The Ultimate Non-Designers Guide to Creating a Brand
So you want to become a digital nomad, become an online authority, take your business location independent, or build your personal or business brand, but you don’t know where to start. This step-by-step branding guide for non-designers will give you everything you need to know about being an on- and off-line branding rockstar.
What is Branding?
A brand isn’t a logo, identity, or product. It’s a gut feeling someone has about a product, service, or organization. It’s how everyone perceives you, your product, or your company that ultimately becomes your brand. Your brand’s personality is shaped by the perceptions of your audience. In other words, brands are defined by people not the companies themselves. As a designer, I do not create a brand, but I can build the foundation on which it lies. The identity of a business is all the graphic design elements and guidelines that create the look and feel of your business, blog, or product. This would include color palettes, fonts, layouts, sounds, and smells that make up your products, packaging, clothing, signage, marketing collateral, logo, or any other visual representations of your business. These things make up the identity and support the brand as a whole. A logo identities a business, blog, or product via the use of a symbol that is easily recognizable and memorable.
Your brand’s personality is shaped by the perceptions of your audience.
For a personal brand your identity would be the types of clothes you wear, the way you write, your tone of voice, your physical attributes (color of hair, eyes, height, ect.), the way you speak, your trademark sayings, the color of clothes you wear most often, your attitude, the topics you talk about, and any other things that make you, well YOU. Decide how you want to be perceived and start attributing those things to who you are. When people see how you dress, how you talk, and how you act they begin to form and associate these attributes to brand you.
- Personal Branding: Be Aware of Your Pigeonhole – It’s Hard to Switch
- Exile Lifestyle Personal Branding Ebook (free)
In order to be successful, you’ve got to have a great name. This is the hardest part of starting a business or blog because once you create it, you’re pretty much stuck with it. It’s easier to have a name that effectively describes who you are, what you’re doing, or what you’re about, but is unique and memorable at the same time. It’s best to get a name that is easy to spell. Just because it’s easy for you, doesn’t mean that the general public will find it just as easy. In this article on The Art of Non-Conformity, Chris talks about his regrets with his hard to spell last name, ‘Guillebeau‘ in his domain name.
The 7 Criteria of a stand-out name (Per the The Brand Gap)
- Easy Spelling and Pronunciation
Before you choose a name you want to get crystal clear about what your core message is (and I’ll talk about that more below). If your name is, for example, ‘Everything Apple’ and 4-months down the road you want to start talking about oranges, you’re name would no longer be relevant. So think about your message you want to promote and how your name fits into that. The name ‘Where is Jenny?’ is fairly broad and does not tie me down to any specific subject. The name describes not only my personal travel journey, but where I’m at in life. Hopefully, my story and message inspires you to go on your own journey. Therefore, I’m able to talk about life, business, minimalism, and anything else that relates to that journey.
- Universal Ways of Naming a Company
- What a Difference a Name Makes
- 5 Rules for Choosing a Business Name
Before you start on anything you have to define what your core message is. Your core message will be the driving force behind your name, design, content, title, and actions. To get started, let’s answer some questions.
Who is your target audience? Who are you trying to help with your business or blog? Write down all the traits of this person down to the nitty gritty details. Are they college students dissatisfied with the status quo? Are they parents of young children with tight schedules? Are they deep into debt? Are they first-time backpackers? Are they into polygamous relationships? Figure out exactly who will benefit from and want to hear your message to the world. You’ll find it’s much easier to write or target one or two people than it is several thousand. You can’t please everybody.
What want or need are you going to fulfill for these people? Why should these people go to your blog, care about your business, or read your writing? What are their dreams or desires? Are they looking for happiness, to fit in, to be inspired, or to get healthy? Which one of those desires or dreams are you going to fulfill with your message?
What is your core message to these people that fulfills that want or need? Your core message needs to fit within your passion, contain your personality, and fulfill your target audiences needs. Your design, writing, and voice sends a silent message to your readers. What’s that message? When you know and make decisions based on staying within that core message your readers will see it everywhere. They will know who you are and what you’re about.
