How to Create Your Visual Identity

Brand DIYThere are many reasons that I became a graphic designer. One of the ways that I knew that I wanted to be a designer, was that I was obsessed with making all of my correspondence look like it was specific to me. That meant that I’d use the same font, similar note-taking style (hello, colour coded art history notes) and colours in cover letters, resumes, emails, labeling for my assignments, portfolios etc. throughout high school and into university. Some might just call it like it is: obsessive, but I like to think that I was mostly just having my first crack at creating a visual identity for myself.

Creating a look for all of the things that you touch or your company send out, creates dynamic calling card for you and your business. In an ideal world, you’d be able to pay a designer you love enough money to create all of those classic things you need (business cards, logo, letterhead), as well as some things that are custom to your business (product labels, presentation folders, what-have-you). Unfortunately for most of us one-(wo)man-shows or small businesses, we just don’t have the budget for that. So, without further ado, here’s how to create your own visual identity, polish one you have or decide where to spend your branding money.

Logo

Your logo is probably the most important part of your brand. If you have any budget at all, spend it on this. If you need a DIY option (ahem, until you’ve saved up enough to hire a pro to do this for you), here are some pointers:

  • Keep it simple. A nice sans-serif typeface, in black or one single colour, with clean lettering and maybe using a second font weight, is always a good choice.
  • Stay away from cutesy fonts. You know, the Papyrus-es and the Comic Sans-es of the world. Nothing will say “I’m not a professional” faster than a cutesy font.
  • Pick one or two colours and make sure they actually look good together. Use a resource like DesignSeeds, to find colours that are complementary and sophisticated looking.
  • Stick with a wordmark. A wordmark is your name or your company’s name written in a particular font (think: my Kate Moore Hermes logo). A logo is more of an image-based representation of your name or company (think: the Nike swoosh). You don’t want to spend a bunch of time trying to figure out how to make an image that represents your company, because you won’t be able to. That’s when you call in the professionals.

If you follow the few points above, you’ll can get away without a “proper” logo for a little while. But by all means, save up some money to get a pro to do your logo as quickly as you can.

Palette

A branding faux pas that I see again, and again, is not sticking to a colour palette. I see this a lot, even with people who have had professional brands built for them. To make your business look professional and to keep your branding consistent, choose a colour palette and stick to it. A good colour palette should have a great highlight colour (think red or, in the case of my branding, an eggplant purple), a dark colour (for in case you want to use a colour for some of your text) and a light colour (for places where you need a non-imposing solid colour). Again, I suggest you look somewhere online for a predetermined colour palette. Pinterest is a great place to start, but there are many dedicated colour websites out there.

A note on this colour palette though: Just because you can use it for type, don’t. Most people want to read black type on a white background. If you start sending emails with navy type on a cream background, just because its in your colour palette, it’ll be harder for people to read. That harder things are to read, the less likely people are to read them … not what you want.

Use this palette in everything, from your email signature to your Instagram posts, to your Twitter account.

Fonts

This is another case where pick something and stick to it, is important! Select, at maximum, two fonts that you use on a regular basis. Pick classic fonts, whenever possible: Century Gothic, Helvetica, Times. These are recognizable, and easy to read. Now, that doesn’t mean that you have to use them in your logo (or wordmark, as it were), but you want to use them in all of your correspondence, including your emails, proposals, invoices, receipts and anything else, whenever possible.

Another thing to note, is font size. Make sure that you use fonts that are large enough for people to read, without looking like they belong to the large-print edition of the newspaper. Basic type size rules: if the type is going to be printed it should be between 10 and 12 points but if it is going to be read onscreen, the type should be at least 14px. If your audience is a bit older, err on the side of larger type. (This is especially important in email.)

Use font weights to create hierarchy in your type. I like to use bold (as you can see above) to pull out the points that I think are most important in my emails and blog posts. I think its best to make the most important point you are trying to get across, the most visible. That said, try not use colour or wacky fonts to pull out that one important sentence.

Need a resource for great font pairings? Check out I Font You or this article from Stepto & Son.

Business Cards

I still believe that we should all have business cards, regardless of that fact that so much of our interaction is done online now. You can get business cards printed inexpensively at most office supply stores, or from places like Jukebox Print and Club Card. Most of these places offer a range of paper stock and templates that you can use to ensure that your business cards look “right.” That said, if you want to do your own, stick to what I’ve said above: Use your one or two fonts, and stick to your chosen colour palette. Don’t try to go too crazy making you business card unique. When you have the money, later on, you can hire a designer to create business cards for you.

A good standby for business cards: is to centre all of the text on the card (vertically and horizontally) and make your name a bit larger, bolded and/or in the highlight colour from your palette. You can use the lighter colour from your palette as a background colour on your card, if you like. Alternatively, putting your name on one side of the card in large letters, and your contact info on the other side is always classic. Throw your darker colour in the background on the side with your name, and you’ve got a great looking card.

Social Media

Most business owners are all over social media, these days. Like with all of my branding tips, I like to keep things consistent on social media. I, generally, use the same photo for my headshot across all of my social media platforms. I may eventually mix them up a bit, but I like that if someone is looking for my business on any of these platforms, they can find me pretty easily because the photo is the same, across the board.

