Visual brand design? Me?

Posted on August 09, 2013

Two things happened this week that don’t normally happen:

1 - I attempted a visual brand design for a client.

2 - Said visual brand design was a slam dunk.

Let’s face it - what we do every day, what we think about, what we practice; it’s the product of positive reinforcement, punishment, and negative reinforcement all coagulating into these micro-thoughts that keep us from walking a constant path of emotional fragility or failure. My own version of this in my career is that I have been rewarded (even adored) for learning the code that I write and writing it for the benefit of others. Less can be said for the art I pursue and the images I make.

Art, as subjective as it is, is nearly guaranteed to be a path of little or no reward, and even punishment, when pursued without a bulletproof plan and an inner drive that burns as bright as the sun. Negative reinforcement is also a stalker here too - any wrong move made for learning’s sake, or by accident, is likely to haunt the artist on the inside or outside for as long as it takes to beat it down with something as strongly positive. The competition is stiff, and the inner critique can be as bad as the surrounding community now (dis)counting you among the low-hanging fruit. With everyone racing full speed ahead, the ones that make silly mistakes are the easy targets.

Yes, I am an artist. I’ll never not confirm that. But to maintain it, sometimes, I’ve had to go far, far away and leave it alone until inspiration showed up again, with flowers and candy, ready to take me back, “forever, this time,” once again.

It should come as no surprise that when a colleague (well, more of a mentor actually) approached me for an updated website, I jumped right to it. I knew that it would involve design, but she’d seen my design work before and liked it. Asking for it herself wasn’t a huge surprise - and being very happy to add another dollop of creativity to my every day comings and goings, it was (is!) a welcome project.

But then something happened - it became clear that the updated website could go no further without branding, which the client lacks on the current site and has never independently pursued. Anyone who has ever designed a website without this can attest that the design will lack a center, and be randomly wrought, or tangental, at best, without it. In short, she needed it, and it was going to be up to me.

This isn’t normally part of my job. I walk and talk coding, a handful of design here and there - but graphic design? Bah! Normally I take the client by the hand and show them the door to an established designer. Also, since it’s never worked into my pricing, I never have to be the one who is struggling to get into someone’s head, showing them comp after comp only to be rejected like my time is a game. It’s not that I don’t want to be very, very good at this skill - but the rejection - the punishment, the negative reinforcement - there’s no place for that when you’re trying to have a straightforward work day, making progress on projects and being compensated for that. I certainly count myself among the people who cannot have a career based on approval and the emotional fragility that goes along with that.

But this had to be done. The worst part was, presenting this person with something she wouldn’t like, or worse, offensive to her taste, would have an uncalculated impact on her trust in me as a web person - HER web person. It’s bad enough to know exactly how bad you’re going to crash and burn with a lemon, but to not know exactly how bad that could be is much, much worse - because there’s no exact path to fix it, and so if the flames don’t go out on their own, they just keep burning.

I know about this because it happens, laughably, a far amount of the time when I go and do a web design. Or a logo design. I’ve just stopped trying. It’s poisonous to my professional relationships, and it’s gotten to the point where I hardly trust myself to offer the service.

So here’s what was at stake when I initially presented the integrated branding design: the trust of an important colleague, countless future business, the headway of a current project, my professional standing, and looking down the barrel of starting the whole process over with far less confidence and even less to work with.

I did the work, then I sat on it for two days just to be sure that it wouldn’t open the door to some other epiphany. In a moment of extreme strength in the face of fear and doubt (probably having something to do with coffee,) I sent her the design. I didn’t hear back for the whole day.

But she liked it. She LIKED it. She even called me a “clever woman.”

Of course, we’re looking at version 2 improvements as we speak, but that’s to be expected, and even welcomed as then the client puts a greater mark on their own branding, and they’ll love it unconditionally.

I wish I could recall or describe the exact steps I took which were different from other unsuccessful attempts at the exact same thing. I cannot. The only difference in the process was a different approach to each step. Instead of designing the graphic assuming it would be a reject, I designed it assuming I was designing it to get it out of my head in favor of whatever better solution may be ahead. Subtle difference. This allowed me the confidence to look at it in its early stages, be disgusted with it, and carry on with confidence. This, in turn, allowed me to complete the round 1 graphic with some polish that it may not have merited if I had been designing a reject.

Some experience with coding also helped me see it better from the client’s perspective. It wouldn’t be enough to throw a tiny bit of work into an approximation of the graphic - it had to be developed enough to communicate its intent, even at a state that may have been unfinished. Instead of doing the former and throwing out a lazy “that’s good enough” judgement call, I worked on it until I really could not justify any more improvements. I tried too many fonts to keep track of, shadows, color balancing and presented my favorite of all of these.

There’s something to be said for walking away from a skill, a love, a path - when the timing isn’t right. Inspiration didn’t exactly show up this time, but an avenue to use what I already had to possibly delight an important person did - and in this case, that was more important. Inspiration is a fickle partner, anyway. It’s more important to gain the confidence to do it yourself, and greet inspiration, on its next visit, able to stand your ground and use it differently from an established perspective.

And if someone asks me for visual brand design later on, referencing this work, I’ll definitely say yes.

Visual brand design? Me? Image

Caroline C. Blaker

Welcome, I'm a solo-preneur web professional living in the Land of Enchantment. I blog about things related to personal and professional life. My business specializes in Content Management Systems - ExpressionEngine, Craft CMS, and WordPress — and learning of new-to-me tech like Laravel. I also like writing content like you see here. Please consider hiring me if you’re looking for a developer who is responsive to email and gets it done on-time and in-budget.

comments powered by Disqus