Refreshing your brand after a year is not something I would necessarily recommend, on paper, to my clients, but here I am, a little over a year since I launched this business, and I have a new website and fresh branding.
Why? Well, the reasons are numerous but it really boiled down to three things. Before I dive into those I give you a warning: this is long and maybe more than you wanted to know. Or maybe you’ll enjoy hearing all the detail. One of my favorite influencers (whose blogs I actually click through to read, not just enjoy her Instagram images) is interior designer and stylist Emily Henderson (I’m an interiors junkie). You can actually hear her voice as you read – she bares her process, doubts and mistakes without reserve. Sometimes it feels like seeing my own brain laid out on paper, the overanalyzing and chaos and all. So, I’m taking that approach, hoping someone else might appreciate that, too.
Now, straight back into those reasons:
When I first started this business, I didn’t know exactly what it would be. I knew I’d be doing graphic design, but my career had exposed me to a lot of areas within the marketing and creative industry. Would I be doing a lot marketing consulting? Contract gigs at corporations or agencies? I wanted to keep it open, to let the market demand and what I found I liked best help shape it. Hence the “+ marketing” in the original business name, ash Design + Marketing.
But now, after a year-plus, I have clarity here. Market demand and what I love doing most has indeed helped confirm that design is my core niche. So I’ve decided to drop the “+ Marketing” from my logo. Does that mean I don’t do marketing? No. I still provide marketing guidance and consulting to my clients who need and want it. But it isn’t the thing I’m leading with; rather, it’s an added value for my design clients.
In addition to that, and arguably more important, my why became so apparent. In the work I do most – presentation design and graphic/web design for small to mid-sized businesses – the thing that ties them together and lights me up is that I get to make people look good. Whether they’re a leader at a large company presenting to a crowd, or a smaller business that needs to look legit, design is a uniquely powerful tool that gives instant credibility. Using my skillset to help others show up big, while doing what I love, is just about the best career I could ask for. “Design that makes you shine” is the tagline that was born from this realization.
I’ve learned something this year: It’s easier to look at someone else’s business from the outside in and have clarity than it is to do this for my own business. I’m too close to it and I put more pressure on myself, which immediately creates “designer’s block.” I have always thought interior designers must have the hardest time designing their own homes because of this same problem. They are acutely aware of all the the different styles and materials, without a client’s style and choices to help narrow the field – plus that added pressure that if you’re an interior designer then your own house must be PHENOMENAL. Hello decision paralysis. Indeed, I’ve noticed Emily Henderson struggling the most on the rooms in her own houses resulting in a constant and mind-bending evolution (see: living room gate). This brings me endless comfort.
My branding never sat right with me, never felt like me. When I created it, I felt rushed, honestly. I just needed something done so I could get my website launched and look legit enough, and was looking too much at what was trending and threw a bit of the kitchen sink at it without actually taking the time to make it a brand. The old mantra “the cobbler’s children have no shoes” has rang true in my ears many times this past year – I wanted to love my brand, but never had the time fix it. My client workload was super busy and doing a knockout job for them was more important than worrying about my own brand. Over the last 9 months I’ve chipped away at it when possible. A logo refresh in April, a website rebuild in October, and a final brand and website refinement in December. It’s been slow moving but the result is: I LOVE IT!
So what was wrong with it? A little bit of everything. A combination of the fonts, colors, icon. I love the colors blue and green – I’ve loved them forever. I used them on my wedding invitations 12 years ago and in my home decor ever since, so those were mandatories. But the colors were just… ugh, WRONG … and the fonts too …. blah. I cringe when I look back on this.
So in April (early pandemic era) I took a run at a logo redesign. I found a font combination I loved – the bold “ash” felt true to my bold personality, and the script for “design” felt casual yet not too girly. I also began the shift to making “design” the more prominent part of the logo, an evolution I was already realizing even then. I’m still happy with this redesign, so fingers crossed it stands the test of time (you know, kind of like how I still love my second engagement ring setting, picked out a year after our wedding when I was still dissatisfied with my first pick – but that’s a story for another day).
