In every creative
career, there comes a point when they need some form of self-promotional
This could be a personal logo, a business card or a Web site.
Almost every designer, illustrator and copywriter I’ve
spoken with describes "self-design" as a struggle,
a chore, a task left to the back burner because they "don’t
have any ideas" or they "don’t know where
It’s no secret that self-design is difficult. It requires
focus, honesty and inspiration. After all, it’s just
you. There are no creative directors, marketing executives,
focus groups or editors, and the design is so subjective that
it’s often an exercise in futility to seek advice from
Initiative and Honesty
Your own promotional material is completely self-generated.
There is no creative brief to get the project rolling and
all timelines or budget constraints are self-imposed. You
creating something from nothing, and 100% responsible for
the final product. A cold engine is harder to start than
one, and getting the creative pistons firing at full speed
requires time and focus. It may require altering your schedule.
Set aside paid assignments. Don’t mow the lawn. Work
late a few evenings. Without taking the time to sit down
and simply work through ideas, the canvas will remain forever
When you do start sketching out ideas, it is important to remember
that unabashed honesty is a critical ingredient in creating
designs that successfully represent you as an artist. If it
deceives the audience, it is self-defeating. If you willingly
project a false identity through your own design, how useful
are you to clients?
Sometimes, you have to dig a little deeper and find unique
inspirations — your own theme. It is imperative
to avoid shallow self-design built for the whiz-bang wow-factor.
hollow attempts at promotion are almost too easy to find — they
are too flashy or too corporate or too "high concept." They
have no passion. No soul. Like a Hollywood blockbuster, they
make no attempt to connect with the audience, instead crushing
them with effects and eye candy while the story and theme
are all but forgotten.
Finding our own unique theme for self-design requires coming
to terms with ourselves, and not just as creative lifers but
also as people. Like many forms of art, it can often seem like
Turning Introspection into Art Direction
Self-design is a superb excuse for a bit of head examination,
but we must use it to our advantage. We must ask the right
questions about ourselves to get the answers we need, and we
must transform those answers into tangible results, whether
it be a color scheme for a Web site or a brilliant type treatment
for a new letterhead. We need to turn introspection into art
Asking the right questions is often the most difficult part.
Yes, we can write down on a piece of paper "What is my
favorite color?" and immediately put "green." Hurrah.
But take it a bit deeper. "Where is my favorite place
to relax?" If you put "ocean," you have an entirely
different palette than "mountains." If you put "the
bar down the street," the smoky air and smell of beer
will influence your design differently than "the Alaskan
What is my favorite building?
Which art movements speak to me?
What was my favorite toy growing up?
How do I like my martini?
Would I rather have a beer?
Write down some questions and then write the answers. Examine
your list and construct a theme from the responses. Draw on
this collective image you have created to answer design-specific
questions. What color palette is best suited for my own design?
Should I use this bold titling font or this elegant serif?
Should I have a picture of a subway or a tree? Do I want photography
The more questions you answer, the more the theme distills
into a concept, which gives way to clear art direction. The
procedure is not unlike sculpture; we start with a ten-foot
cube of marble and chip, carve and polish our way to clarity
and definition. Often, a single element can snowball into huge
inspiration. For instance, if you are particularly fond of
autumn, maybe the geometric pattern in a leaf inspires a new
personal logo, and the gold and red tones set the color choices
for your Web site.
Despite the case for honesty, think about the occasional need
for personality filters. After all, there may be certain personality
facets best left unmentioned. (Like your love of Norwegian
death metal, or your habit of feeding seagulls Alka-Seltzer.)
Focus on the positive.
Our process to this point includes: (1) self-examination
(2) defining a collective theme about "you" (3)
building art direction (4) actual design. The audience
will process everything in reverse order. (1) Your design
(2) they "get" the art direction (3) infer your
theme (4) make assumptions about your personality.
your design is successful and honest, your audience, namely
potential clients, will create a mental image of you and
subconsciously decide if they like you or not — all
by interacting with your self-design.
Before releasing the designs into the world, run them by close
friends and family, preferably non-designers. Carefully watch
their reactions, both positive and negative. Good design does
not need to be explained. If you find yourself defending your
design, explaining the meaning, or justifying the execution,
you have not done your job as a designer. You have failed to
build a bridge of communication between you and your audience.
We work in an industry of relationships. We maintain relationships
with clients. We design Web sites, brochures and logos that
forge relationships between our clients and their customers.
If we can’t effectively portray ourselves, how can
we instill confidence in customers that we can effectively
their products or services? Intangible, gut-instinct impressions
from clients — especially first impressions — can
make all the difference between landing a lucrative contract
and eating another dinner of Ramen noodles. Can we afford
to be anything less than being honest?
©2004 Kevin Potts