Vulnerability and the fear of putting ourselves 'out there'

Vulnerability and the fear of putting ourselves 'out there'

I was talking to a client this morning about her website, which we are in the process of creating, and she mentioned that she's finding it hard to write the copy about herself and her services to go into the pages. It's something I hear a lot, when someone is putting themselves out there in some way. Whether it's writing about ourselves, getting photographs taken or posting on social media - we feel that what we create needs to be 'perfect' before it gets released into the world.

Branding: where do I start?

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When you have a new business, branding can seem like an overwhelming and scary task. You might be unsure of where to begin, what you need, and where to go to find it. The question of how your branding should look and feel, to communicate what you're about, is a big one.

In my experience, that's the question that can make branding your business feel intimidating. Many people delay and procrastinate, sometimes unconsciously, doing other 'urgent' startup tasks instead because the fear of this unknown process, and of getting your branding 'wrong', is kind of bubbling away back there, paralysing decisions.

So let me demystify some of what branding is about, and offer some fundamentals to hopefully make you feel more confident about where to start.

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Branding isn't mysterious

Ok, so I do believe there's a little magic involved in the branding process. There's definitely magic in the relationship with the client, and the moment when a logo design goes 'ping! perfect' for example. But there are steps to the process, and knowledge you can arm yourself with so that you can feel more confident about getting your brand stand-out and spot-on.

 

The ingredients of a brand identity

A full brand identity consists of:

- a logo

- colour palette

- typography / fonts

- photography style

- patterns or textures 

- brand icon

- illustrations / icons.

Of course, there are also things like tone of voice, writing style and customer service approach that also go into your brand, but we're primarily dealing with visual elements here.

If you're just starting out, and your budget is tight, you can start with a logo, colours and fonts first, and build the other brand elements around it later on.

 

Logo

The logo is central to your brand, it's the cornerstone if you like, but it's not the whole brand (see Your Logo is Not Your Brand, here). A logo should be clean, clear, simple and beautiful. Don't be tempted to cram in multiple messages or styles, or it'll look messy and lose impact. Keep it simple, and use the other elements of your brand identity to build around it. Patterns and textures add depth, colours create emotion, and so on.

Image courtesy of Rowanmade from Pinterest

Image courtesy of Rowanmade from Pinterest

The example above illustrates what I mean. The logo (at the top) and brand icon (bottom) are clean and simple, but the brand is broadened by the colours and photography, which tell more of the story.

Keeping it simple also ensures your logo will have longevity. You want your logo to stay relevant and impactful for years to come. Other brand elements can be refreshed every few years if need be, but a logo needs to become established. Don't use trendy calligraphy fonts or the latest hipster styles, because they'll date.

 

Colours

A colour palette gives you a consistent look everywhere your brand appears. Colour communicates emotions, so it's important to consider what you want people to feel about your business, and it isn't just about what colours you personally like.

You might paint your bedroom walls in Farrow & Ball Pitch Blue, but that won't necessarily be right for your business brand. 

This is where the discovery phase is really important - by identifying what makes up your business' story, all the elements of its uniqueness, you can start to work out what colours will speak for it best. You'll more than likely need a designer's eye to put a palette together, ensuring the tones all work and complement each other, but you can do some fun experimenting yourself, for sure. Grab some paint chips from the local DIY centre and play around creating a palette, or browse Pinterest for some inspiration. 

The colour palette I designed for Aligned Design Co. gave me Mad Men vibes.

The colour palette I designed for Aligned Design Co. gave me Mad Men vibes.

 

Typography

Choosing one or two font styles as your 'brand fonts' is really important. As with colours, the fonts will become a recognised part of your visual identity. I always come to this step after the logo design is finalised, because the fonts need to sit well alongside it. There are no hard and fast rules about selecting fonts, except that a font you've used in your logo shouldn't appear anywhere else (otherwise the logo's strength is diluted). It's a good idea to have a header font, and one for body text. Use two different sizes or weights of the same font, or choose two contrasting fonts for more personality.

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Try to make sure there's a contrast in style or weight between your fonts. For example, use a bold and a light style, or pair a serif with a sans serif. If you have the makings of a typography geek, like me, take a look at myfonts.com for thousands of inspiring font designs.

 

Brand collateral

Once you have your brand elements and a lovely new style guide, you can create the collateral to put your visual identity out to the world. Here are some things you might need:

- social media header and profile images

- instagram post templates

- business cards

- printed postcards / brochures / flyers

- a website

- email template (e.g. Mailchimp)

- stickers

- headed stationery

- signage.

If you're design-inclined, you can have a go at creating some items, such as social media images, yourself using Canva or similar programs. Steer clear of Word as it really doesn't make it easy to create good design. You'll need your logo and brand elements in print and web formats from your designer (high resolution CMYK for print, low resolution RGB for web). 

