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Why it’s so hard for designers to design for themselves

Most designers skip vital research steps because we assume a specific style for ourselves going in. Avoid design frustration and take a behind-the-curtain peek at my step-by-step research process.

DtD Rebrand Process Graphic Feature

Ever flounder around when trying to design for yourself? Me! (hand raised)…

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying the cobbler’s kids have no shoes… why is our own design and/or branding such a struggle?

I’ll tell you why…

Most designers skip vital research steps because we assume a specific style for ourselves going in. Then we get frustrated when it doesn’t work out the way we envisioned.

We aren’t tying our design decisions to anything concrete. Result… the brand falls apart as we try to apply it.

Most designers are pretty good at seeking out inspiration, but they aren’t as intentional as they could be when working on their own brand. Those assumptions I just mentioned tend to get in the way…

If you’ve been following me a while, you might have noticed that Designing to Delight was just overhauled. This time, instead of floundering around, I took myself through my own client design process. I didn’t skip steps and I didn’t rush through it. I gave myself time and space for relevant visual research.

Let me step you through my approach…

I got clear on my “message”.

For my site to be effective, I knew I must have alignment between what my website says and what website looks like. I used a couple different resources for this:

I researched sites I like and analyzed why.

For my site to be effective, I knew I must get my users to feel. I had a preliminary idea of what my underlying feel or “promise” to my user would be – HOPE.

The clarity I needed for this step came from a variety of places – working on this brand for 2 years, really digging into Michelle’s first step in the marketing conversation formula, and noting the journey of my ideal client after creating a StoryBrand brand script.

I brainstormed words that supported both my Fascinate brand assessment strengths, this promise, and how I wanted this brand to be perceived. When I analyzed the sites I liked and why, I noted what I personally felt. Sites that made me feel what I wanted my users to feel – or sites that created the perception I wanted for my brand – became worthy or relevant inspiration for this project.

To sum up the steps for you:

  • Isolate a key promise word (make sure it’s not a result, it’s a “before” vs “after”).
  • Brainstorm keywords from your Fascinate brand profile, messaging, marketing conversation, customer journey, as well as words that describe how you want to be perceived. This is 2 parts research and 1 part intuition.
  • Analyze sites you like and why. Give yourself time and space to explore here. Note what they make you feel and decide if they are “worthy” inspiration.

I compiled my research and reviewed the results.

I then began to compile my research by creating a Pinterest board. I researched Pinterest, my “worthy inspiration” websites, and image libraries for photography and elements that supported the keywords I chose. I gave myself a lot of time to do this.

As I pinned, I noted common “visual” threads in color, decor style, photography style, photography content, fonts, elements and patterns. A overall style started to emerge.

Here’s the important part: I wanted to challenge my own assumptions. If what I discovered did not line up with what I envisioned for myself, I was ready to allow myself more research time to make adjustments to either my vision or my board.

This is where the process breaks down for most designers. They aren’t willing to challenge how their vision stacks up to their research, or worse, they skip research altogether. I know, because I’ve done both over the years.

This part of the process is about discovering disconnects early. For example, if I wanted a “moody” vibe and was pinning only light and minimal elements, then I would need to dig a little deeper into why there’s a disconnect there.

Here’s the steps:

  • Use keywords combined with words like branding, decor, logo, website to find inspiration.
  • Pin layouts and elements from inspiration-worthy websites. Don’t forget image libraries.
  • Note common elements. This might be the foundation of your new visual brand.
  • Be ready to challenge your own assumptions and make adjustments if you discover disconnects.

You can see the DtD rebrand board on Pinterest here.

My relevant visual research informed the next step.

I used the research I compiled to create style tiles for the Designing to Delight rebrand.

Because I had anchored my research in my message, my marketing conversation, the journey AND my brand’s strengths, the result felt spot-on. It held up as I created concepts and collateral and ultimately applied it to the website.

Here’s the steps:

  • If you created brainstorm “all the things” Pinterest brand board, then copy and curate for a more intentional version.
  • Sit with it for at least 2 days. Revisit. Does it still feel right? If not, be willing to circle back and do more research.
  • Use your Pinterest board as a foundation for creating style tiles for your brand.

You might be thinking… Christine, this is so.much.effort. Why can’t I just create something that’s nice looking?

Here’s the thing… I won’t be doing you any favors if I tell you that making assumptions without research is an okay approach for your branding. I don’t advocate quick, cheap, or fast solutions, especially not for yourself! If you are constantly rebranding yourself – or struggling to design for yourself – retrofitting your brand to your assumptions without research is what has you frustrated to begin with.

If you want a brand you love that lasts – the springboard for a business and life you love – then spend time intentionally creating a strong foundation for it.

Head on over to the Drama-Free Design group on Facebook and talk to me – tag me and tell me – do you get stuck designing for yourself? I’d love to help you get unstuck.

Author: Christine Thatcher

Christine Thatcher is the founder of Christine Marie Studio, a boutique design agency dedicated to helping visionary entrepreneurs infuse their personalities into profitable virtual platforms. She combines 27 years of design experience to guide her clients through the web design process. Also the creator of Designing to Delight, a brand dedicated to teaching designers how to build collaborative client relationships so they can charge more for their work.