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Conference presenter Robin Landa joined us for a live chat as part of HOW Design Live Online, sharing her insights on personal branding.
Landa’s presentation and book, Build Your Own Brand, are both designed to help you explore, develop, distill, and determine a distinctive brand essence, differentiate yourself, and create your visual identity.
Check out what Landa had to say about building your own brand in this excerpt from the chat session.
Personal Branding Tips from Robin Landa
Guest 1: Hello, Robin. Thanks for coming to chat today! I had a few questions based on some of the things in your book (which I love) and the session. I am having trouble picking a color palette for my personal branding. I really like black and white, but that seems like everyone, so I’m not sure how to stand out. What is yours and what helped you choose these particular colors?
Robin Landa: Hello! Thanks for your kind words and for attending. I’m in the process of rebranding myself. As of now, my palette is black and white. One thing to remember is that your logotype or logo is either a destination (people will realize who you are when they see the work) or a positive association.
If your logotype is a positive association then your color palette should reflect the concept underlying the positive association. It all goes back to your underlying strategy and design concept for your personal brand. What is the takeaway? Which color(s) will communicate what you want people to think and feel? And color is not universal–colors have different symbolism in different cultures and parts of the world.
Guest 1: I know it’s important to consider the audience/who you want as clients when you create your personal brand, but how big of a role should it play when creating something so personal?
Robin Landa: The audience plays a huge role. Here’s why: As author Pamela Drucker says, we are 95% cohort and 5% original. Besides your skills, your personal brand demonstrates your sensibility—your “why”—why you design, what makes you—you.
Guest 2: Hello Robin. I’m an in-house designer who is looking to move to freelance full-time. Sketching seems to be an important of your personal branding process. How can you turn rough sketches into, say, the beginnings of a strong brand identity?
Robin Landa: You can sketch with various goals in mind. Here are a few goals to keep in mind while sketching:
- Logotype: What your actual logo will look like in terms of how your name is desinged in unique typography.
- A symbol mark for yourself. What shape? Closed shape? Open shape? Abstract? Nonrepresentational? Representational?
- Your “why.” Think about why you design. Sketch from there.
Once you find a sketch, keep refining. Iterate. It will lead you somewhere. Do give yourself time between iterations so that you come to the next one with a fresh eye.
Guest 1: So, are you saying that the “why” part is primarily for the client? “Why” as in why you design for those clients? Is it OK if your sensibility alienates certain people? It seems like a bad idea to try to be everything.
Robin Landa: Here are the things to keep in mind:
- What you design.
- How you design (your proprietary or unique process).
- Why you design.
The “why” shouldn’t be literal but it should fuel your thinking for your brand and colors. The why is your passion–why you started to design in the first place. Why you wake up in the morning to design. Your why, in great part, is what makes you an original thinker and designer.
To answer your question about alienating people: I think you have to use good judgment and think about which clients you want to work for or with.
Guest 1: That makes sense. Thanks for clarifying. I think I was being too literal when trying to decide what I want to achieve with my brand materials.
Robin Landa: You’re welcome. If you are unsure, my best advice is make your personal brand a destination: impeccable typography and a user friendly website with great nav. Then, let your work speak. It’s good to remember: A brand is either a positive association or a destination.
Could sunshine represent you? What meaning would the semiotic vehicle suggest about you? Do you want to project a positive association or do you want to create a mystery?
A vehicle is designed to visually &/or verbally direct your audience to some generally positive idea, feeling, or attitude with which you want to be associated. (Think Sunshine Bakers.)
A destination is designed to make your audience formulate for themselves your virtues by experiencing your product or service. (Think Smucker’s Jam.)
Guest 3: Hey Robin! Thank you so much for being here; you’re so inspirational. I’m in a similar situation as [Guest 2]—in-house to freelance. Do you have any recommendations for ways to market myself/my personal brand?
Robin Landa: One way to market your personal brand is to have a personal “passion” project. A personal project is noncompetitive with your inhouse job. For example, Jessica Hische creates a drop cap daily. Jessica Walsh created 40 Days of Dating with another designer. Denyse Mitterhofer, a design with We Are Social, did a poster series on why she is grateful to live in the USA and entered it into a competition and won.
photo from Shutterstock
Guest 3: Thanks! I think I have a good idea of where I can go with my passion project. (Btw, Jessica Hische is awesome!) Out of curiosity, how did you get started – both in design and in advising other designers?
Robin Landa: I started designing many years ago but truly started in visual communication through illustration. I teach full time in the Robert Busch School of Design at Kean University so my books are a natural outgrowth of my love of teaching.
Guest 4: Hi Robin. So glad to be able to chat with you. Could you name a couple of designers you feel do the best job presenting themselves as a complete brand?
Robin Landa: I think Debbie Millman does a great job of personal branding.She does what I call “world building.” Another one is Manik Rathee, who is very aware of how his mobile site relates to his desktop site.
Guest 2: If I am having trouble with getting the sketching started, is it okay to create word webs with similar goals in mind?
