brand word in letterpress type

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.


Location Less has a fun typographic header and a retro color theme.

Visit Location Less

Effective Name

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)

  1. Distinctiveness
  2. Brevity
  3. Appropriateness
  4. Easy Spelling and Pronunciation
  5. Likeability
  6. Extendability
  7. Protectability

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.


The Art of Non-Conformity has great typography in the header. Look at that type, it breaks convention, damn those non-conforming letters... this is a great example of a silent message. ;)

Visit Art of Non-Conformity

Core Message

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?


Stand out from the crowd

Be Different

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?

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you do?
  3. 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.


New York City Abundance

Be Consistent

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.

Be Consistent

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?

Advanced Riskology has a textured wood background to add to it's look/feel

Visit Advanced Riskology

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.


The Art of Audacity has great tyopgraphy in the header, titles, and pull quotes.

Visit The Art of Audacity

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.

If you found this resource valuable, please consider retweeting, stumbling, or sharing it on facebook using the links to the left. – Thanks

Have any questions about design or branding? Ask away in the comments below.

Jenny is rebooting her life. She is leaving everything behind to backpack the world as a digital nomad. She doesn’t know when, where, or if she’s coming home.

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention The Ultimate Non-Designers Guide to Branding --

  • Productive I.T.

    Great article, Jenny! I especially enjoy how you incorporated the resource links at the end of each section.

    • Jenny


  • Nick Laborde

    That locationless design is pretty bad ass, of course I’m a bit bias 😉

    Solid advice, there is definitely a lot of value in getting your branding rock solid.

    • Jenny

      Hahahaha of course.

  • Jakobuz

    Again an amazing good artcle Jenny, must say I’m impressed by the effort you have made by writing this article

    • Jenny

      Thanks it took forever. Stayed up until 5:30 am finishing it. eek:

  • Nicholas Reese

    Jenny, this is awesome! I can’t think of a better guide on the web right now.

  • Christine McCarthy

    I do notice people who have soared above don’t just talk – they do. And they believe in who they are as a person – so they play their own REAL life as an advantage. They don’t have big egos and connect with people on a personal level. And they take risk.

    I look forward to your adventures, Jenny. Your building a great brand yourself. 😉

    • Jenny

      Thanks Christine. Look forward to having you around here. :)

  • Rob LaRue

    I’m keeping this post around for a reference!

  • michaelapotter

    Great overview Jenny! There are many bloggers out there that could definitely utilize this information, especially when they are first starting out. Many don’t realize the power of design, good or bad, and this post is a great introduction.

    I personally love the ColourLovers site and recently used it with a client to help develop her identity color palette.

    And my only peeve with free fonts is that Papyrus is so overused because everyone thinks it’s unique. (Warning: Font rant ahead.) I especially hate it when companies/restaurants/stores/blogs/movies (yes, you Avatar) use it in their logos. My husband and friends are tired of me pointing out that awful font, but I see it at least once a block walking in NYC alone. (Rant over.)

    Thanks for helping to enlighten and educate people on the importance of good design!

    • Jenny

      Thanks for the awesome response Michaela… Another overused free font is Bleeding Cowboys. Seen that one?

  • Kevin Donnigan

    This is the first time I’ve visited your blog, and certainly not the last. I find you inspiring by your travels and digital nomad-ness. Great post by the way. I love how you explained what a brand really is and compared it to how people view people with their attributes, styles, and mannerism, and such.

    Saved & retweeted :-)

    • Jenny

      Thanks Kevin! Glad to have you around here. :)

  • Chris – The Aussie Nomad

    Great post Jenny and one many bloggers both new and old can take a lot from.

  • Safan Momin

    Excellent post Jenny. you bet i have this bookmarked and will be going over it again and again.

  • Breakaway Backpacker

    This is great advice. Thanks for sharing this with everyone. I am actually going to take a lot of this into consideration and up my game a bit.

    PS: I love the picture of all the black umbrellas and then the one yellow one.

    • Jenny

      Would you be surprised to know that it’s not actually a photo? It’s a computer rendering. :)

      • Breakaway Backpacker

        Oh wow it looks like a real photo.

  • Ricardo Bueno

    I think it’s pretty safe to say that I did a horrible job with number 4 – easy to spell. My Twitter handle and who I’m known as is: @Ribeezie. That also used to be my website url. I’ve since changed it because of the difficulty to my actual name: Still, everyone calls me Ribeezie. I hope people make the connection and that changing to my full name for the url didn’t make too much of a difference. Still, I need to work on communicating my message, who I am and all that good jazz a bit better.

    Love the advice Jenny!

    • Jenny

      Ricardo. I’m also unifying my voice… who I am, who I’m writing to, and the core message I want to spread. I have a post coming up that will go into details. It’s a lot to think about.

  • Sheryll

    What a great article! I learned so much. I’ve just started my travel/lifestyle blog, and this definitely helped me get a better idea of how to better brand and market myself! Thanks!

  • Sandra Lee


    This is an amazingly thorough and complete article. I’m bowled over by the sheer amount of information you given while at the same time presenting it in a concise and effective way. The resource are rich and awesome too. I’m so impressed with you simply be reading this one article. Bravo!

  • Tim Brownson

    I get that you’re generalizing to a large extent and I like the post, but I think:

    “In order to be successful, you’ve got to have a great name.”

    Is not even close to being true imho.

    Names that we now think of as being great were thought of as crap to begin with by many people. Virgin, Apple, Kodak and Zappos spring to mind. The first time I heard of Zappos I had no idea how to spell it or what they did. The business made the name great not vice versa.

    My business name sucks in many respects because people are more likely to think with a name like A Daring Adventure I sell white water rafting and bungee jumping trips than Life Coaching, but it also sums up my approach to what I do.

