs, scripts, etc. However, you’re not limited to fonts you can find online. There’s always the option to hand-letter your logo! That’s a surefire way to give your logo a look that is totally unique. 

 
This logo uses fonts you can find on Google fonts, but by adding in weight variations and a simple flourish the design is automatically elevated. Design doesn't need to be complicated to look professional. What are simple ways you can have fun with typography to give your branding a unique look? 

This logo uses fonts you can find on Google fonts, but by adding in weight variations and a simple flourish the design is automatically elevated. Design doesn't need to be complicated to look professional. What are simple ways you can have fun with typography to give your branding a unique look? 

 

 

Mistake #4: Lack of functionality

A very common problem I see with DIY logos is a lack of functionality and versatility. A good rule of thumb for logos is to have variations to fit different mediums they may be used on. For example, a more horizontal logo is best for using on the header of a website. However, having a more compact, square-shaped variation will better serve you when it comes to social media profile images.

When creating your logo, also be sure to play around with the composition to make sure all the elements flow together with balance, proper hierarchy, and that the spacing isn’t awkward. If the text and/or elements are too close and cramped it makes it difficult to read (and unpleasant to look at), or if they’re spread to wide you risk losing a cohesive look and creating a clunky, cumbersome design.

Solution:

When designing your logo, have a primary version, an alternate, and a submark or watermark. Having several variations of the composition of your logo, as well as an all white and all black version will give you lots of flexibility. Also, take the time to arrange things carefully and thoughtfully. If you need some help, take some notes from branding designers to see how they balance various design elements, space text, etc.

 
 

 

Mistake #5: not utilizing color psychology

Color is a powerful tool, so it’s essential to harness it’s powers to work in your favor. When I was creating my branding, I built my initial color palette off of colors that I really like. But I didn’t stop there! While I’m a big believer in choosing design elements that you enjoy and that reflect your personality (if your personality is a part of your brand, of course), it’s even more important to make sure those align with what your audience likes and is attracted to. So, with my starter palette, I investigated color psychology. My absolute favorite resource on this topic is Fiona Humberstone, also known as the Brand Stylist. She has a wealth of knowledge on the topic, and several free resources to help you use color psychology to it's fullest advantage (not to mention her book is ah-mazing). Working through some of her exercises, like figuring out which season I fall into, was incredibly helpful in the process of making sure my colors worked hand-in-hand with my brand message, and building out a palette that would strengthen my image.

Solution:

The main takeaway of this point is this: just because you like a color doesn’t mean your target audience will like it or that it will make sense with your brand message. Choosing appropriate colors for the brand you’re building will help create a clear and cohesive image to the audience you’re serving. If you use a brand discovery questionnaire, then it will really come in handy when pinpointing the vibe you want your brand to have and how color will play into that.

For example, if you’re a newborn photographer with a soft and sweet style, you wouldn’t want to use hot pink and black just because you like those colors. That just wouldn’t make sense with the image you’re trying to portray to your potential customers! Wouldn’t it be more sensical and intentional to use a softer color palette, like a mint green, soft yellow, and grey? 

 

Mistake #6: lack of consistency

Whatever you decide on for your final branding, keep it consistent! By not prioritizing consistency, you’re not doing your business any favors. Read this post to learn more about how a lack of consistency is harmful to your business, your brand, and potentially your success.

From the fonts, to the color palette, to the patterns and how you use your logo, keep it cohesive across the board, whether it’s your website or your business cards. 

Solution:

By creating a brand style guide for your business and keeping everything within its standards, you’ll be giving your business brand recognition. A style guide should include everything from the fonts you use and how to use them (for example: if it’s used as a headline font, body font, etc. on website), your primary and secondary color palettes, how to use your logo (for example, always use full-color logo when on a white background, use a white logo when overlaid on a photo, never go smaller than XYZ size, never tilt logo, etc.), patterns available to use on branding materials, style of photographs, illustrations, and icons used, etc.


Other options:

If you're feeling really stuck on where to start with designing a brand yourself, but you're not ready to invest in a designer for a custom visual identity, here are a couple other solutions:

  • Buy a pre-made brand identity from a designer you admire on Etsy. Be aware that some of these designs will not be unique to your business. If you want something that is going to be more cost-effective than a custom brand identity, but still be unique to you, just carefully read the fine print.
  • Take a course that walks you through the brand identity design process. Skillshare has several like this, and some that will help you learn how to use Illustrator to create a logo.
  • Hire a branding coach.

If you’re a small business owner who is working hard to DIY your branding, I hope you find some of these suggestions helpful in guiding you through the process and strengthening your designs. I know from firsthand experience that building a brand for yourself is a huge challenge!

I have a quick question for you: what’s the biggest roadblock you’ve come across while DIYing your brand? Comment in the section below, along with any other questions about branding yourself or design tips!