What’s your core message?
- 10 Steps to Creating a Compelling and Authentic Personal Brand
- 30 Minutes to Craft a Remarkable Personal Brand Story
The web contains plethora of information and we are bombarded with advertising messages everyday. We have too many choices and not enough time. As humans we are hardwired to know what’s different, so be different. How is your company, brand, or blog going to stand out from everyone else?
- Who are you?
- What do you do?
- Why does it matter?
Do you have a unique message? Do you have a fun personality? Do you have a new sub-niche? What makes you different and why should people pay attention to you?
If you look at the plethora of minimalist blogs that have popped up, you’ll see that the majority of them have similar themes with a white background, a white header with barely any color, black text, and no other design elements. They are minimalist of course! The only differentiation between these blogs are the words, font choices, a small graphic in the header, or link colors. It’s hard to be different when everyone looks the same. If everyone else in your niche is doing the same thing, then do something different. This will make you stand out amongst the crowd.
Ash Ambridge of The Middle Finger Project has a unique voice. There is nobody else like her. Her message may be similar to others, but you won’t get her brash in your face style anywhere else. So when she write an ebook such as, “You Don’t need a Job, You Need Guts,” people bought based on her style.
Once you have your core message you must be consistent with it. Everything you do on- and off-line must align with this message. If you send out conflicting messages to your audience you’ll confuse them. They may not understand who you are, what your message is, or why they started caring in the first place. Not only must your message be consistent your identity must not deviate either. Your color scheme, design elements, avatars, and logo all must be uniform and repeated everywhere they can be. If you have a blog then this means your facebook fan page, twitter profile, avatars, theme, business cards, and any other elements that align with your identity. When these elements are repeated and are consistent your audience will be able to recognize you in a sea of visual clutter. When you’re designing remember that it’s easier to remember something simple, than it is complex. Less is more.
If you send out conflicting messages to your audience you’ll confuse them. They may not understand who you are, what your message is, or why they started caring in the first place.
It’s okay to try different things with your avatar or change it over time. I’ve used the cartoon me since I started my blog in September. However, I wanted to connect with my audience on a more personal level so I changed my toon to a photograph on twitter. After a trial period on twitter, I’ll change it back or change it across the board. The cartoon me stands out amongst the crowd. My audience knows it’s me when they see it. A photograph connects more with my readership and they know they’re talking to a real person, but it gets lost with all the other photo avatars. Which do you prefer? Let me know in the comments.
Good vs Great Design
If you are not a designer, it’s hard to have an eye for great design. You may know it when you see it, but you don’t know how to get there yourself. Don’t fret though. I’m going to give you some resources to start. I understand that not everyone has extra cash to hire a designer to design a custom header or theme. However, if you are interested in paying a designer for these things, I am for hire.
If you are starting a blog it can be easy to jump into a free theme. Hey, it’s free. I know. However, many times you’ll see several blogs using the same free theme… that doesn’t really help you stand out. If you have some technical skills you can modify a free theme or use a theme builder like Thesis.
When you are modifying your theme you need to keep your brand in mind. What type of image do you want to convey? For Where is Jenny? I wanted to convey a bit of my personality. I’m fun, easy-going, and light-hearted… you can understand this by my color choices and other design elements. Without even reading one word on my site you already know several things about me: I’m a skateboarder, I like to travel, and I’m adventurous. Go ahead, scroll to the top and look at the design. See for yourself. Now, I know you’re not a professional designer so how can you use this knowledge to replicate it on your blog or website?
Pick a Color Scheme
Colors have many different meanings. For example, red is connected with excitement and high-energy. Now if you were starting a blog on zen and meditation… you definitely would not want to have red be in your color scheme. You’d want something more calming like blue or green. Think about your favorite brands. What do they represent as a company? What color schemes do they use? This should help you think about the image you want to project and what colors will help define that meaning for you. It doesn’t matter what your favorite color is, use a color that matches the message you want to convey.
