How to Confidently Style Your Brand

Today I’m going to share my most sacred and creative ritual with you.

More than design, playing with color swatches, or even toasting champagne on a launch day, the time I look forward to the most is the first day of a new project when I’m gathering inspiration. I’ll clear my desk, pour a cup of coffee (or a glass of wine), open a stack of magazines or my Pinterest page, and start looking for that spark.

It’s the closest I’ll ever come to feeling like Anna Wintour, and it doesn’t take a designer to enjoy being in the Creative Director’s chair. I want to show you my process of finding inspiration so that you can style your own brand without ever having to take an art or design class.

Side-note: As a reminder, this quarter I’m walking you step-by-step through a studio brand refresh so you can get a behind-the-scenes look at what it means to go through the branding process! My hope is that it takes the guess work out of the branding experience and helps you decide whether or not you can do it yourself.

Step One – Location

You may wonder where to even start looking for inspiration.

Don’t panic. Inspiration is everywhere, but there are a few really common places to begin looking for examples of what you might like for your own brand.

  • Pinterest: this is my favorite spot to go look for ideas when thinking about a new project. I like that I can search for almost anything and that it has an algorithm to give me even more ideas based on the images I click on. It’s like a visual google and a great database of images.

  • Instagram: start to pay attention to what catches your eye as you’re scrolling on instagram. Maybe there are some brands you really like and you can ‘save’ some of their posts to reference as inspiration. think about the kind of photography or colors you might want on your own feed

  • Newsstands: do you like reading magazines? are there certain book covers that catch you eye and make you want to read more?

“I do a little bit of all of this, but I tend to use Pinterest and Tumblr the most because I can easily store images digitally, and I don’t have the distractions of the social part of social media.

This is one of my most sacred rituals as a designer. I’ll pour a cup of coffee, get in a quiet space (usually the kitchen table in the early hours of the morning), put my phone on Do Not Disturb, and spend some time just scrolling through my Tumblr and Pinterest feeds, marking the things that catch my eye. Sometimes I’ll journal about how certain images make me feel, or ideas that pop into my brain. It can be such a fun process to let your mind dream and wander for awhile.”

Step Two – Scout

You’re not just looking for every pretty picture that catches your eye, you want to know what you’re looking for, like a talent scout for a casting call.

For a branding project, you’re mainly looking for visual examples of the following things:

  • Colors

  • Photography: both style and scenes

  • Typography or fonts

  • Cool layouts: brochures, posters, website designs, etc.

  • Illustrations or patterns

“I uncovered a lot of themes about my story in blog post no. 76 so I know that I’m looking for visuals that reinforce the idea of storytelling, editorial, newspapers, etc. I’m looking for images that feel warm and intimate, but also a bit aspirational and inspiring. I want to think about the visual of a fresh journal and cup of coffee, open spaces, small gatherings.”

Step Three – Organize

As you begin finding visual contenders, you’ll want to gather them into one place so you can edit later. Where is the best place to organize your content?

I tend to like creating one folder, Pinterest board, or saved Instagram collection per project. So for your brand, I’d create one place to gather all of the images and ideas. This is going to be really helpful in sorting through all of the images you’ve gathered so you can start making decisions and finding patterns in what you like.

“For this project, I created a new board on my Pinterest account to start pulling together ideas. You’ll see how much it aligns to the style of my Tumblr, but it feels just a little more relevant to a branding project with colors and fonts that I’m thinking of.

I want my girl to find my brand and take a deep breath. Maybe pull out a journal and start writing down ideas. Excitedly tell her friends. Feel cared for, valuable, included. I want my brand operate like a home with a fresh pot of coffee and a warm meal. Lots of light and open spaces. Time for deep conversations and storytelling. A safe space.”

Step Four – Edit

You may find as you look through your folder or board that things don’t seem look together.

Don’t panic if it feels scattered. That’s what editing is for! As you look at all of your images, start to delete those that don’t feel as relevant, or make notes about the particulars of what you like. This will help you narrow down your ideas and direction so you don’t have decision paralysis when you actually start building your own brand style.

“I’ve gotten pretty use to this exercise at this point, so I don’t usually run into irrelevant inspiration, but it can and does still happen on occasion! I’ve gotten really comfortable letting go of ideas that aren’t the perfect fit, knowing I can come back to it for something else and that my project will be more powerful the more I can refine my ideas. One thing I sometimes do to further refine is a This, Not That list. For instance, feminine, but not girly; neutral, but not cold; coastal, but not tropical; natural, but not earthy; editorial, but not glossy.”

Step Five – Display

I love having a project moodboard to get me excited before I begin. I think it’s a great way to share what you’re doing with your audience, and can also be printed and framed for your desk to refer to as you start creating things for your business.

You can easily create a moodboard for your own brand project using my digital template here (link to creative market product.) It’s compatible with Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and Canva with instructions for how to upload your images for each program.

“Here’s a look at the moodboard I’ll be using for this brand refresh. You can see how my inspiration evolved into a super refined ‘summary’ of ideas, but more importantly how that inspiration became a concept. From looking at my ideas, I saw that I wanted to put more depth and contrast into my brand style, and lean more heavily into the newspaper, postal, publishing realm. I’ll most likely print it out and put it in a frame on my desk in my studio so I stay aligned throughout the rest of the process.”

I would love to see your own brand moodboards! If you share your inspiration online, be sure to mention me @dropcapdesign and I’ll leave a comment and say hello!

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