In this phase I scrapped the pink I’d originally included in my palette and sat with that for a while. Eventually I realized it was feeling too dark, too heavy. I wanted a pop of color but honestly I am not a “pink” girl so it always surprised me I had landed on that. After a looooot of pondering this, one day I was staring at all my home decor and realized my theme was green, blue and peach tones. It hit me that moving from pink to peach would bring it closer to home. That was kind of the game-changing moment. I muted my blues a bit more, brought in the peach and baddabing baddaboom! A new palette was born and I could not love it more.
The last thing that needed fixing was the fonts. Fonts are critical to good brand design and they can be really tricky! I had started my brand using Futura (sans serif) for headlines and body copy and Baskerville (serif) for accents. I loved that it felt clean and bold at the same time, but again, something just felt not right, although I couldn’t put my finger on it. I made a brief detour to Montserrat during my website rebuild in September (see next section). I love Montserrat for a lot of brands, but after using it in other pieces for a while, I just knew it wasn’t my font. So when I came back to revisit my brand refinement in December, I kept exploring. Finally, I found DM Serif for headlines, a chunky and bold yet warm serif, and Work Sans for body copy, a sans serif with some soft lines and varying weights to work in multiple situations.
I first built my website on Squarespace last October. I’d seen all kinds of entrepreneurs touting it for a while and I’m always eager to learn new tools and skills so I went for it. Initially, my experience was great. You can tell they’ve spent time perfecting their user experience – very Apple-esque – making the onboarding process so easy, like getting my G Suite account set up within the setup process.
But once I started building, my WordPress brain couldn’t adapt to the backend organization structure and the component functionality. I think I lost the ability to think about how I should be structuring and designing my site because I was too hamstrung learning the platform and banging my head against the wall. Launching became just getting it “good enough.” I never had enough portfolio pieces published nor displayed in the best way, but from there I just dreaded having to go in and make changes, so it sat there. I learned later that I probably didn’t choose the best template of theirs to start with and contemplated trying to rebuild on that. I ended up helping with a couple other Squarespace sites this year and did get to understand the platform better, but came to the realization you need to embrace the way your brain works and find something that it’s compatible with – and Squarespace and me were just not meant to be BFFs.
So in parallel to all of my branding refresh thoughts, I was faced with the Everest of also rebuilding my website and finding a platform that worked for me. I’d been hearing a bit about a platform called Showit and decided to start exploring. I did a free trial, went through their training videos and started to design. If you’ve been blessed to meet your life partner and felt that instant “click” where you felt like you’ve come home, that’s about how I felt when I started designing in Showit. It is such a perfect platform for graphic designers, because it gives you a similar experience as designing in InDesign or Illustrator, and is totally mobile responsive. The added perk is that it is built to be paired with the blogging power of WordPress – so you can have a beautiful site with a fully customizable blog to match. Sure, there are still some frustrations, but every platform has them. The trade-off is worth it.
Now as I designed my site, I was able to think about what it should be: focused on the value I could bring to my clients (less about me) and a vessel for showcasing the work I do for others. In October I quietly relaunched my new site but it wasn’t ready for broad consumption yet. I’d still had no time to finalize my branding, nor get all of my portfolio stage-ready. To my utter embarrassment, my site selling graphic design services sat there Without. Any. Portfolio. Samples. For months.
At last, in the last two weeks leading up to Christmas – arguably some of the busiest work weeks of my year, and with both of my little boys home while we quarantined and all of the last-minute holiday shopping and wrapping – inspiration struck and everything clicked. I buckled down and spent one weekend ignoring my kids, finished my branding and getting my website just right. “Are you sure you want to publish your site?” Yes, please!
Figuring out my branding was kind of like figuring out your furniture and decor when you move into a new house. Sometimes you just need to sit with it for a while, rearrange a few times before things click. Now it just feels right and I never really felt that before.
I’d be remiss to write this post without a shoutout to my designer friends Devon Block and Emily Turitto for being my sounding board when I felt like I was going a little batty deliberating over all of this. In some ways, I was over-thinking my brand, but ultimately it led me to a key realization that my brand is about my clients. It should feel like me, but it is really a backdrop – a conduit – for showcasing the work I do for my clients.
If there is any moral to all of this, it’s that if you don’t love your brand, IT’S OKAY TO CHANGE IT! You need to love it. It has to feel right. It is never too late – or too early! – to get branding you love.
Congrats! You made it to the end.
Happy New Year, folks – let’s all start it on the right foot,