I also try to keep the big cover images (Twitter, Facebook and Google+ all have a version of the cover image) similar, and recognizable. In this case, they aren’t necessarily all the same, but they at least have the same feel.

On Twitter, you can also change the colour that your account is shown in to match one of the colours from you preselected palette.

Other

Once you’ve used these tips to get your brand in line, there are a few other things you can do to really make your brand stand out.

Rubber stamps

It’s really quite inexpensive to have a rubber stamp made of your wordmark. I use mine to mark plan old note cards for when I send cheques, thank you notes, packages etc. It’s a nice branded touch, that people really remember you for.

Email Signature

Try to keep your email signature consistent. I change mine up every once in a while, but it looks really professional to have your name and business name typed out clearly and to include links to your website, and any social media accounts that you’d like your readers to check out. Email signatures can usually be styled with colours and fonts, as well. And you guessed it, use your preselected fonts and palette from above.

I hope that these tips help you create a brand or visual identity for your company. If your business already has a professionally designed logo and brand, use this as a reminder to check in with your brand consistency. Are you using your colour palette and fonts in your email, invoices and contracts? Can you make a rubber stamp or amp up your email signature? If you’re looking for a job, apply these thoughts to your resume and cover letter, to help you stand out.

What else can you do to create a strong brand? Let me know if I’ve missed something in the comments!

Volunteering at Ladies Learning Code: CSS Fundamentals for Beginners

In a few weeks, I’m going to be a mentor instructor for Ladies Learning Code: CSS Fundamentals for Beginners. You should come learn to code! I think that it’s really important for everyone to know just a little bit of code and I’m really excited to help out with the event.

If you’re nervous, don’t be! I’ve never volunteered for Ladies Learning Code before, so we’re in this together. I used to think that coding was too hard to learn and that kept me firmly in the print design world. I got over it one winter about three years ago, when I couldn’t get my blog to look the way I wanted it to and started to try to teach myself to code. Take it from me: Having some instruction and fun people around is a lot easier then trying to learn on your own!

I hope to see you there! To learn more, click here. Sold already and want to register? Go here.

P.S. You don’t have to identify as a lady to be in the workshop! Gents and everyone in between are welcome too.

3 Places to Find Design Inspiration

Something that I occasionally struggle with, is finding inspiration for my design projects. As much as I wish that amazing ideas would just fall out of my head whenever I want them to, that just isn’t reality. So, I like to go hunting for inspiration. I try to spend a little time everyday foraging for ideas that I can file away for later. I could define myself as a designer who marinades. What I mean by that is, often I see something gorgeous that I love, and then it sits in my brain and marinades until I find the perfect project to use it for. It could be a perfect colour palette or a pair of amazing textures, but it has to stew in my head for awhile until the perfect project comes along to couple it with. But, where to find that idea?

Pinterest

Image of Design Love Fest's Pinterest BoardsSo this one is a little bit obvious. Everyone and their dog goes to Pinterest for inspiration, but it really works! I especially love the boards of Bri Emery at designlovefest. She finds the best stuff! Sometimes she pins something undesign-y like a blanket, and I think: ‘Yes! That’s the colour palette I’ve been looking for!!’ I find it’s great not just to follow fellow designers, but also stylish people you know, your friends who have great taste and people who are in a completely different industry than you. Sometimes they find the best stuff (see the second last paragraph).

The Outside World

Red and grey texture and nice logoSometimes you find the greatest things, in weird places. For example, the image above is of a fantastic texture at a coffee shop near my place (that sells delicious dumplings and pork buns instead of the usual paninis and wraps, but I digress). I snapped this picture on my phone because I loved the combination of grey and red and the three different textures. The inset picture was snapped out of a moving car on the way to Surrey to buy fascinators for my friend’s wedding. I thought that the logo was a really cool, clean way to incorporate a map of BC and I couldn’t resist filing it away, even though the photo was through a rain soaked window (sorry, but I live in Vancouver, rain is a fact of life around these parts).

Design Websites

Peacock colour paletteThis palette is something that came to me via my almost-sister-in-law’s Pinterest board (she’s a teacher with great taste … see, different industries works). Once I followed the links to the original site, Design Seeds, I was hooked. The peacock palette ended up becoming the inspiration for this website that I designed and built earlier this year. Since then, Design Seeds has become my go-to-source when I have a palette in mind but can’t quite get the colours to work together as perfectly as I would like.

Lastly, I often find inspiration in the amazing work of other designers. People are doing some amazing stuff out there! When I see something amazing that someone else has done, it really makes the marinading happen. Turning their ideas over in my head, often pushes me to make my work better and learn from them. I’d love to know, where do you find inspiration? It’s always great to have other resources, so if you have something good, spill it! And, Happy Victoria Day!

new paintings by terri whetstone.

For any of those readers on the East Coast looking for something to do this March, may I suggest a fantastic show at the Craig Gallery at Alderney Landing? Terri Whetstone, who just happens to be my aunt, is a super talented painter showing her work there from March 1 to 25. The show opens on February 29 (leap day!) at 7PM. You’ll be treated to a magnificent feast for your eyes. For more on Terri’s work, check out her website, here.