Build Your Own Brand: Designing Your Personal Brand

“More about you is universal than not universal. My unscientific assessment is that we are 95 percent cohort, 5 percent unique. Knowing this is a bit of a disappointment, and a bit of a relief.”

— Pamela Druckerman, author

Most designers have pretty much the same skill sets—they know how to concept, design and prepare their work for screen and print, including producing work for several media channels. Consequently, how do you create your personal brand if you and your peers are 95 percent cohort, as author Pamela Druckerman suggests?

Sean Adams, Partner at AdamsMorioka, notes, “Being a responsible, skilled and talented designer is the same as a car having reliable wheels. This is the minimum requirement that is expected. What sets great designers apart is the ability to identify the qualities that are unique and personal to their identity, and promoting these relentlessly.”

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Manik Rathee‘s professional website clearly displays his personal brand—who he is, his capabilities as a designer, and the quality of his design work. Originally featured in Build Your Own Brand.

Your 5 Percent

As Drew Davies, Owner of Oxide Design Co., points out, “Never forget that building your own brand is about determining the things that make you different from every other designer and shining a white-hot spotlight on them.”

To begin determining your 5 percent, ask yourself:

  • Why do you design? What’s your reason for getting out of bed in the morning and wanting to do what you do?
  • What do you hope your work as a designer will accomplish?
  • What value do you bring to any assignment, studio, agency or client?
  • What value do you promise to deliver?

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Personal branding & portfolio site design by Grace Duong. Her original logo design was featured in Build Your Own Brand.

Sense Versus Sensibility

Continue determining your 5 percent by characterizing your sense versus your sensibility:

Your training: is your sense, what you know, your educational experiences, your skill sets (conceptual, design, tech, writing, management, etc.)

Your artistic vision: is your sensibility, your unique point of view, specifically how you think about design or advertising, your philosophy about design or advertising, how you design and visualize what you see, how your design solutions differ from other designers’ solutions due to how you conceive ideas, visualize, compose, and use media

Your personality: is comprised of your epitomizing character traits and assets

Your brand promise: is the value you will bring to any assignment as a result of your expertise: your insights, point of view, philosophy, designs, art and code, creations, writing

Remember that a brand is a promise. And your personal brand is your personal promise to deliver some specific value.
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Personal branding & portfolio site design by Jon Contino, originally featured in Build Your Own Brand


Painting a Designer’s Self-Portrait

Who am I as a designer?” and “How can I communicate who I am?” are not easy questions to answer for most of us. Perhaps related questions can help you articulate answers:

  • What are two or three distinctive traits, or ways of thinking or creating that make me the designer I am? Do those traits combine in a way that might differentiate me?
  • How do I want to present myself professionally?
  • How do I want people to perceive me? What would I like them to think?
  • How can I visually express those qualities that make me distinctive?
  • What’s the takeaway? What is the one key fact, point, or idea I want people to associate with me or remember about me?

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Denyse Mitterhofer‘s portfolio site showcases her unique design style and her motion design work. 

Bringing it Together                                                                             

After you answer all these questions, to coalesce your 5 percent start by writing your About Me statement. But first… write an About Me statement or bio or profile that would befit any good designer. Assess for what makes it generic. Then write yours.

Sean Adams, AdamsMorioka, suggests the following exercise to help you:

“List ten values you believe are critical to great design. Now delete seven of these. Drop any ideas every other designer would state: responsible, high quality, etc. Take the final three that are most personal. This is your brand.”
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personal logo and branding by Max B. Friedman, recent grad from the Robert Busch School of Design in the Michael Graves College at Kean University

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Your Mark

Dr. Steven Doloff, Professor of Humanities and Media Studies at Pratt, advises:

“A brand is either a semiotic vehicle or a destination. If it’s a vehicle, it’s designed to visually and/or verbally direct your audience to some generally positive idea, feeling, or attitude with which you want to be associated. (Think Sunshine Bakers.) If it’s a destination, it’s designed to make your audience formulate for themselves your virtues by experiencing your product or service. (Think Smuckers Jam.) So in choosing a personal brand, ask yourself this question: Do you initially want to project a positive association, or do you want to create a mystery?”

If you design a personal logo that is a recognizable image, for example, a star, tree or lion, you are creating a vehicle. If you design a logotype of your name or a nonrepresentational image, you are creating a destination.

It’s essential to codify your personal brand. As Dany Lennon, President, The Creative Register Inc., advises,

“Know what ‘your’ brand is. The majority of people do not. When asked, they repeat what they feel, or what they have done. But brand identity is a lot more complex than what you feel or have done; it is in fact how you think! You own that.

Then, how you project what you are thinking. You own that too. Now define it with clarity and simplicity so everyone else can hear and understand what you are thinking and have something to truly believe in.”

v9130Learn more in Build Your Own Brand: Strategies, Prompts and Exercises for Marketing Yourself (HOW Books) by Robin Landa.