As the saying goes, the plumber’s tap always drips. Don’t let your personal brand slip: as Laura Snoad discovers, a little self-love can go a long way to make you more attractive to potential clients and collaborators
It’s easy to let your personal branding slip. But it needn’t be: experts from across the industry discuss the best ways to give yourself a little self-loving
B rowsing the websites of design studios and freelance creatives, you can easily have a successful game of bingo. ‘About’ pages brim with words like ‘meaningful’, ‘impact’, ‘stories’ and ‘difference’, and you’ll be striking white-walled offices, brainstorm scribbles, bikes and plants from your scorecard like nobody’s business. It shows that even creatives who craft the most thought-provoking, disruptive and provocative work for their clients can be a bit – we hate to say it – unadventurous when it comes to presenting themselves to the world. But whether you’ve just started out or currently run a decades-old studio with a zillion employees, it’s never too late for a bit of self-love. Not only will it make sure your work is getting the presentation – and explanation – it needs, but rethinking your own brand can be a trajectory-changing experience that helps you recalibrate and prepare for the future. DEFINE THE VISION Whether you’re creating a new company or having a spring clean, the temptation might be to go straight to the visuals – images are what designers do best, after all. But Ansel Neckles, co-founder of platform Let’s Be Brief who works with brands and creative entrepreneurs to refine their positioning, suggests taking several large steps back. “Try to establish what you’re trying to achieve in a broader holistic sense – a vision for your work,” says Neckles. “From working out what you want to achieve you’ll find a natural alignment with the folks that are working in those spaces and the clients that fit with that vision.”
This sense of vision, says Chris Rehberger, founder of Berlin studio Double Standards – whose bold typographic-led rebrands have been sought by everyone from orchestras to Lacoste – should hinge on your motivations for getting up and going to work. “Dig down deep, ask yourself why you’re doing it,” says Rehberger, “If you want to do it for stardom that’s OK, but communicate that.” If that feels too complex, reframe the question to ask where you’d like to be in five years. “It’s combining these two poles, where you’re coming from and where you want to go,” Rehberger adds, “Somewhere in between you find yourself.”
As well as working out what you want to do and why you do it, working out who you want to do
“DIG DOWN DEEP, AND ASK YOURSELF WHY YOU ARE DOING IT. IF IT’S FOR STARDOM THAT’S OK, BUT COMMUNICATE THAT” CHRIS REHBERGER, FOUNDER, DOUBLE STANDARDS
DESIGNER WADE JEFFREE’S INDIVIDUAL BRAND PUTS HIM FRONT AND CENTRE
The website of New York-based designer and art director Wade Jeffree takes the idea of a “personal” site to the next level. Built in collaboration with designers Sons & Co, plus developers Thirty and Max Weisel, Jeffree’s site harnesses data such as his heart rate (measured by his smartwatch), his number of unread emails, his location and the song he’s listening to, and presents it typographically, both on the ‘About’ section and as the cursor on the landing page. “I wanted to be open and upfront about myself and how it plays into the work I create,” he says. “I’m a firm believer that work and life are intertwined.”
When Wade updates his mood or activity – from descriptions such as ‘Stressed to ballin’’ – the home page switches to footage of his face distorted by a dentist’s cheek retractor, or getting thwacked by a deflated basketball. “It needed to be approachable, to have a face, literally. It’s an attempt to put myself out there so people could put a face to the name and be inclined to start a conversation.” Jeffree’s equally strong Instagram account demonstrates how he and his wife, fellow designer Leta Sobierajski, often play with visual ideas by using themselves as props.
His site succinctly expresses his slick art direction, dry sense of humour and passion for collaboration. “At the end of the day I just want to make great things with great people,” his ‘About’ page aptly reads.
