One of my goals with Ampersand Creative is to be as transparent about my processes as possible. I believe transparency is freeing and valuable for all parties involved. As a result, I’d love to dive into the design process behind the blog in an effort to share why and how even DIY designers can benefit from hiring out as well as to outline what to expect while working with a designer.
As a bit of a disclaimer, it’s important to look at where I was coming from: my design and branding goals, my budget, and my level of control before explaining my experience with a petite brand and graphic designer.
Over the last three years, I have largely considered myself a DIY designer, teaching myself basic HTML, tweaking templates and themes as necessary, and mocking up graphics in PicMonkey and Pixlr. And you know what? I wasn’t half bad. Every few months, I scratched the itch to redesign and it was fulfilling. (You can view my last DIY redesign here where I recap my designs from the beginning on The Modern Austen. Prepare yourself.) Admittedly, a large part of this desire was born out of a need for control. I did not think a designer could capture and deliver what I was hoping for at the price I was willing to pay; additionally, I wanted the ability to make changes on the fly on my own.
Even so, I was limited. Even if I had the time to take a Photoshop or Illustrator course (I didn’t.), I didn’t want to spend the money and I didn’t really have the mental bandwidth to dedicate myself to learning the craft. Something I learned during my rebranding process and transition from The Modern Austen was that I couldn’t and can’t do everything. I had to pick and choose what I wanted to focus on instead of spreading myself too thin.
Ultimately, I had to learn to put my trust in faith in someone else to take the ideas in my head and translate it into a beautiful and easy-to-navigate design–all within a reasonable budget. Now that I am on the other side of this process, I realize I shouldn’t have worried at all.
Sam from Sam Bell Creative was an absolute dream to work with. Though my experiences working with a designer are unique to Sam, I hope that sharing the process might be of use to you as you make choices about your own blog design moving forward.
Disclaimer: I am sharing my personal experiences with Sam Bell Creative of my own volition. I was not asked to provide a review of any kind in exchange for any services. I paid for my designs and am sharing because I had such a pleasant experience and would highly recommend Sam to anyone!
Choosing a Designer
It can be overwhelming to comb through the thousands of talented designers out there, but starting off the process with a few considerations can help narrow your focus and find the right fit for you and your blog.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Designer:
- Aesthetic – Do a once-over on the designer’s website and social platforms. Does his or her brand give off the same kind of vibe you are hoping for? While designers can certainly (and very beautifully) create work that is very different from their own personal brand, I find the process is enriched by someone who gets it. Not only can you communicate more effectively about what you envision, but you immediately associate trust with someone who has already demonstrated work that you admire.
Taking a quick look at Sam’s website gave me every indication that she and I would be on the same page about our design aesthetics. Her clean, streamlined style with feminine touches was exactly the kind of feel I was aiming for.
- Portfolio/Personal Website – It should go without saying that one’s body of work is like a resume–it gives a customer insight into the quality of a designer’s work and often shows a wide range of talents and abilities. However, newly established designers can be just as fantastic as veterans, so if their portfolio is not as extensive, don’t immediately rule them out. Just as you would inspect the designer’s personal aesthetic, note how she has designed and laid out her own site.
- Design Elements – Knowing what elements you want designed before you choose a designer will shape your selection process. Some designers only offer full redesigns, while others prefer smaller design projects. If you are adamant about print materials such as business cards or thank you notes, your search will differ greatly from someone who is looking for a header image and social media buttons. Once you have your design elements picked out, take note of designers’ services and offerings. If they don’t seem to offer the level of design you are hoping for, don’t waste your time trying to make your goals align with theirs.
Because of my DIY background and former Genesis/Foodie theme purchase, I knew I did not need to invest in a full-fledged website and brand designer. I wanted the basics with a few extra additions: a header image, social media branding, a moodboard, a style guide, and some theme customizations. I was immediately attracted to Sam’s “petite design and boutique branding” offerings and knew that she would be a better fit for me rather than someone who specialized in website overhauls.
- Budget – Branding is an investment worth making, but that doesn’t mean you should blow all of your money on one design project. Be honest with yourself with what you can afford right now, while keeping all of your blog goals in mind. I knew that I could achieve a decent design for little to no money, but building a consistent brand and strong aesthetic was very important to me. Additionally, as I mentioned above, allocated my time efficiently was also key. When I considered all of my desired design elements and factored in the time it would take for me to complete, I was willing to spend around $250. My budget eliminated many of the designers on my list. If you find yourself in a similar situation, I recommend looking for relatively new designers who are looking to build their portfolios or searching on Etsy.
- Testimonials/Referrals – When it comes to services that ultimately represent your brand, it’s much easier to trust a company or designer that has come highly recommended by someone you know than it is to rely solely on a portfolio. Even if someone has a stunning body of work, their work flow, process, professionalism, and personality is equally as important to consider. Many designers include testimonials and/or links to their client’s sites; don’t hesitate to reach out directly to see what they thought of the experience if you need more information.
Your turn: What other factors should you consider when choosing a designer?
Communicating with a Designer
Each designer has his own preferred method of communicating with a client. Some use email to converse back and forth; others use project management apps and sites like Basecamp or Teamwork. Lauren from Elle & Company uses a GENIUS process and creates a password-protected project page for each of her clients on her Squarespace website. Whatever the process is, you as a client have a responsibility to uphold to ensure your project’s success.
