It really only hit me when I saw Katelyn’s recap post teaser on Twitter.
“Wow,” I thought to myself. Two months?! Was it really that fast? Didn’t Christmas happen like a month ago? Oh gosh, my thank you notes…”
And then – after a moment of “I’m an ungrateful WRETCH!” reflection – it actually set in. “Wait, how in the WORLD did we get all of this done in just two months?!”
A two month rebrand, website and blog design overhaul is, to put it lightly, not the norm. I’m sure most of you have heard horror stories of stalled projects, difficult designers, and multi-year, multi-tear-inducing rebrands that end up with sighs of resigned, “At least it’s done?” acceptance, not “Finally, the whole world will know exactly who I am!” rejoicing.
And while some projects actually REQUIRE months of time, planning, and development (hold off on that “JEN SAID TWO MONTHS!” email to your designer), Katelyn’s unicorn of a rebrand process can teach us a few things about moving forward on a smooth, satisfying design fast track.
So, how did she do it? Well, she’s Katelyn “Edits a wedding in the same time it takes you to unload the dishwasher” James, so that doesn’t hurt. But beyond that…
1. SHE WAITED : As Katelyn mentioned in her post, she’d never been branded by a designer until now. She didn’t start her business in 2008, then rush to a designer a few weeks later to invest thousands of dollars into a brand she’d barely begun to understand.
As a designer, I get countless inquiries from new photographers who want to invest in a brand and website that showcases their work. They’ve been taught by industry professionals that their livelihood is dependent on differentiating themselves from the pack, so they want the best logo design money can buy.
I realize this doesn’t sound like a bad situation from my perspective (hey, they want to pay me, right?), but here’s the issue: when you’ve not yet occupied your own brand, it’s nearly impossible for a designer to do it for you.
Because Katelyn has had well over 6 years of defining, exploring and refining her brand, business and online presence, when it came time to “rebrand” / redesign her, we were simply tasked with elevating and restating values she’d spent years presenting… even if they weren’t presented quite as well or as clearly as they are now. Since we knew what Katelyn James was all about, we could easily determine what felt true to her brand (at its best) and what did not.
Before you invest in a designer, consider whether you’ve reached a point where you feel confident about what your brand’s values are and how they should be presented. No matter how great a designer might be, they can’t “give” you a brand; they can only give you the design to back it up. And when you approach the design process before you’re ready, you risk investing thousands of dollars in branding that you’ll have nearly outgrown by the time it’s complete. And bam, NIGHTMARE DESIGN PROCESS. Continual rebranding. Lots of “Didn’t you change your logo last year?”
So, until you’ve reached a point in your business where you know – or are at least starting to know – your brand, your target audience, and how you want your target audience to view you, here’s my advice:
Keep it simple. Isolate the things that people associate with you and your business, and focus on those. (You’ll note that we didn’t get rid of Katelyn’s signature teal – there would have been riots in the streets!) Determine your brand’s qualities; think about the kind of decisions it would make, the kinds of people it wants to work with, the places it might shop…and maybe even if it might live in your foyer. :) Instead of investing in custom website from the get go, maybe you start off with a simple logo design and a customizable site (TONIC can help you with that!) . Many of the most successful photographers have incredibly basic logo and website design, but their “brand” – and, of course, their work – speaks volumes. Start there. By the time your brand can walk and talk on it’s own, it’ll be much easier to design it something new to wear.
2. SHE FOCUSED. When it came time for us to begin our design process – she’d booked me well before our “two month” time slot – Katelyn was ON it. She did her homework, she accumulated her content, she responded to my ideas, she suggested changes, and she made it clear that our project was a priority with a specific goal in sight. On one Friday in November, after about 5 hours, 20 emails and a few texts back and forth, we’d designed her homepage. Because I was able to get feedback, then refine, get more feedback, then refine… part of the process that can take weeks – or longer! – was exponentially expedited. She was on the ball; I stayed in the zone; choose your own sports analogy for “winning’ here.
(Note: Katelyn also set aside time in her schedule to come to my house so we could knock out much of the design together, in person, which was HUGE (and also a blast). If your designer doesn’t offer that kind of service or if distance doesn’t allow it, it doesn’t hurt to ask if you can schedule a “design intensive” via Skype, or even via email over the course of a few days!)
Often, the design process gets mired down in endless emails, obsessive deliberation, a busy shooting season, or “the rebrand overwhelm” (which is totally at thing!). If you can’t invest both finances AND focus in your project, it’s best to wait until you can. If you feel like you’re getting stuck, let your designer know so you can work out the best way to move forward. The more you prioritize the project, the faster your designer can deliver.
3. SHE TRUSTED. If you’re a photographer, you understand how empowering it is to have a client who says, “I trust your vision; I hired you to capture my day, and I can’t wait to see it through your eyes.” No endless shot lists or specific Pinterest all-stars to recreate… just the freedom to create.
Despite the fact that Katelyn comes from a design background – which makes it extra tough! – she made it very clear that after a long time spent reviewing my work (years, actually!), she was sure I could create something that both represented and elevated her brand. Because of that surety, she trusted me to design FOR her, not to design THROUGH her. She didn’t have set boundaries in place or twenty specific “shot list” guidelines for me to follow. Instead, we discussed the vision for the project, her hopes for where the eventual result might land, and (with her help!) I was able to execute something that fulfilled all the requirements, plus a few she didn’t even know she had (like the finished site resembling her foyer!).
Before you hire a designer, first take a critical look at their portfolio and make sure you can trust them to design something that aligns with your vision. There are lots of GREAT designers with fantastic portfolios who you, personally should never hire. If you’ve hired the right one (congratulations!), communicate your overall vision – along with any non-negotiable specifics – as best you can. Then, step aside a bit! I can’t tell you how many time I’ve had a client say, “I could never have come up with something that fits me this well!” and how rarely I’ve had one say, “Boy, I’m so glad I paid you a lot of money to follow my paint-by-numbers instructions!”
I told Katelyn that she was a total dream client, and that wasn’t just the post-launch-high (which is also totally a thing!) talking. She was appreciative, communicative, flexible, decisive, and motivated. She didn’t hand her project to me; she took it on with me. And if you’ve been around here for a while, you KNOW she has great taste. But the three primary points above are what gave us – and you, we hope! – the freedom to get things done well and get them done fast – In two months, no less.
Just in time for me to write my thank you notes.
After reading that from Jen, if you don’t already love her and want to be one of her besties, you’re not human. :) But seriously, if this was helpful or inspirational or educational, leave her some love! I’m so thankful for not only her time, talent and expertise on my project, but I’m also so grateful that she took the time to share these tips with our blog community!