GABRIELLA MARCELLA MOVED HER RISO BUSINESS UP A GEAR WITH A NEW UX
“The Risograph is not a straightforward machine, and therefore delivering a service around it can be tricky to navigate,” says Glasgow-based designer Gabriella Marcella, who set up her print studio Risotto five years ago. Launched in June, her new website aims to demystify Riso’s quirks for customers while presenting her own line of products and custom print services. It’s both an excellent – and massive – exercise in selfpromotion, and an incredibly useful tool for clients.
Built with motion-graphics whizz Brendan Bennett, the site features a print simulator – enabling users to envision how their designs will turn out – paper and ink libraries, tutorials and an inspiration wall inspired by Gabriella’s own studio. The design itself reflects Gabriella’s vibrant and optimistic aesthetic, and neat touches such as a subtle grain pattern and mis-registration of colours speak to the tactility of print.
Given her loud style, Gabriella decided to stick to a strict palette of six main and two supporting colours, and designed numerous icons to improve navigation. “There is a lot to communicate, so making sure content is accessible and digestible is important,” she says. The site took 12 months to come to life and is the biggest self-directed project Gabriella has undertaken to date. Her contagious playfulness is visible at every click and a thoughtful UX means the site is easy to use despite its complexity – the perfect representation of a business that helps others unlock their creativity.
“TALK ABOUT THE ALIGNMENT OF YOUR BRANDS RATHER THAN ‘I MAKE NICE POSTERS’ OR ‘I’M GOOD AT TYPOGRAPHY’” ANSEL NECKLES, LET’S BE BRIEF
it for may also help bring focus to your brand. “Knowing you want to work for Nike is good, but everyone will say that,” says Neckles, using an example that often comes up when he’s coaching. “Knowing
why you want to work for Nike is better.” The strength of Nike’s brand, Neckles explains, is in inspiring motivation in their customer base. “If I’m working as an art director at an agency – which I did for many years – I want to find someone’s work that supplements the concepts I’ve developed,” says Neckles. “If you’re not about betterment through activity and proactivity, or people don’t take that feeling away from your work, there’s no way Nike will want to align with you.”
Unpicking what potential clients are like, to see whether they match your own approach, is key to pitching for work. “You can then talk about the alignment of your brands rather than ‘I make nice posters or I’m really good at typography’, which may also be true,” adds Neckles. PROMOTING YOUR PERSONALITY Whether you’re developing identity systems for FTSE giants or you specialise in the most niche comic styles, reflecting your work in your personal brand – and its most obvious representation, your website – is essential.
For example, illustrator Hattie Stewart, who specialises in cheeky flower-filled defacements of celebrities, allows her website visitors to remix her illustrations as a digital sliding puzzle in a similar style to her own re-workings. Manchester-based designer Craig Oldham’s site features a playful soundboard – reflective of Oldham’s humour, but also of his status as a disruptor who is willing to do things differently.
When US design studio Dark Igloo first started working on its own logo, it decided on a mash-up of the state flags of its two founders Dave Franzese and Mark Richard Miller (whose first names combined also produced the ‘Dark’). Although the state insignia says little about Dark Igloo’s current work – which includes motion-heavy branding for Giphy and Miami-inspired art direction for Converse – its treatment of this logo and mascot does. A grizzly bear with 10 stars circling its head, the logo soon morphed into a cartoon character which the studio uses on its site, its lighters-cumbusiness cards and as its social media avatars.
“It has a dazed personality, joyous and following the bliss,” says Miller. Whether he’s scrolling through an iPad on Dark Igloo’s blog page or laden with swag in the shop, the bear is an anchor across the hectic site. It’s fun, nostalgic and showcases the animation skills that Dark Igloo has in buckets.
Coupled with a surreal landing page and a contacts section that you can play as a racer game, self-initiated projects such as Dark Igloo’s ad for an ’80s megamix board game that never existed (complete with wizard and dry ice) show prospective clients exactly the feel and ambitious scope of the work Dark Igloo could do for them.
