Design Principles 101

As a small business owner, you hear a lot about design.

You have to hire a graphic designer! (False.)

Your design should look professional. (True.)

Graphic design can make or break your business. (True and false.)

But let’s be real. If you’re bootstrapping it, using all the free tools you can to not break the bank until you get enough clients/customers to at least cover your operating expenses, you’re not dropping $5,000 on a full blown brand identity. And I want to mention, that’s not a random number. That’s what I personally charge for the whole kit and caboodle and you can judge for yourself if you think it’s worth it. Right now, maybe. Maybe not. Today, I’m diving in to tell you what really counts when it comes to design, whether a pro does it or not.

Visuals That Say, “Here I Am.”

We have all heard the old adage of “Here I am,” rather than “I’m here.” There is a difference in the feeling that it evokes and really, that’s what your visuals are all about. Take Nike for example. They have a simple mark that is known across the globe. But think about what that consistent little mark says.

“I’m reliable.”

“I’m good quality.”

“You can trust me.”

These subtle little nuances come from years of associating that little swoosh with a company that can be trusted. Your mark, whatever it may be* should be chosen to say, “This is my brand.”  (*I draw the line at Papyrus font. Just no. Pick something else. Snobby? Maybe, but I truly believe you’re more clever and creative than that.)

Consistent + Cohesive

Notice this section is not entitled “Everything the Same.”

That’s not an accident.

The great thing about having a mark is that that can be your spearhead while the rest of your website, blog, Pinterest board, all look like they belong together and with your mark. Even without a professionally designed brand identity, your brand can still be professional looking by making sure you stick within the parameters such as:

Am I being consistent with my fonts?

Am I being consistent with my colors?

Are my photos being edited to look like they belong together?

Am I using the same tone when I write anything?

These small things can take a brand that does not have a graphic designer all over it to a cohesive and consistent brand that is recognizable without a “professional” being involved.


Across Platforms

So you have a Pinterest, a Facebook, a Twitter, an Instagram, and a blog. Not to mention you dabble on Periscope and have been sending out an email newsletter for six months to a growing list. Basically, you’re doing all the things. And a great big brava to you. But the big question is, are you the same across all of these?

This is where the parameters for bootstrapping your shit comes in handy. If you can answer yes to all four of the above questions every time you post something, then you’re doing it right. You should not just look like the same person across all of these platforms, but also sound the same. And this is something you can control, and in fact, should be controlling. You’re tone and visuals should say that you are you no matter the platform.

Comment below if you’d like to see a blog post on tone. I love tone so very much.

The Roundup

The following are brands that are, while professionally designed (this is an assumption), not just look like the brand ought to across platforms, but also sound like the brand. I’ll share why I dig them so much.

The Blissful Mind

Catherine has done just a marvelous job of her branding. It’s light, feminine, and relaxing. In the image, I have taken screen captures of her website, Twitter account, and Pinterest. Everything is clean, branded and cohesive. She has done a marvelous job of this. And more importantly, she has made intentional color, design, and tonal choices that make it obvious that this is Catherine, no matter if you’re reading her blog (which you should be) or checking in with her on Twitter.

The Rising Tide Society

Not only does The Rising Tide Society have an amazing message (#communityovercompetition yo) but they have an amazing brand. Just like The Blissful Mind, The Rising Tide Society has incorporated their color scheme across all of their platforms and keep a consistent tone in the way they post. There is more than one author, but everyone who writes for them uses a friendly, informative, and conversational tone in their writing.

Kendrick Shope

I really dig Kendrick Shope. Like really want to be her bestie. Not only does she create amazing content about not selling like an a-hole, but she reminds me of my hometown where small and mighty women are around every corner. Her brand kicks booty because she has made the effort to keep everything cohesive from not just her visuals but her spunky, tough love tone and rocking energy.

Inkwell Press

I love the color pops and the clean look to Inkwell Press. Their brand is so cohesive and put together. I also love that their brand does not detract from their amazingly designed products no matter the platform. Tonya Dalton has done an amazing job with making her products the focal point while making her brand memorable, homey, and like it belongs on my desk and yours.

Wrapping It Up

So as you can see, there are a lot of ways to make your company represented by not just a logo and collateral, but through consistent fonts, your tone, and the way you place your company in front of the world. I'm thinking that I may be making a cheat sheet for this concept. If that is something you are interested in, please let me know in the comments and I will see what I can do!