blank paper notebook

You help people to tell their brand stories every day. Designers give people a visual language with which to communicate to their audience.

 When a client comes to you for the design, they have, for the most part, already done the groundwork. They know who they are and who their target audience is. Your job is to pull the whole thing together with compelling visuals.

How often do you stop to think about how you are communicating to your audience? Where do you start? What’s the story you want your own brand to communicate? Who is your audience? Are they ethical, green, large corporations, government organisations, global brands or tiny bakeries? How will you stand out? Is it better to fit in?

How do you begin framing your own brand story?

I think it’s possible to start by breaking it down into ten steps to consider.

  1. Mission

    What are you doing right now, today? What happens because you exist?
  2. Vision

    What are or will be the results and effects of what you do in the future?
  3. Core values

    What are the attitudes and beliefs that shape your business culture?
  4. Unique selling point

    What’s your edge, the thing that makes you stand out?
  5. Emotional selling point

    What’s the intangible or aspiration that you sell? Think feelings not facts. Connection, freedom, ego, belonging.…
  6. Brand essence

    The core of what you do, the image it portrays and the signals it sends.
  7. Tagline

    One line that communicates everything.
  8. Identity

    How the consumer perceives your brand.
  9. Name

    The verbal hook on which all of the above hangs and is communicated, the icing on your cake. Comes in all the way down here at number nine!
  10. Logo
Last but not least the visual hook that represents your brand, the cherry on the top.

Design brand framing that works

Let’s look at some examples of well-framed design brands.

Believe in

One of my personal favourites because of their fabulous, flexible and evocative name is Believe in. In another life they were called biz-R! Believe in’s positioning is really interesting, they;

“Work in partnership with brave clients to deliver engaging, provocative and effective brand experiences driven by ideas and solid research.”

Before stepping through their door you know you are going to get imaginative ideas that challenge the status quo.

Designed By Good People

There can be no mistaking the niche that Designed by Good People works in. Everything from their name to their clearly stated values tells clients with a specific worldview a story.

“We found that we did better work when we worked for clients who believed in the same things we did.

“We believe in sustainability.

We believe in ethics.

We believe in doing what’s right whenever possible.

We believe in strong ideas that are solutions to defined design problems.

You do better work when you believe in what you do.

“That’s why we set up ‘Designed by Good People’. 

“We have expertise in design, branding, print, packaging and web. We work in English and Spanish.”

Miles Newlyn

One way to communicate your brand essence is via your portfolio. Miles Newlyn does that extremely well with his. Miles is a typography specialist and is famous for creating iconic brand identities such as the re-designed Honda logo and the Unilever U.

Here’s how he tells us about who he works with, and how;

“Newlyn is a world-renowned typographer and designer, specialising in the positioning and iconography of large organizations.

“The process is simple, and divided into logical steps. It is done quickly, practically, and economically. The results innovate, communicate and add value.

“Large branding agencies make money by selling lengthy process;
 evaluation, analysis, consensus, strategy, management… Your business probably has enough ‘process’ already — you don’t need more, that’s why the flexible way in which I work will quickly help you reach the world class status necessary for your brand.

“So, when it comes to the idea and what it looks like, come to me.”

The last line is a brilliantly framed and placed unique selling point, which Miles can back up with his results.

Eric Karjaluoto

Eric Karjaluoto pulls off a deceptively simple piece of personal branding with his website. Check out the over-sized typographic menu. It tells us everything we need to know about him in just six words! And the slightly irreverent header on the website gives us a clue to his personality.

“This is my website. It is awesome.”

These are a few of my personal picks. I have many more but I’d like to turn this discussion over to you.

Which designers and design brands do you believe are framed uniquely and why? Who are your personal favourites? Which ones do you admire and respect? David and I would love to hear more in the comments.

Your own brand storming session

Bernadette has kindly offered to give one commentator a brand storming session completely free (valued at $497). She’ll pick the winner from any answers to the above question(s).

Mark Stuckert is the commentator who’ll be receiving Bernadette’s help.

Bernadette Jiwa is a verbal designer and brand architect based in Melbourne, Australia. She works with creative thinkers, entrepreneurs, designers, and bloggers to help them build ideas that spread.

Visit Bernadette’s website, The Story of Telling, and follow her on Twitter.

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March 21, 2011


Great article, thank you. I’ve always liked Vignelli and Assoc. because of their goal to provide “intellectual elegance.” I just always thought simplicity was the way to go. Also Denis Olenik simply because of his great work and the way he presents his portfolio.

No disrespect to Eric intended, but the word ‘awesome’ is getting rather tiresome these days.

I like the copywriting for Good People and Newlyn, it makes me think ‘personal’. I don’t feel like Believe In have that same touch with their spiel. Different target markets maybe?

I’m a big fan of Adhemas Batista. His strapline is ‘I’m selling colors’. When you immediately land on his site, his work is front and centre – no messing about – and not only does it overwhelmingly support his strapline, but it speaks for itself, removing the need for any other preamble or commentary.

I really like Chad Maupin’s work branding his own Big Bot Design (

He’s framed himself with a distinctly retro style (think 50’s comic books,) which separates him from the pack as a fun and unique illustrator, while his copy allows his personality to shine through.

Hi Michael,
Two great examples of elegant design. I agree with you about how Denis has framed himself with elegant simplicity. Even his website navigation is ultra smooth.

Hi Rochelle,
As you say great strapline and compelling visuals well combined.

