4 Damn Good Designers Tell Us: How to Self-Brand & Promote
In our first post, we covered the fundamentals around the art of self-promotion, including tips on what questions to ask yourself, how to build your visual identity, and the various channels to explore in promoting yourself.
For Part 2 in our series, we’ve interviewed four damn good designers we’ve worked with from all over the world on our Fontspiration project—a showcase of the designers’ favorite fonts to help inspire your own work. We asked our designers—Jose, Rosa, Amanda and Justin—how they self-promote, with questions running the gamut from how often they update their portfolio to the best places to showcase their work to how often they network.
One thing we found is that, not surprisingly, there’s no magic bullet, and everyone has their own preferences and does things in a way that works for them. That said, there are some common threads. We’d like to share some insights that stood out for us to help frame how you might think about your own self-branding efforts.
Obviously this is going to be any creative pro’s main venue for showcasing their work, whether it’s their own template site or a portfolio template site. Some people set aside each week for updates, some update as soon as they’re done with a project. For others, like Justin: “Rarely. The moon needs to align with Jupiter and Uranus. Basically whenever I find downtime, I have to have work worthy of being in a portfolio and the work that I’ve done has gone live. Otherwise, I can’t really promote anything.”
Regarding portfolio-building tools, Behance is one that seemed to keep cropping up as a good place to easily update, showcase, and share work. (In fact, it’s where we found three of the four designers for this interview.) With so many other good template portfolio builders out there, Behance may not be the One for everyone, but it is nice that it’s integrated with Adobe Creative Cloud. It also makes it easy to get social. “It’s a good place to show your work, and it works like a social network,” Jose tells us. “It’s easy to share, easy to see.” Rosa’s also a big fan: “You can really interact with others, you’re really easy to find, and I’ve been in several books since I created my profile.”
Sharing with other designers of course also helps build confidence, along with your support network or community. As Jose puts it, sharing work on a more connected community site like Behance can be “really flattering, and it makes you see your own work in another way. Also, everyone loves compliments.”
Another tool you may not have thought of for sharing your work is Instagram. Amanda loves it “because it’s centered around photography…There’s a huge community of artists and designers on Instagram and I love taking part in contests and getting to know other artists and designers. It also provides a way for potential clients to connect with me and see a glimpse into my process of designing.”
As someone that uses a few different portfolio sites myself, including Krop and Dunked, I’d add that I think what’s most important is to not use the site everyone says to use, or that everyone’s using. The main thing is that the site suits your needs and is easy to use. Since these two things are intertwined and highly subjective, it’s key to experiment with a short list until you find the one or ones that are right for you. I’d also add that I think it’s more important to focus on great work, which leads to more clients, rather than constantly fussing with one’s website. There are so many out there, and trends change so quickly, that it doesn’t make a lot of sense trying to build the best art gallery—instead, focus on the paintings hanging on the wall.
On using physical business cards, we had to chuckle at Jose’s response: “No, that’s old-school.” (I have to say I think the same thing…I never used business cards when I ran my own business and actually see them as a quaint artifact of ritual and protocol from a bygone era.) Regardless, they can still be a valuable tool and we found that two of our designers use Mini-moo cards, since they’re smaller and easier to keep in a wallet.
And speaking of business cards, no discussion mentioning those would be complete without touching on…
Let’s face it, people-people love it and non-people-people hate it. Networking is how some designers get most of their business, and for others none. Again, the responses from our small but esteemed sample indicate that whether or not you choose to invest time and effort into mingling at the latest dot-com meet-in—or even blogging or responding to others’ posts and the like—is a matter of personal preference.
For Amanda, “social media is a powerful self-promotion tool that’s absolutely vital. Instagram, Facebook and Twitter allow us to connect with people all over the world and share our designs and ideas on a huge platform. I think that networking events and design conferences are also vital—nothing beats a good old-fashioned handshake. Local events are especially important for promoting yourself to your community.”
When we asked Jose if he networks, he replied, “Not really.” And Rosa? “Probably not enough. I’m not really a people person… But I think sometimes I should force myself to network better and be nice. I see other people who I think are less talented designers do the coolest assignments sometimes, because they’re better at doing business.”
Approach to personal branding
Creating, maintaining and updating one’s personal brand can often seem like a rat race of sorts. It’s hard to truly have the best UX in the world, or the best design, or the best work in a way that rises above the noise, especially when trends come and go and what a client’s looking for is so subjective.
For Justin, his personal brand is more fixed than fluid. “Often it’s about the tone of my site,” he says. “I get good feedback on my logo and I feel passionately that a strong logo shouldn’t be changed.”
Others like Rosa prefer to take a more “generic,” low-key approach, to let the work shine through. “I deliberately kept my website very basic,” she says. “So with every new project I can decide again how I want it to look, without changing my identity or webpage.” In a move that might be shocking and offensive to most designers, Rosa “chose Helvetica because you can always trust Helvetica and it looks good. I don’t care how many times peoples used it—and again, I wanted to keep it basic.”
How to set yourself apart
Even if one chooses to take Rosa’s approach, there are other ways to set yourself apart outside your site. Justin advises, “Do good work, communicate well, be fun to work with and get sh*t done on time. Do that and people will spread your name…I strive for a combination of quality, communication and timeliness. Oh, and I don’t charge $150 an hour.” Amanda puts focus on “doing everything to the best of my ability, from personal interactions with clients, to making unique and original designs. I hope that my personality shines through my work.” Speaking of interactions with clients, Rosa adds, “This may sound really stupid, but be real.”
Get ready, get set, get inspired
One of the best things about our jobs here at Extensis is discovering new talent and the inspiration we get from them. Our designers featured in this post feel no different…we all have our own styles, but we’re all also connected. Jose, for example, gets his inspiration from “Not very well-known designers. And also people from the street.” Amanda finds inspiration on channels where she’s promoting her own work. “Instagram, Twitter, and Behance are full of amazing artists and designers who I admire and hope to learn a thing or two from,” she tells us. A recent source of inspiration for me me lately was the amazing work featured in ‘25 Examples of Branding Identity Done Right’ on Hongkiat.com.
For even more inspiration, we encourage you to check out the work of our four interview subjects—Jose, Rosa, Justin and Amanda, and connect with them on their respective portfolio sites and social media channels. Give them a thanks and shout-out for sharing their views. Let us know if anything stands out for you in the comments. Who knows, maybe our next interview subject will be you.