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Ask a designer: when you need a brand makeover


This post is part of the Ask a Designer series. You ask me questions, I answer them to the best of my ability. The questions can be about design process, branding, software, technical things – or even completely unrelated. Want to play? Leave me a comment here, or use the contact form.



At what point do you realize that your brand no longer reflects you and you need a re-branding makeover? What kind of questions do you ask yourself as a business owner or what do you ask your potential clients when they come to you thinking they need a re-branding but not knowing what that really means or looks like?

by Laura Espinosa


This question is incredibly difficult and incredibly easy to answer at the same time.

Difficult because every case is different. There isn’t a sure-fire question – or series of questions – by answering which you will know beyond the hint of a doubt whether you should consider changing things up – or not.

But when taken on a case by case basis, it’s rather easy to answer. The very fact that you are bringing it up means you have doubts. And if you have doubts, then it probably isn’t working for you. At least not as well as it should. Maybe you have outgrown your brand. Or maybe it was never quite right for you to begin with.

Oftentimes, start-up businesses don’t have enough time or funding or both to dedicate the attention that their brand image truly deserves. I can certainly understand that. Even though in the perfect world it makes perfect sense to figure out the impression you want to leave and the image you want to create for your brand long before your launch, I know we don’t live in a perfect world. And rather than getting stuck on this and not moving forward at all, moving forward with a not-yet-perfect brand is a better solution.

Just don’t be afraid to change it later.

Of course, there always will be reasons not to change. Valid reasons at that. Having to reestablish brand recognition. Having to change a million little things, possibly more than you ever thought of, from stationery to website to affiliate links. Explaining to those that don’t like the change. (It’s a fact. Most people are uncomfortable with change. Deal with it.)

But if what you currently have does not represent your brand or, worse, gives a completely opposite impression of the one you would like to give, then I’d say facing the consequences is the lesser of the two evils. By a mile.


Now as for how to approach it, I think the most important piece of advice I can give you is this: get help.

Preferably from someone who has experience with branding, and someone whose work you like love.

Ignore the next few paragraphs if the option to DIY never came up in those local client chats, but this is a point worth stressing:

Going the DIY route will cost you more in the long run.

And really, if you took the DIY route the first time around and don’t like the results, don’t expect to achieve a complete transformation on your second try.

Think about it: it takes a graphic designer 100+ tries* to get into that frame of mind to where they can instantly find the right possibilities and combinations to express a certain vibe or mood, to find the right direction without spending months trying all the possibilities; to zero in on the concept.

(*I don’t have a source for that number, but if you assume that, on average, it takes a couple of years of real-world practice under direction and guidance of more experienced colleagues to get a feel for nailing the concept and to develop good work habits before they can take the lead on a project – at about 1 project per week, the number is about right. And that’s not counting the time it takes to study! This is SO not about the software – contrary what many seem to think.)

If I decided to build a house with my very own hands, and – though it looked kinda like a real house to me and I was rather proud of it – the roof blew right off with the very first strong gust of wind, I am pretty sure I’d be on the phone with a building contractor begging him to come over and fix it for me – rather than in a bookstore browsing the DIY house building manuals and wondering which one will help me get real good real quick.

It does depend on your goals, of course. If you aim to build houses and become an architect in the near future, then yes, that manual is probably a good investment. Actually, some courses might be better.

If, on the other hand, you just want your roof to stay put – NOW! – then calling someone who knows exactly how to accomplish this is your best bet.

(And, quite honestly, if you think that by reading a couple of manuals you can learn to do what has taken others years of practice, you just might be in the wrong business to begin with.)

One thing that is your homework is the vibe you are going for.

The problems with your current branding, what you feel it represents, the feedback you have received — but most importantly, the direction you want to take it in. Think about the impression you want it to make. Ask yourself this question:

If after visiting my website or seeing my business card, people will only remember ONE THING — what do I want it to be?

The answer to that question is the key to finding the right vibe.

Don’t look for formulas to express this vibe. This is your main message to the world. Nobody else will know the answers.

However, if you are working with someone experienced in branding, they will be able to ask you the right questions and to be a part of this process.

It takes some business soul-searching to be able to define this one main message, but it should be big, important, meaningful. To you, and, by extension, to others.

Don’t focus on the details — colors, fonts, specific images. Not yet.

The concept should come first. Then the visual translation can take place. The more room you leave the designer to play with in the visual exploration, the more interesting the concepts can be. And the actual details can all be refined later — once you know that this concept is the one.

Branding — or re-branding — is such an individual process. It’s a path where each question leads to an infinite number of possible answers, and each answer to even more questions.  There is no map or guide that can foresee all possibilities.

And that’s exactly why it’s so important to have someone who can help or advise you along the way.


4 Comments on this Post.

  1. More wonderful insights Lisa, and of course it’s not about the software! A builder isn’t about the tools, it’s about the skill & experience they have wielding the tools!!

    • lisa

      Thank you Nancy! You’d think the fact that it’s about skill & experience would be common sense, yet I so so often hear those “Oh, I just need someone who can photoshop my idea” comments… As I always say, common sense is not so common.

      Wait a minute, I think I have another hashtag there! :)

  2. There’s no way I could’ve done what I did without your talents, Lisa. So this advice is spot-on in my humble opinion. Knowing our limitations is one of the keys to our success, no? Thank you!

    • lisa

      Thanks Jenny! Our collaboration is a perfect example of the kind of magic that can happen when people click — AND have the experience/skills necessary to make it happen.

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