Hi Kevin,
Agreed, Chad’s done a great job of framing his brand so it speaks to a particular audience. This means that he ends up attracting the right kind of clients to him and doing work that he loves.

Hi Ian,

I think Eric’s use of the word awesome is a bit tongue in cheek. It reflects his personality and attitudes back to us.
He’s actually a really great communicator.
Here’s the link to his corporate digital agency which has a very clear message.

You’re right I’ve used these examples to illustrate how different messaging in your copy writing communicates to different target markets. It also reflects the kind of business you are and helps the audience make up their minds.

Believe in’s copy might sound less personal but it’s written in order to attract the kind of clients they work best with. Two phrases in their copy stand out to me; ‘brave clients’ and ‘provocative’. My guess is that you don’t go to them to create an ordinary status quo type identity.

Check out their work on Clive’s products and you’ll see what I mean.

Of the four, I would say Nelwyn does the best because he uses his own name. To me that adds a more personal touch to the whole thing. It is like how you use your own name David. It’s hiring a designer, not a firm.

Coming in at a very close second would be Designed by Good People because they clearly state who they are and who they will serve. That aspect appeals to me too especially given current events in the US right now.

Interesting post. I think it’s quite common for designers to have difficulty conveying the essence of their own brand, due to the variety of work we often do.

My favorite designers – or design brands – are those that speak to the creative side of design, but who also recognize the need to convey bottom-line, long term value to the clients they are working with. Though it is a very large firm, I appreciate the work of a company like Pentagram. In terms of balancing creativity with practical considerations, they are able to achieve success in both areas with regularity.

Thanks Jon,
Telling people who you consider to be your right clients is often a great strategy.

That’s part of it Camille, you are often so intent on communicating the essence of others that your own message gets lost.
Sometimes it’s harder for a larger firm like Pentagram to maintain their values across continents and with large creative teams to manage, so thanks for pointing out how they do it.

Many thanks Bernadette for featuring us in this article on Davids site. There are two trains of thought. One is that you are judged by what you do. The other is that you are judged by why you do it.

We believe in the latter and we tell our clients the same. You need depth as a brand, not just a veneer. You need to be truthful as a brand and design is a tool to be used to expose that truth. We want to work with clients who we believe in, because when we worked for smaller or more ethical brands in the past we did better work and we had a proper client/designer relationship. That leads to better work, happier client, happier designers.

Answering the question:

I think Mike Kus has an exceptional brand built around him. His designs are dense with information yet very easy to absorb. His websites are designed like infographics – stories if you may.

As far as brands go – Audi, Apple & Ikea come to mind.

Wow, great timing for this article David. I’ve been racking my brain trying to answer some of those questions for myself. Great post as always!

Keeping it local (and with a theme). I live in the Midwest (US).

Christopher Elbow Chocolates (… where you go to purchase bribery gifts ;) The logo itself is very classy but what makes the brand great is the experience. The storefront (in the rather grungy art district) has the same stand-alone, classy feel, the inside makes you feel like you’re somewhere else, the packaging is beautiful, the color scheme/quality materials are used consistently… you really have to experience it first hand.

Skylab Letterpress ( Obviously it’s hard to tell from the website (although there are a few stationary pieces under “Samples”) but the self-promotional items they print are great (tons of different business cards, coasters, etc). Consistently branded with the same theme, but with a different logo almost every time. All evoke the imaginative feel given by the name… fun and freedom, sometimes retro, sometimes pop art.

The theme is that both of these businesses were branded by the wives of the owners (who, incidentally, both work at Hallmark). I love this… because we all have to compromise on client projects, on the day to day. So when the occasional project comes along that can be created with complete freedom, without limits… well, I know I jump at those opportunities. They both took advantage of those opportunities and created fantastic work… for their spouses. How fun is that?

BONUS: Christopher Elbow branched out into ice cream last year ( The branding is just as good… the website even better ;)

@Lee Newham — once again, thanks for all the subliminal promotion. The hypnosis I performed worked out perfectly. ;-)

@Bernadette Jiwa — thanks for Believing in us

Hey Bernadette,
I like the article, it’s really very good but my point of concern was if the framing of a brand complited from designers or client side after that how they can promote the brand how they can sell the brand on a high scale and how we(Designers) can help them to do this, if you can include this also in the article than it would be much batter.(As i think correct me if i am wrong).

Hi again Vikash,

What I was speaking about in this article is how to start thinking about framing your own brand. How you as a designer can understand and communicate a message about your brand in order to attract the kind of clients that you work best with.
Does that make sense?

I admire 160 over 90. they have a bold brand with a strong design aesthetic. they don’t seem afraid to put it all out there and that’s noble in this market. As far as branding goes, I’m a huge fan of Dogfish Head Brewery – they have an in-house design team from what I’m told. Kudos to them.


If you like the Dogfish Head aesthetic, take a look at Magic Hat out of Vermont.. not sure if their team is in house or not, though. They may go through an agency.

Good article. I think quite often designers strive for versatility, to be a brand clients can project their own brand image towards and correspond into a mutually beneficial partnership. I think this is one of the reasons why these featured sites work so well. They portray positively optimistic personalities, and people like affability.

Very good point. I would also recommend to do the 17 questions from Marty Neumeier’s “Zag: The Number One Strategy of High-Performance Brands” to start carving out one’s true position; all too often one just assumes that potential customers “get it” whereas the actual profile as it unfolds to the “uninitiated” is actually weak or confusing…

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