For my first-ever blog post (can I get a woop woop?!), I wanted to tackle what I believe to be a crucial step in determining my future success as a self-employed designer + letterer: defining my brand’s aesthetic. Starting a business, even one that lives online, takes courage, determination, and time. Building a brand, however, is much more than that. I’ve been thinking a lot about the distinction between the two lately, and I think it’s because it took me a while to find my brand’s voice.
I worked in advertising for years before launching my lettering business, and brand-building was one of the things we did best. Why, then, did I find it so challenging to do it for myself? Well, for starters, I fell victim to some of the things I always warned clients against:
- Don’t try to be everything to everyone. I cannot stress the importance of clearly defining your target audience enough. When I first started out lettering professionally, I experimented with different styles of “fonts” thinking that if someone didn’t like my particular style, I could change my aesthetic to match their needs. That quickly threw me down a rabbit hole where I wasn’t pleased with the products I was putting out, no matter how much my clients liked them. I then began to question my next steps and felt like I was losing my voice. Your style may not appeal to everyone and that’s OK! It’s better to be true to yourself rather than trying to force someone else’s style into your work.
- Define a color palette. This was probably the most challenging thing for me to do. Even with things like my wardrobe, I’ve never been able to define my personal color palette and creating one for my business was just as challenging. My best advice for this is start with colors that you’re naturally drawn to. Maybe it’s the color of your kitchen cabinets or the walls in your home. Maybe it’s the piece of clothing in your closet that you’re constantly drawn to. From there, look to complementary colors (opposite on the color wheel) or split-complementary colors (two colors adjacent to a color’s complement) to fill things out. Still stuck? There are a handful of online color palette generators you can try – I love this one from Design Seeds because you can choose one base color and see tons of options of harmonious color palettes from there. Seriously, I could spend hours on this site.
- Be thoughtful and consistent. Now, you’ve got your colors…what do you do with them? Does defining a color palette mean those are the only colors you can use on your website and social media, ever? Of course not. However, every Instagram post, every partnership or collaboration, and every client you take on is a reflection of your brand. This may mean saying “no” sometimes to things that feel “off-brand” for you. If you own a clothing store that typically deals in muted tones, you probably aren’t going to suddenly start stocking neon blouses, even if they’re on major sale.
While this list is by no means exhaustive, I’ve found these three things to be the most helpful when I need a quick gut-check for myself. Take a look at other people and brands that are doing what you are. You’ll notice that many of the most successful brands have a very cohesive aesthetic. Think about a brand that you love and check out their website and social media handles – even with some slight variations, these brands don’t stray much from a core look. It can take some time to really start to understand your look, but stay true to what feels natural and you’ll be just fine.
Photography: Shutter + Awe / Florals: Blumgarten