For New York designer Wade Jeffree, the idea of performance is a key facet of his personal visual identity, often appearing in his own work as a way of playing out
“YOU NEED TO BE HONEST ABOUT WHAT YOU ENJOY MAKING – SO THE THINGS YOU ENJOY MAKING CAN GET BETTER” WADE JEFFREE, DESIGNER
design ideas or aesthetics. “It’s a combination of time, discipline and being critical that has led me to where I am now,” says Jeffree of his distinctively surreal and funny vision. Just as with Dark Igloo, it’s clear from the consistency of his social feeds that Jeffree lives and breathes his personal brand, expressing himself through colour, awkward angles and weird props – something essential for its longevity. “You also need to be honest with yourself about what you enjoy making – so those things can get better.”
Whether you’re part of a studio or a solo practitioner, collaborating with a copywriter, fellow designer or developer is a sure-fire way to get some much needed perspective on your personal brand. When Gabriella Marcella redeveloped the website for her print studio Risotto earlier this year (see page 62), the advice and skills of developer and motion graphics expert Brendan Bennett was invaluable. “It’s simultaneously easy and hard being your own client,” admits Marcella. “Working with Brendan has been essential to ensuring decisions are challenged and thought-through. It was one big puzzle that was exciting to solve.” A WAY WITH WORDS Although visual branding comes easily to most designers, expressing personality verbally might not be so straightforward. When working with designers and other businesses to help them talk about what they do, copywriter Roshni Goyate starts with a spot of homework: asking participants to bring in an example of brand language from outside their industry that’s stood out to them. “We go through what is happening in those pieces, what kind of language is being used, and analyse what the brand could have said and why they said what they did,”
CLEVER LANGUAGE HELPS MINIMALIST STUDIO DOUBLE STANDARDS BREAK THE MOULD
Founder Chris Rehberger (right) describes what Berlin studio Double Standards does as “embarrassingly simple”. With numerous prestigious cultural institutions as clients, its work often hinges on bold, typographic solutions with thoughtprovoking slogans.
“If you’re only decorating then we’re not the right agency to work with,” explains Rehberger. “There’s always some solid idea behind our designs. In that way it never grows old because ideas don’t age.” Given the wit of its work, its About page needed to match. Consisting of a prose poem featuring phrases like ‘YES TO NO COMPROMISE.’ and ‘YES TO “NO WAY! DID YOU SEE THAT?”’ the idea embodies how the studio thinks.
“This idea of flipping is the same as how we look at a project or client from different angles,” adds Rehberger. “We try to turn them around to make them more worthwhile.” The singlemindedness of Double Standard’s work is also echoed by how it presents its projects online; everything is photographed with precise angles, harsh flash and distinctive shadows. “It took almost a year to come up with something that is dynamic but also neutral,” he says.
Given the quantity of its projects, the studio recently hit a point where it needed to further streamline. Thus the new site features eight pieces of work that showcase Double Standards’ multifaceted approach. Rehberger explains, “We can do anything from a business card to building a house.”
DELIGHT IN ALL THINGS ’80S COMMUNICATES DARK IGLOO’S UNCONVENTIONAL APPROACH
When designers Mark Richard Miller and Dave Franzese left their jobs at big agencies to become Dark Igloo, they didn’t have a portfolio website for three years. Although they had some meaty projects under their belts, the work felt big and anonymous – and not ‘them’. Building a personal brand, therefore, was even more important.
Their first site depicted a broken TV broadcasting clips from shows like Wayne’s World, plus video games. Through careful curation – although Mark and Dave might balk at that word – it gave clients a clear picture of what they were about. “There’s a lot of nostalgia, geekiness, toys and re-exploring the things that we grew up with,” says Franzese. “We’d be way more interested in rebranding the Kool-Aid man and getting him jumping through walls again than we would doing some supertasteful high-design project.”
