This week’s feature is pretty cool. (I mean, they are ALL cool, but this one is extra cool.) Why? Because I’m happily featuring my “competition” – the lovely and talented Amanda Farough of violetminded Media. Amanda and I share the opinion that competition is a ridiculous and antiquated concept – that collaboration is truly king. And that the more we sing each other’s praises, the more informed choices (and thereby value) we are offering to the world-at-large.
Amanda does a LOT of things very well. She’s a brilliant writer. A hard-working mama of two tiny humans. And a damn-excellent designer with a style all her own. But today we are focusing in on just one thing that Amanda RULES at. And that’s the process of cracking the secret magical code of what the visual language of her clients’ websites and brands should be. She calls this process the Creative Insight.
[My comments are in italics.]
Makeness: So, What is the ONE thing you know that you have nailed in your business? Be specific:
Capturing a business’ unique visual language.
The Creative Insight is a proprietary process that I lead my clients through that ultimately leads us to a brand archetype. It begins with a series of questions about the business’ origin story (to pick out patterns), business model, tonality, and client/customer base. From that information, I run through a series of patterns to see which common elements pop up throughout the story. The patterns unlock the foundation of the visual language: the brand archetype. The brand archetype, which pulls from Jung’s research and writing, then informs the colour palette, typographic palette, copywriting tonality, and even the photography.
It’s about revealing the beauty behind business by distilling a business’ Big Why down into a unique visual language. A visual language is a system of communication using visual elements, which is a combination of visual metaphors and palettes (colour and typography). A visual language is like a great story: it hooks you with an intriguing beginning (a website has about nine seconds to do that), builds you up, intrigues you, and ultimately blows your mind with the conclusion.
[Pretty sure EEEEEEVERY business should have this. So often, we come at design the way we come at choosing a sofa: Is it comfortable? Do I like it? Does it match the wallpaper? We forget that our website’s design – it’s voice – it essentially OUR voice in the world. It has to represent so much more than our aesthetic, it has to represent our work, while also speaking clearly to those who need it most.]
Makeness: Tell us about all the things you tried that relate to this that DIDN’T work?
I started really paying attention to visual metaphors and visual language in 2011, after countless hours of lame attempts at websites that were either beautiful and meaningless or entirely generic.
“Pixels go… here? This colour… maybe?”
I second-guessed myself all the damn time because I had no real foundation to build my work on. All I was doing was guessing, and guesswork wasn’t making me all that professional in the eyes of my clients.
[I love this self-awareness. For many, so much of design is a process of iterative poking and groping. Being able to articulate AND do something about that displays so much humility and strength. Pretty sure humility is the thing I look for most in any creative person (well that and raw talent – and Amanda has both).]
In the beginning of my Creative Insight process, I experimented with word association and then broke out those words into more meaningful concepts that would translate to a digital space. “Modern” could mean a number of things, depending on the tone of the site. It could mean “sans-serif” or “monochromatic” or “huge type”.
I found myself still guessing a bit to get to the good stuff. It took another couple of years to get to the process that I use these days.
[I linked ‘get to the good stuff’ to the free course I offer of the same name. Because it happens to be designed to help people do this very process… but Amanda did it aaaallll on her own.]
Makeness: What was the catalyst for getting your thing to work really, really well?
When I started violetminded, I was focusing on the client’s tastes, as most designers do before they start to grasp the importance of thinking like a marketer. The end product was a pretty website that would either be hit or miss with their audience.
I had no way of anticipating the client’s CLIENTS’ reaction.
[And THAT, folks, is the difference between a pro designer and a non-pro designer. You WANT a designer who fights for what your clients need. What you like matters very little. Because your website isn’t about what YOU need, it’s about what THEY need.]
I’m a pattern-seeker by nature — that’s my education in computer science peeking out — so I knew that word association was only going to take me so far.
I needed to find the patterns within the chaos and start to formulate a framework.
[Seeking patterns in client behavior is such juicy stuff – and not just in design. To me, it’s a process of active listening. Once you start to see repetition, then a methodology can emerge.]
Makeness: How do you know it’s working?
How I know the Creative Insight process really worked in a project is when the prototyping phase goes incredibly smoothly. Instead of nitpicking colour or type, we move quickly and fluidly between design and development.
Every single design decision is backed up by the Creative Insight. Anything that doesn’t make sense within the brand archetype isn’t considered (or is considered to be a “maybe”).
We don’t have to guess which colours are best or which typefaces to use. We simply know.
[Dude. Ease. All. The. Way.]
Makeness: What influenced the direction you took ‘the thing’?
After reading countless books on analytical and archetypal psychology, it dawned on me that all I needed to do was group those words into collections and give those collections of words forms and names. Carl Jung’s writings would often discuss how archetypes are empty shells until we fill them up with experiences and metaphors.
That’s exactly what I was doing with the brand archetypes in my Creative Insight process: building archetypal shells and filling them up with my clients’ business’ experiences and the metaphors that would eventually make up their visual language.
Makeness: What advice would you give to others who feel like their ‘thing’ isn’t working?
Visuals are difficult to nail when you don’t have a good sense of “why”. Every time you want to change something within your brand identity or your website, you should be able to answer “why”.
Why are you using that typeface, in contrast to something completely different?
Why are you using that colour palette?
The answer I hear the most is, “Because I like it.”
Though that’s important to make sure that you’re utilizing your brand identity and website effectively, it’s not going to instill any confidence in your customers or clients.
They want to know that you’re thinking about them.
They want to feel like they’re the most important people in the world when they visit your website or pick up your business card.
The way you do that is by making smart design decisions that you can back up with research.
[Go back and read that last section again. Like a thousand times. And then read it one more time. Because if you are one of the many people out there who has either slaved over their own website, or paid others to slave over it for you and it’s still not connecting, dollars to donuts, THIS IS WHY. If you assert only your own taste into your brand, you are not thinking like a business owner, you’re thinking like a hobbyist. Picking colors for your website should not be your job, it should be a competent designer’s. Because that’s what we do. We spend years understanding the psychology of color and shape and visual language. “Because I like it,” should never be the answer to any question about your business. Not ever.]
Anything else you’d like people to know?
Design can seem like a big bunch of guesswork and sometimes, it can be. By taking the time to lay a foundation of understanding at the beginning of the process, that guesswork is essentially eliminated. The guesswork is replaced by intuition and pattern-recognition on my end, and clarity on my client’s. We no longer have to waste time with, “Does this palette look good?” or “I think we should use this font.” Instead, it becomes a series of recommendations backed up by a combination of science and psychology. Everything is carefully researched in advance so that we can get on with the good stuff: crafting an online space that matters.
[Because isn’t THAT why we’re here anyway?]
What are you currently promoting in your business?
I’ve got five more design project slots open for the rest of 2014 and they’re filling up fast.
How would you like readers to reach out to you?
Are you TOTALLY WINNING at something, or know someone who is? Tell us all about it and see your very own story here.
Please note: I have turned off comments on the blog because I have found that we have far more lively conversation inside the Makeness Insider Community on Facebook. If you would like to join us there, consider this your cordial invitation.