There are few things more challenging, rewarding, or frightening as the pursuit of your own voice or style. For the maker, finding it is not merely a matter of personal fulfillment; it’s the foundation of a solid business strategy. It permeates every aspect of your brand, from product development to the design of your invoice. But arriving at it is not easy. Ask any writer, artist or designer, and they’ll tell you that it is a lifelong endeavor that it is never quite complete.
Maker-Entrepreneurs, those who turn their life-long passion into a business, have some unique advantages when it comes to branding because the brand can be an authentic reflection of a real person. It becomes the sort of company people can easily connect with. If we’re not careful, though, our brand can lose focus, become stale or, even worse, become inauthentic.
So what can you do to ensure that the pursuit of your voice intersects with the development of your brand, that it stays on track, evolves, and remains an honest reflection of yourself? Below I’ve outlined five things to consider.
STEP 1: Create a mood board of yourself
A mood board is an incredibly effective tool to help you determine your style. Start by taking a look at your own world—the things you own, clothes you wear, pictures you’ve taken, magazines you read. Look for the elements of your life that you feel embody the best version of you and carry a consistent stylistic theme. Photograph these objects and pull them into a single document. Once you’ve done this, take a step back and see if you can draw any conclusions about your style and think about how it can translate into every aspect of your brand. Pay attention to the following elements as you create your mood board:
STEP 2: Define your core style principles
It’s important to be able to articulate clearly who you are and who you aren’t as it relates to your style, brand, or voice. You’ll do this by listing adjectives that clearly express what your style is and what it isn’t. For this exercise, reference your mood board to create a three page document that characterizes your style.
Dedicate each page as defined below:
Page 1: List 20 adjectives that describe what your style is (i.e. minimalist, monochromatic, whimsical, etc…).
Page 2: List 20 adjectives that clearly describe what your style is NOT.
Page 3: Finally create a correlation between the list on Page 1 and Page 2 (i.e. Humble NOT Flashy, Structured NOT Chaotic, etc…)
As you work through this exercise, you may need to edit your mood board by taking away or adding images from your world that embody the principles you’re defining here.
STEP 3: Define your color palette
Once again, return to your mood board and look for a single color that stands out to you. Perhaps it’s a color that shows up more than once. Begin building your color palette from here. You can head over to a site like colourlovers.com for inspiration and to add complementary colors as you refine the palette. Look for 3-5 colors to define your primary palette and then define 3-5 colors that could make up a secondary palette.
STEP 4: Visualize through photography
For this one, scour the web or, better yet, grab your camera and head outside. Similar to developing your mood board, you’ll want to build a catalog of images that embody your visual style through photography. Collect your images under the following three categories:
As you gather your images, look for stylistic consistencies you’re drawn to. Once again, return to your mood board for reference so that you’re pulling from your own life. Pay attention to some of the following elements:
If you’re taking your own photography, use a photo-editing app like Camera+, to apply a consistent filter, exposure and cropping to the images. Have fun with this exercise and you’ll find that these images can become valuable assets for your website and social media pages.
STEP 5: Build a style deck
Once you’ve done all of your research, pull the components together into a style deck. Use this as a brand guideline for yourself and make sure that it’s a living document that can evolve as you do. Include the following:
– Cover Page
– Table of Contents
– 2-3 Sentence Style Statement
– Mood Board with Description
– Style Principles
– Color Palettes
– Sample Executions: Social media, Digital ads, Packaging, Product design
When you’re starting out, the style deck will help you stay focused as you build out the elements of your business. As you grow, it will help you to inform and train future employees on your brand and it can serve as a valuable reference tool for when the time comes to hire creative partners (i.e. ad agencies, photographers, social media agencies). Most importantly, it will ensure that you never stray too far from your own voice.
You’re brand will evolve and grow as you do and that’s ok. But it’s important to remember that you’re not trying to engineer a voice or brand that is separate from yourself. Your goal is to seek inspiration from the voice or style you’ve already been developing all along and to cultivate it into an authentic, consistent and focused brand expression that feels effortless.