The TV still greets visitors, but the majority of the footage is now their own, with the odd splash of pop culture. “If you look at the stats for our webpage someone might stay on an individual project for a few minutes, but people will watch this homepage for 45 minutes!” laughs Miller. From its Contacts page (which takes the form of a racing game where you chase an email through the internet to delivery) to its sought-after characterbased lighters in lieu of business cards, Dark Igloo’s brand and website are like your favourite childhood computer game, aesthetically distinctive and joyful.
“IT’S ABOUT BEING PROVOCATIVE OR BEING BRAVE AND FINDING THAT HOOK THAT SETS YOU APART FROM OTHERS” ROSHNI GOYATE, COPYWRITER
says Goyate. Untangling other brands’ verbal communications allows you to see some of the choices at work, and make your own. The next step is a series of writing exercises that ask designers to describe what they do in their job to their grandma or to an eight-year-old child. “It’s about getting them to step away from using jargon and established ways of communicating what they do, and show their personality instead,” she adds.
The first impression, Goyate says, counts as much as the ‘About’ page. “Imagine that the person reading your site has no time at all – which is all of us – but you want them to understand what you do from the first line that they read. With design studios, it’s about being provocative or being brave and finding that hook that sets you apart from others.”
Goyate also recommends weaving information around a website through interesting labelling, so readers aren’t overwhelmed with lots of information all at once. The most important thing is consistency – on your site, in publications and especially on social media. “It’s just as important as your visual language,” says Goyate. “You wouldn’t use different logos on different pieces of collateral or different colours. In the same way, your brand language should be one watertight personality that you’re communicating.”
Whereas Double Standard’s brand language is clipped and conceptually driven, Dark Igloo’s is equally as playful as its visual identity. “I think we want there to be a level of entertainment in it, even in the writing.” For example, instead of telling readers to click the link to see more about Giphy, they opt for “Ditch water polo practice and fill a powerade bottle with vodka with Giphy to see the rest.” The pair also devised the tagline ‘Dark Igloo is a company that specialises’.
“We never say what we specialise in,” explains Franzese. “We could be puppeteers one month, animators the next, and branding experts the month after that. Come to us with the brains and we’ll figure out the execution with you.” PRESENTING WORK A year ago, its 15th anniversary in sight, London-based design practice Studio Output worked with a consultant (and former client) to identify how it could reshape its internal positioning. The result was a dramatic new strategy that recalibrated all its projects through the lens of problem-solving. Its new identity for Union Hand-Roasted Coffee is headlined as ‘Supporting scale-up of a fast-growing business’ for example, and its branding of
“I TOOK THINGS OFFLINE FOR A BIT TO SEE WHAT HAPPENED... THE MYSTIQUE OF IT ALL WENT DOWN REALLY WELL” CRAIG JACKSON, FREELANCE DESIGNER
Viber ‘Driving user acquisition and retention in a congested market’. “The biggest issue for clients is they’re going to have a big problem you need them to solve,” says Studio Output’s client services director Gemma Ballinger. “If you can show that quite succinctly through other work, then it’s going to resonate with them.”
The repositioning also involved updating the questions that the Studio Output team ask clients in order to ensure the team has solid KPIs to work towards, and by which they can assess their effectiveness at the end of a project. This set of questions was distilled to a skeleton version, which was then used as a script for their website landing page’s showreel. Many studios – from ustwo to Made Thought to ILoveDust – greet visitors to their sites with a film featuring their best projects. Whereas ILoveDust’s is moody and atmospheric, ustwo prioritises its R&D model. “If clients are really short on time, it might be all they need to see,” adds Ballinger.
Whether to show sketches, research or opinion pieces is another key factor when defining your brand. Dark Igloo is keen to show the development of its projects, an approach shared by motion specialists ManvsMachine and Universal Everything. “Usually the bottom half of the project on our site is behind-the-scenes imagery,” says Miller. “That’s not just to show you that this can be done on a small scale, but it also represents that we pride ourselves on having fun sets and making things that don’t feel like work.”