    • Jenny

      I understand your point. However… a lot of successful companies that have crazy names also had a marketing budget behind them. Your examples, Apple & Virgin are easy to remember and spell even if the names are unrelated to the industry that’s okay – it is naming strategy… Kodak and Zappos might be slightly harder because of their uniqueness. They are harder to remember. If you’re able to market the name using a lot of money in advertising, you can usually get the public to accept and remember that name over time (and many marketing messages). Think Xerox. If you’re small… like a travel blog or small business, it’s going to be much harder to be memorable with a name that is super unique… people won’t remember how to spell it, they get confused, they mispronounce it, don’t remember the domain, etc.

      The name I had before Pirata Design for my design company was Razviti. It meant to evolve, pioneer, & develop and it went along my design philosophy which is why I choose it. To me it was super easy, but everyone mispronounced it, they couldn’t’ spell it, they misunderstood me when I spelled it out. Z and V were hard to differentiate for people… it didn’t work and frankly, it was a bit too corporate for me. I wanted something to show my personality more.

      BTW. I don’t think your business name sucks. It’s easy to remember and goes with your philosophy.

      • Clayton Borah

        Apple started out in a garage. They didn’t have the huge budget to begin with. They built their brand on innovation, and story. The money came because they delivered on the promises they were making.

        Part of the naming process should include pronunciation, meaning, and potential language barriers. It’s not an easy process and can’t be done in an afternoon, that’s for sure.

    • azarethroy

      I thought Zappos was a great name when I first heard of it. But then again, I like quirky names :)

    • Clayton Borah

      Agreed. Naming is an important part of branding and can help tell a brand story. But it doesn’t make or break a brands success.

  • Justin Hamlin

    Glad to finally read the final product. Great article, great info for the beginner on how to establish a brand, a name, a voice. One word to sum it all up, consistency. That is the most important thing that I think a lot of people skip over when trying to please everyone. Like you said, they need to please 2 people than 7,000 first. the 7,000 will come, once a consistent voice, name and brand have been established.

  • Alouise

    This is a great article. I’ve been thinking about self hosting my blog, and these are all things I’ll need to think about. I used to think design wasn’t really about deal, but I took a design class in school, and there’s a lot more to it than I could’ve thought. I’ve got serious respect for good website designers now.

    • Jenny

      Thanks. Yes. I don’t think a lot of people realize the psychology behind design. There is a reason for every little thing a designer does. Down to the nitty gritty details.

  • Jonathanfigaro

    Wonderful post. Just wonderful. Pure genius. Our brand is what separates us from the rest. Without a good brand we die…( ahhhhh…monkey face) So the best way is to create a brand and a tag line. For example…( simple cliche’ yet you’ll get the point across) Nike..Just do it…
    Simple easy and the product is what makes the brand so great. Or should i say products and ( sweat shops.)
    Great post Jenny. I’m a bit jealous you have some many sweet pics…( I need to know your secret)

    • Jenny

      My secret? I have an account there. Not only do I sell stock photography there, but I also have a buyers account. I buy a lot of stock photos for clients so I have a bunch of credits.

    • Jonathanfigaro

      info documented and stolen( ha ha).. have a great day jenny.

  • Lachlan Cotter

    I don’t think you need your cartoon avatar to stand out from the crowd, Jenny. Because, quite honestly, your real features are uniquely striking. This is going to sound like flattery, but whenever I see that crop of lustrous red hair and blue eyes, I think “comic book hero”. Jean Grey, anyone? The illustration seems cold by comparison. I prefer the real you.

  • Pingback: End of Week Links: Sat/Jan 8 | Simplified Culture

  • Kristina

    Great great info! way to go!

  • Michael Hodson

    really great article with lots to think about here — and the links provide even more food for thought. Thanks for giving me lots to contemplate.

  • Pingback: Reader Challenge Roundup: Pillar Articles

  • BeersAndBeans

    I must say you have out down yourself with this post. This is an unbelievable resource with a ton of depth that will definitely keep me occupied during the alleged snowstorm that’s suppose to pound the North East tonight.
    p.s. Congrats on the 14 foot drop-in! What park was that at?


    • Jenny

      Glad you liked it.

      The drop-in was at downtown Houston skate park. I think it’s actually 13 feet. Anyways, that was last February? I’m a much better skater now than in that video. Ha. Guess I need to make a new one!

  • Mark

    Great post, Jenny! Chock full of good information. I will recommend to a number of folks I know who could use some ‘self-help.’ And by the way… I love YOUR brand.

  • meladiction

    Branding? How self conscious do we really need to be? This is something I’ve been working to transcend.

  • Federico

    Your blog is barely 4 months old and you already have articles with almost 2000 SU shares- you must be doing things well

  • Pingback: My Goals for 2011 — Radicalify

  • Pingback: How to Give Your Blog a Facelift in 24 Hours Using the Headway Theme | Riding the Waves of Personal Development

  • Pingback: How to Give Your Blog a Facelift in 24 Hours With the Headway Theme | Riding the Waves of Personal Development

  • Pingback: Building a Brand | Written To Be Read

  • Bluegreen Kirk

    Its a lot of information but I think most of what you put does have a place however what you do and how you do does seem to make a bigger impact. Not to discredit anything but colors and naming are great only if the company behind the name matches it. I think these things help to compliment what you, your business or blogs does. If your blog is crappy colors and branding its really going to matter much.

  • Pingback: CogniBeat Community Site | Blog | Inclusive by Design

  • Rajasthan Tours

    Excellent blog and great post I like the post … information ..informative

  • internet marketing belgium

    hay jenny really a awesome knowledge about all the brands its so great 

  • Pingback: Oh Yeah, Color!

  • Pingback: Good Design: Pleasing to the Eyes “and” Functional – Library Hat