Below I’ve listed the basic color meanings for each color. Keep in mind that this is a general guide and that meanings and moods can change based on the shade of color used. You can see pink as an example of this.
White: Clean. Pure. Clarity. Simplicity. Innocent. Silent. Airy.
Black: Mystery. Powerful. Dramatic. Elegant. Expensive. Strength.
Red: Excitement. Energy. Danger. Sexy. Aggressive. Hot. Stimulating.
Pink: Romantic. Soft. Tender. Cute. Delicate (Light Pinks) Exciting. Happy. Youthful. Spirited. Trendy. (Bright Pinks)
Orange: Playful. Happy. Gregarious. Childlike. Vibrant. Whimsical. Friendly.
Yellow: Warmth. Enlightenment. Cheerful. Mellow. Alert. Rich. Comforting.
Brown: Stability. Earthly. Wholesome. Organic. Masculine. Woodsy. Warm. Durable.
Blue: Trustworthy. Reliable. Committed. Confident. Calming. Serene.
Green: Nature. Healing. Refreshing. Prestige. Healthy. Quiet. Traditional.
Purple: Creative. Spiritual. Sensual. Sophistication. Royalty.
Neutrals: Timeless. Solid. Enduring. Quality.
Now that you’ve decided on the type of color you want to use, let’s find a color scheme. Go to Kuler or ColourLovers to search for and browse color schemes. This a great resource for finding colors that go togeather without knowing how color works. Once you find one you like get the color codes. You’ll want to figure out what color should be dominate and which colors should be highlights. If you have any bold colors, you’ll want to use that one sparingly to attract attention (ie: your logo or tagline). If you use it all over the place you’ll overwhelm your reader. Use more neutral or muted colors for big blocks of color (like your background). To add more differentiation and personality to your blog you can add a faint pattern or texture to your background like I did for Where is Jenny?, I’m a Dog, You’re a Cat, or LocationLess.
- A Guide to Choosing Colors for Your Brand
- Color Psychology in Logo Design
- Color Meanings
- Color: Meaning, Symbolism and Psychology
- Kuler by Adobe – Color scheme resource
- ColourLovers – Color scheme resource
Find a Good Font
Fonts are like colors. They have meanings too (and maybe feelings). It can help make your blog or business look modern, timeless, elegant, or vintage. Most blogs use default fonts so go the extra mile to find a font that fits within your brand. It’ll help you differentiate from the pack even more. You’ll want to use a default font for your main text so that your entries are easy to read. However, you can play around with fonts for headlines, logos, taglines, and pull quotes. Most of the fonts designers use are expensive, so unless you have them on your system look for free fonts. There are thousands of free fonts available to your disposal. Use them. I’ve listed some great resources for finding and picking fonts below. If there is enough interest I can describe the various types of fonts and how to choose one in a future article.
- Get the Look – These branding style guides will jump start you in picking the right color scheme and fonts for Chic Simplicity, UltraHip, Corporate, American Southwest, and Vintage Styles
- Type Navigator - This tool allows you to search fonts based on visuals. (Great resource to help you find a font)
- Type Chart – This tool lets you flip through, preview, and compare web typography. Also provides CSS code.
- CSS Type Set – This tool will help you define how you want your type to look and give you the CSS code.
- TTFTitles WordPress Plugin – This plugin allows you to use images in place of your titles (so your readers see the correct font) – Note: There are other ways to do this without making your titles images
- DaFont – Great Free Font Resource
- Designers Favorite Fonts (Great resource that gives meanings for typefaces)
- Typography for Headlines (Great inspiration resource)
- Pull Quotes Design Showcase
It’s All in the Details
Now you know what a brand, identity, and logo are. You’ve also written a core message and defined your audience. By paying attention to the small details of color meanings, font meanings, and adding a texture or pattern to your background you’ve got yourself a kick-ass design. Remember though, moderation. Less is more. If you have too many design elements, it’ll look tacky… like a geocities site from the 1990s, and you don’t want that. Trust.
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Have any questions about design or branding? Ask away in the comments below.