But don’t panic if presenting work is not an option. Dark Igloo didn’t show any projects for its first three years and freelance designer Craig Jackson, whose clients include Google, BBC, Apple and HSBC, still doesn’t. “It was getting really hard to actually show the work due to NDAs so I thought it was time to take things offline for a bit to see what happens,” says Jackson. Luckily it was a risk worth taking, with the added bonus that it allows Jackson to handpick work for every project. “The general mystique of it all also seems to go down really well.” BRAND IN THE HAND Just as Dark Igloo’s ’80s TVinspired landing page presents the studio as inventive and fun-loving, its brand is similarly thoughtful
“WE COULD BE PUPPETEERS ONE MONTH, ANIMATORS THE NEXT, AND BRANDING EXPERTS THE MONTH AFTER THAT” DAVE FRANZESE, CO-FOUNDER, DARK IGLOO
when entering the physical realm. Instead of business cards, the duo make lighters to give to potential clients and collaborators. “People would always take ours,” shrugs Miller. “When we added the characters people started going crazy. You would bump into someone that you hadn’t seen in 10 months, and maybe they didn’t remember you exactly, but they definitely still had that lighter. It was an incredible touch-point.”
When it first started out, Dark Igloo gave any client taking on a major project with them badges based on a patch that the crew of the Nostromo wore in the film Alien. “It was to show we were going on a journey together,” says Franzese. Similarly the studio wooed potential clients by sending them lighters inside boxes that were inspired by old Sega packaging and featuring its Contacts page game. “Put ultimate care and craft into something you’d want yourself and share it with someone as a gift,” Franzese adds.
The same is certainly true of Double Standards’ foray into branded products. Its calendar – which is sold through its online shop, as well as distributed to collaborators – began as something sleek and functional for the studio, and was soon requested by a visiting client. Now, making them is an annual tradition. “Every November I get the first email asking when the new calendar is out,” laughs Double Standards’ Chris Rehberger.
Similarly, the necessity to create other functional products for projects, and the subsequent interest on Facebook, inspired the studio to design a lamp and table, both now stocked in one of Berlin’s coolest concept stores, Andreas Murkudis. Double Standards even opened a physical shop in October.
Even though it operates in a very different landscape, Studio Output also suggests creating something useful when sending mailers. To celebrate its 15th anniversary, the studio gave prospective clients a brainstorming pack complete with branded notebooks, Sharpies, Post-it Notes and a set of thoughtstarter postcards. These featured Studio Output projects on one side and related advice on how to do things such as write briefs on the other. “We do find that things we send physically – because people don’t get them much any more – do have a good impact,” says Ballinger. “You’ve just got to make sure you follow it up properly.”
Above: Jeffree developed campaign imagery for perfume house D.S. & Durga, which was inspired by the mood and story of each fragrance. Bottom left and top: Jeffree’s homepage features live status updates with matching visual representations of his...
Wade Jeffree’s book A Found Holiday is a compilation of slides he found which feature a Japanese family visiting the west coast of the US.
Below: Risotto’s new site presents its full range of print services, from self-published books to custom business cards and stationery.
Top: Hattie Stewart’s site features a sliding puzzle for visitors. Above: Craig Oldham’s site opts for a playful soundboard.
Top left: Double Standard’s ‘About’ page features a punchy series of statements that give clients an impression of its approach. Above: Its website features pictures of the Berlin studio and adjacent art space, which Double Standards has just...
Right: Knowing their lighters were always being pinched, the Dark Igloo team turned them into business cards. Below: Dark Igloo’s famous bear mascot is a mash-up of the state flags of its two founders Mark Richard Miller and Dave Franzese.
Left and below: The lighters became so sought-after that Dark Igloo created a spoof photo shoot featuring models and sports cars. Below: Dark Igloo’s playable Contacts page game.