 

In conclusion

Now you know some fundamentals about branding I hope it doesn't seem as daunting to get started. A good designer will of course be able to help you make the right choices for your brand design and guide you through the process, but I think it helps to have some knowledge yourself and get involved with the creative process.

If you'd like to receive more practical advice on developing your brand, please do subscribe to my newsletter, where I share more tips and inspiration every month. In the meantime, good luck with your brand explorations and feel free to ask me your questions in the comments below.

The life-changing magic of moving towns

I've been a little quiet on the blog lately as I have just moved house from Worcestershire to south west London. The move was in the works for a while and last month my husband and I finally packed up the contents of our little terraced house on the side of the Malvern Hills, squashed it into a van far too small for the purpose, and moved it into a bright ground floor flat near the river in Twickenham.

I'd been wanting to move for a while - after 10 years in the same town my inspiration reserves were running low and I was feeling a bit stifled. Trips to Birmingham and London were giving me occasional injections of city life but my heart would sink when I got back home to my sleepy street again.

So here we are, and I've got the buzz back. Twickenham is a lovely part of London, leafy and pretty with lots of open spaces, but 20 minutes from the centre of the city and all the many, many things there are to explore. I have to admit I felt a bit overwhelmed at first and spent the first week racing around trying to see and do EVERYTHING, then the following week doing nothing at all, to recover.

Now I'm enjoying London's infinite variety at a nice calm pace, and I have a list of what I want to do next:

- go here, which seems to be a posh darts pub with pizza

- see An American in Paris

- spend a day at the Design Museum

- kayak on the River Thames

That's for starters.

Next month's blog will be back to the topic of design and branding!

Choosing a business name

One of the questions I'm often asked by people setting up new businesses is 'how do we choose a name?'.

Naming your business can feel like a challenge because it's a long-term commitment. You can change your website, colours and logo during the life of your business without too much hassle (although I don't recommend doing so too often), but changing its name would be a huge decision. So there's a pressure to get it right from the start.

Key questions to ask

There are actually lots of ways to come up with a name, and none are right or wrong. But there are a few key things to consider when making the decision:

- Is it memorable?
- What emotional responses or images does it conjure up?
- Will it look good in type?
- Is it meaningful to a broad range of people or just to you? It can be tempting to use something personal as your inspiration, but make sure the meaning won't be lost on your audience.
- Is it clear and easy to pronounce? A great name loses effectiveness if people struggle to say it.
- Is the www domain name available? 

choosing a business name

A helpful process

A process that I recommend when trying to find a brilliant business name is to do some relaxed, creative thinking. You can do this alone, or with someone who knows your business idea well, and bounce suggestions around together. Take a piece of paper and write down the first words that come to mind about your company. These could be words around what you do, how you do it, what your client experience feels like or what personality traits you bring to the business. As you get into it, you can start to free-associate and write more words that come to mind. When you have 20-30 words or phrases, sit back and see which ones jump out at you. Would a word or phrase make a good name by itself, or in combination with another? 

It's actually a really great exercise to do at the start of the brand journey anyway, as it helps clarify some key words around your business and how it might look and feel.

Why Aligned Design Co.?

I used the above exercise to explore ideas when I was selecting a name for my own business. I spent an afternoon thinking and word-associating and ended up with a good A4 sheet covered in words and scribbles. But nothing was quite hitting the mark, so I decided to take a break and went for a swim at my local pool. As I was about to get into the water I had a thought about why I had started as a freelance designer in the first place - because of my belief that when head, heart and passion are aligned then a business is ready to succeed, and my role within that is to create the brand that lets it shine. And the word 'aligned' is also a design term. I knew instantly I had it - Aligned Design Co.

Test and repeat

Once you have come up with a good name or a few different ideas, test them on other people. You don't have to agree with every piece of feedback you get, but it's great to get a broad picture of how your name lands with potential customers. It's definitely worth putting the time and thought into the best name you can possibly come up with, so it not only works for your business in the immediate future but will also proudly speak for it in years to come.

What's your why?

brand advice

I love this quote from Simon Sinek: 'People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it.' (You can watch his TEDTalk here.) It's a really key point when I'm creating brands for clients.

The why is a powerful part of your story, and people like stories. They want to engage with the reason you're in business, the vision or mission you bring to the world, and if it resonates with them then they'll feel like a part of your tribe.

Innocent is a good example of a business whose why is a fundamental part of the brand. The founders believe in creating drinks using simple, fresh fruit with social and environmental responsibility. This vision is clear on all their packaging and publicity and shines through the visual branding. The brand identity communicates that it's a company for people who care about healthy food, and those people flock to buy the products.

So when Simon Sinek says 'start with why', it's good advice for your business brand. Why are you in business, what is it that you want to bring or change? What's the bright idea or burning ambition behind what you've chosen to do? That's the sweet spot - let that shine through your brand and your tribe will soon follow.

To find out more about how Aligned Design Co. works with businesses to create brand identities, drop me a line at nancy@aligned-design.co