Sam and I communicated solely through email and then used Dropbox for the file exchange. While our threads could often get pretty lengthy and it was a little tricky to go back through a thread to find something specific, it worked well overall. Looking back at our process, there are a few tips and tricks worth mentioning regarding communication.
Reply quickly and efficiently
Because design requires input throughout the process, you play a critical role in helping your designer meet your deadlines. Sam was always incredibly prompt and I was always so pleasantly surprised to see a new update in my inbox much sooner than I expected. As awesome as she was, I ended up stalling our progress for a few extra days because I was not prompt in replying to a particular round of design. Hold yourself to the same expectation as your designer and make sure to respond punctually.
Provide as much detail and feedback as possible
While some clients give designers full reign over their projects, more often than not, clients expect a designer to take whatever is floating around in their heads and deliver it with ease. However, without detailed information and consistent feedback, this can make the process more difficult and perhaps even lengthier than necessary. Make it as streamlined as possible by providing feedback when necessary so the designer does not have to read your mind or send additional emails for clarification.
Sometimes providing constructive criticism can be uncomfortable, especially when you highly respect your designer. This was a bit of a challenge for me, personally, but I realized it was more important for me to get the design that I wanted than to worry about offending Sam. Good news for me–Sam wasn’t at all offended (duh, she’s a professional) and my feedback made the overall designs even stronger.
Be open to suggestions
Even though it’s important to provide detail about what you’re looking for in a design, it’s also refreshing to get an outsider’s (or in this case, a professional designer’s) opinion about a particular aspect you aren’t sure about. While I was very clear in my preferences, there were a few areas when I asked Sam what she would recommend. This gave Sam the ability to share her expertise and it gave me a lot more options that I hadn’t thought of originally.
Gratitude and kindness go a long way
Sam and I both agreed that this process was so enjoyable and I think we can attribute a lot of that to our genuine professional and personal friendship. There were moments when both of us needed a little grace in meeting deadlines due to personal circumstances and we were eager to accommodate. Being authentically kind takes an average professional relationship and molds it into a unique and pleasant collaboration.
Your turn: What other tips and tricks regarding communication with a designer would you recommend? (Designers–feel free to chime in!)
The Ampersand Creative Design Process
As I mentioned above, Sam and I agreed that she would design: a header image (logo), social media graphics, a moodboard, a style guide, and some Foodie theme customizations. After I filled out a detailed workbook on my design and branding preferences with examples, we were ready to get started.
Here is the process we used:
- Header image
- Style guide
- Theme customizations
- Social Media graphics
Let’s take a look . . .
Using all of the details I provided in her design workbook as well as on my secret Pinterest design inspiration board, Sam kicked things off by creating a moodboard, which is essentially an “inspiration board” to base all designs from. I was looking for clean lines, feminine touches (but not too girly), a black and white color scheme with an accent color, and possibly stripes with a target audience of professional millennial women with an entrepreneurial spirit.
I love everything about this moodboard. I showed it to a friend and he said, “Woah, that’s you.” I love that it still incorporated the stripes and florals, but it is softened by the more subtle pinks, and gold accents. The more casual vibe of both the men’s suit and the woman’s work wear really nailed it for me.
I was quite picky when it came to the logo, but I think it really paid off. I was looking for just the right kind of ampersand, one that was classic (rather than an “e”), but still had an extra flair to it to make it unique. I also knew that I liked a sans serif font best (or a sans serif/serif mix). Sam was kind enough to send me as many variations as possible to make sure I picked just the right one.
From choosing an ampersand to settling on the font, I was provided with many options and I had such fun mixing and matching until I found what I was ultimately looking for. To reiterate from above, communicating effectively and consistently was critical during this stage.
The Style Guide
I was particularly excited to have a style guide created since brand consistency is something I’m very passionate about with Ampersand Creative. While I had Sam create one for me, you can build your own using this helpful guide by Julie Harris Design, made even easier with a free worksheet. A style guide is a great tool to have on hand so that you can always reference the stylistic specifics of your blog from typography to colors to overall mood. It serves as a nice compilation of my favorite design elements and is extremely representative of me personally as well as my brand.
Since I am a huge advocate of the Genesis theme paired with the Foodie Child theme (see my Resources page for more information), I wanted to continue using it with just a few modifications. Sam was able tweak the navigation to remove the lines above and below the menu, add boxes around my sidebar items, generate a branded call-to-action for my newsletter, and add code to make all of my links stand out. She also suggested some great plug-ins, such as the Heads Up bar at the top of my page.
Social Media Graphics
Finally, the process was wrapped up quickly and efficiently with my newest social media graphics. You can check them out on Facebook and Twitter (and if you subscribe to my monthly newsletter, you’ll see a fabulous header graphic, too!) While you’re add it, I’d love to see you around Instagram and Pinterest as well! ;)
Overall, I am incredibly pleased with my decision to hire a designer instead of DIY-ing my design again. It’s all about picking and choosing your priorities and, this time, my energy and focus was needed elsewhere (and I think the blog is better off for it!). Many thanks to Sam Bell Creative for helping me achieve the look I was going for!