Robin Landa: Yes, great idea. Brilliant designer George Lois told me, in an interview, that he often starts with words! Any kind of word lists or mapping or any idea generation tool helps you find an entry into your brand. Another good way to start is to sketch what you’re definitely not. Or write a bio that is not you.
Also remember that any symbol you use has denotative and connotative meaning. It has literal meaning and then the meaning that it’s imbued with by how you visualize and render it in color.
Guest 2: I usually use Thesaurus.com when I am writing, so that might be a good way to make the word maps you mentioned. Thanks!
Robin Landa: Yes, I think that’s a good starting point. My colleague, Rose Gonnella, is an advocate of adjective lists. A prompt to help you: Which four nouns are you? Can you name them and put them in a hierarchical order?
Guest 4: In your book, Build Your Own Brand, you mention things about “liberating your inner writer” and “assuming a relaxed state of mind.” Has meditation or some sort of non-design-related activity helped you with your personal brand?
Robin Landa: Yes, I find that dancing helps me or any physical activity like walking. An esteemed psychologist, Dr. Barbara Blum, advised that walking helps you think more clearly and calm down. In fact, Greek playwright Sophocles advocated walking while thinking. Also, get away from the specific place where you design or write. Take your laptop or print out to a cafe or a park bench and work there for a while.Changing physical locations, for some reason, always works for me. I never edit at my desk.
Guest 4: Do you have a particular place that is especially inspirational to you?
Robin Landa: For me, my dance classes are the most inspirational. However, I find most cultural events or places help me think—a good film, a play, a museum visit.
Guest 1: I recently read something about branding that encouraged people to “dress the part.” Do you make clothing a part of your personal brand? Do you recommend having a “look”?
Robin Landa: In my presentation at HOW, I talked about opera great Maria Callas. Callas, who was one of the greatest opera singers of all time, had substance but she also had personal style.I do like personal style or a look but, of course, that’s ancillary to your work.
Guest 1: Perhaps it’s more important when you’re presenting your work, such as when Callas went on stage to perform.
Robin Landa: There are some well-known designers who have a personal look. Some consistently wear black or have some identifying style even when not presenting. But it certainly is important for the stage, that’s for sure.
Guest 5: Hi Robin, I am a freelancer and i have my own personal brand build up from the past year. I have met another designer, and we decided to partner up together. Can 2 brands collide without losing their own identity or do we have to produce something new from scratch?
Robin Landa: How are you going to market yourselves? Will you have one website with two names or a new name for the “studio”?
Guest 5: We will have a new name for the studio but we dont want to lose our identity which we have build up for the past years.
Robin Landa: I would start with the new name for the studio and brand that together. Then have tabs for each of you with your personal brand. Spur Design has two partners and each has his and her own page. And Spur Design has its own brand.
It’s important to always think about how your brand plays out across media.
- Singular vs. dimensional
- Formulate and create a strategic, unified program.
- Each media channel contributes to the story.
- Weave common threads across media channels.
- Each experience with your brand builds your story.
Here’s more info on determing your “why”:
- Determine your “why”—not what you are or how you do it, but the reason you do what you do. This “why”—the driving force that makes you tick—should be the core of your personal brand.
- Follow-up steps for those who have difficulty articulating their “why”:
- Describe the very first time you consciously recognized you wanted to be a designer.
- Recalling your emotions from that experience, explain why you were drawn to design.
- Now explain what it is about design that makes you excited to wake up every morning and design.
Consider the benefit to the employer/client in how you define yourself.
Guest 1: Would that be something along the lines of: “I am a decision maker who gets things done. The benefit to my clients is that they’re never waiting around for deliverables or cohesive designs”?
Robin Landa: Yes. That’s a great underpinning. That’s a value you bring and functional benefit to your clients. I can already envision typefaces that would work to communicate that.
Actually, your statement encompasses a few functional benefits. Ten points to consider:
- Codify your vision.
- Determine the value you promise to deliver.
- Tell pieces of your story across channels.
- Write a pithy elevator speech.
- Write a succinct Twitter profile.
- Design to present and represent you.
- Choose type for communication and distinction.
- Treat your résumé as an identity, information and promotional design problem
- Offer a streamlined web experience.
- Think beyond your website.
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Live Chat Schedule:
- Monday, June 9 at 3 pm ET: Corwin Hiebert
- Tuesday, June 10 at 2 pm ET: Marcia Hoeck and Ed Roach
- Wednesday, June 11 at 1 pm ET: Robin Landa
- Wednesday, June 11 at 2 pm ET: Hamish Campbell
- Thursday, June 12 at 2 pm ET: Matthew Richmond
- Friday, June 13 at 1 pm ET: Andy Epstein
- Friday, June 13 at 2 pm ET: Nancye Green
- Monday, June 16 at 2 pm ET: Sara Wachter-Boettcher
- Tuesday, June 17 at 2 pm ET: Justin Knecht
- Wednesday, June 18 at 2pm ET: Chris Converse
- Thursday, June 19 at 2 pm ET: Allan Haley
- Friday, June 20 at 1 pm ET: Douglas Davis
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