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

Computer Arts - - Contents - IM­AGE: from Com­ple­ments project by Wade Jef­free and Leta So­bier­a­jski

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



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.


“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.


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


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,”


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.”


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.


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


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


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.

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