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Branding for Designers: ‘Berta’s Top 5 DO’s and DON’Ts

How do you brand yourself as a designer? Texas-style with a branding iron? Of course not, because that would smart! Branding your skills as a designer is about marketing yourself in a creative, unexpected, stand-out-from-the-crowd way. How do I create a memorable “me,” you ask? Well, it takes some reflection, time and ingenuity, but it’s well worth it. A well-crafted personal brand will serve you well as a designer throughout your career—maybe lasting the length your career—becoming more refined over time, like a fine wine.

When I started out, I had a lame resume design. Well, I shouldn’t say it was lame, but it was a bit pedestrian, not that unexpected. I basically just used my name, a photo of myself with a bar over my eyes, and a craft-type resume paper. I wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire with my brand. But a few years down the road when I started freelancing full time, I needed to get new clients. I needed a promo piece. I needed a brand. One day I was having a confab with a friend of mine. We were kicking around ideas for portfolio presentations when we hit on an idea—portfolio images displayed in some sort of “TV” frame/design. That idea, coupled with the fact that close friends call me “‘Berta”, and my love of all things retro kitsch, and Leave It To ‘Berta was born! You’ve gotta admit…it IS catchy! And even if you don’t know the Leave It To ‘Beaver reference, it still works.

To anyone who asks my opinion, these are my suggestions.

‘Berta’s Top 5 DOs:

  1. DO come up with a snappy/memorable moniker for your design business. Maybe you have an interesting name that you can make into a clever logo or word play. If that’s not the case, it might be worth investing some energy into coming up with a business name that’s not the same as your given name, but reflects something about your work style, the type of design you focus on, your location, or other interest.
  1. DO consider talking about yourself in the third person. Okay, maybe you buy that, maybe you don’t, but I’ve always found it works for me. What I like about writing marketing and promotional text in the third person is that it doesn’t feel as self-centered or pompous. It doesn’t feel like I’m touting my skills and work in an overly aggressive way. What is does feel like is that I’m pitching a worthwhile product—not just talking about myself and how great I am. There’s a fine balance in how you approach writing about, and pitching your skills. Every designer has to find that balance for him or herself.
  1. DO think creativity about your presentation. Your portfolio doesn’t have to be like everybody else’s. You don’t have to use the traditional materials or tools to present. Yes, I have a website, but I also have mini view finders in the shape of tiny TVs I’ve used to showcase a few pieces, a short video clip (set to music) showing images of design projects running inside a TV frame. I also have little yellow foam cover books I carry inside a small suitcase. When I have an in-person interview, I like to bring the little suitcase along. Yeah I could show my work on an iPad®, but that’s not very tactile or creative. While I think it’s great to have the ability to digitally show your work to anyone, anywhere; I think it’s great to offer potential employers or clients a tactile experience with your work.

TV_clicker TV_clicker2 TV_viewfinder

  1. DO consider writing up case studies that illustrate the success of the work you’ve done on particularly challenging assignments, or the benefits your work has brought to a particular client. Case studies are certainly optional, but they’re also a real-life look at how your work can be relevant and bring value to an employer or client.
  1. DO be consistent. As with any successful brand assignment, it’s best to be consistent with how you market and present your work. Your logo usage, collateral, website, presence on social media, everything, should be consistent.

‘Berta’s Top 5 DON’Ts:

  1. DON’T use too many superlatives to describe the quality of your work. It’s kind of annoying, and most people won’t take you at your word. The quality of your work should speak for itself.
  1. DON’T be too conservative with your approach. It’s not memorable. Sometimes trying to appeal to the masses doesn’t really get you much. Playing it safe doesn’t make you or your brand memorable. Create a brand for yourself that you’d like to hire—that excites you and that you’re proud to put out there.
  1. DON’T necessarily use your name as your brand. As I mentioned in the DO’s, sometimes it’s kinda fun to create a new name for yourself and your work. People don’t always remember people’s names, but they may remember a clever idea or fun or interesting business name.
  1. DON’T stay stagnant. Even if you come up with a successful, well-designed brand, brands do evolve. It’s important to periodically review your brand/design and refine it to keep it fresh. If you feel like your brand needs to be updated to stay relevant by all means update it, but always stay true to it.
  1. DON’T follow trends. Trends come and go, so don’t hang your hat on (for example) naming yourself a one-word esoteric name that has nothing to do with design. Call me old school, but I believe a brand name and image should evoke some notion of what it represents.

So there you go—a few DO’s and DON’Ts to consider when creating your self-brand. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but for what it’s worth—it’s my two-cents.

— Berta