“Let your personality shine through,” so the saying goes.
Think about some of the friends in your life right now. Who are the standouts? And why? For the most part, it will be the ones with whom you feel the greatest connection. The reason? The unique qualities of their personality gel with the unique qualities of your personality. That connection you feel can mean the difference between a good friend and a great friend.
Design is no different. Designing with personality can mean the difference between good design and great design. Personality speaks to people and emotionally engages your audience. Remember Apple’s “Get a Mac” advertising campaign with John Hodgman as the fuddy-duddy PC versus Justin Long as the cool-as-a-cucumber Mac? TBWA Media Arts Lab gave each product a personality in order to connect with the audience, encouraging people to think about whether they are the hip Mac or the staid PC. Few advertising series in recent times have been so memorable.
So, whether we’re talking about our friends or we’re thinking about design and advertising, personality is both memorable and impactful. Designing with personality distinguishes a brand, setting it apart from competitors and engaging the audience. Being distinctive and different also filters potential customers or clients as that design personality may both attract and deter.
“There is no such thing as bad publicity,” so whether the response is positive or negative, designing with personality should getting people talking and interacting with the brand. In this world of social media, that buzz can go a very long way.
How do you design with personality? Aarron Walter has mastered the art of designing with personality and Smashing Magazine publishes his chapter on how sharing our personality can help us create lasting relationships with users, client, and customers. Walter implores designers to “make personality central to the ethos of design,” and advises how a “design persona” works for a product or brand.
Whether you’re designing a brand identity for yourself or for another company or product, the process stays the same; albeit one may be more inherent to your nature than the other. Ask yourself, “if this product was a person, who would it be?” Hippie or hipster? Friend or fiend? Wise or wisecracker? List five traits that characterise the personality of the brand, as well as one or two boundaries – what the brand is not. For example, it may be sentimental but not soppy; professional but not uptight. These traits and boundaries become a value system that will guide your voice – words, language, and tone – and visuals – colour, typography, and imagery.
Want to see how it’s done? Here are 25 awesome case studies of what it means to design with personality.
01. Blunt, bold, and creative
Your own business cards are a great starting point for tapping into the essence of your personality. Emily Grey very summarises her personality traits using straight-to-the point text. She’s bold enough to use the word ‘shit’ knowing it will offend or deter some of her audience. There’s also no beating around the bush as she’s directly informing her audience that she “gets shit done.” The black-framed glasses are a symbol of her creative and modern touch. Overall, she has a distinct and identifiable tone.
02. Bubbly, fresh, and approachable
Not wanting to choose professionalism over personality Kate Walwyn designed her own business cards to reflect her graphic design personality. Her monotype K says it all. The bubbles represent her bubbly personality; the bright colours reflect her fresh ideas; and the use of the K, with rounded corners and set against a white background, makes her feel approachable.
03. Imaginative, cute, and somewhat repulsive
There’s no sugar coating the personality of Sweet Monsters, a Brazilian company that specialises in American milkshakes and Belgian waffles. Both the name of the company and the image of a saccharine-addicted monster, which is cute but somewhat repulsive, are imaginative and outrageous. This design personality, created by New Fren Studio, will definitely be to some people’s liking and not to others, thereby filter customers pre-purchase and creating buzz.
04. Unconventional, experimental, and unperturbed
Likewise, the website of New Zealand design studio Resn will filter viewers. Their website oozes personality and from their words to their graphics you know you’re in for an experience like no other. Their portfolio proves they can work with a multitude of briefs but their own website and in-house games reveal they love to experiment and push the boundaries, unperturbed whether or not you like it.
05. Spontaneous, unpredictable, and compelling
Every summer the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival takes over the town of Saskatoon for ten days. In these 2011 posters by Firebelly, Macy Gray’s wide-open mouth and Tegan and Sara playing with goggles capture the spontaneity of the event, while the dynamic text and bright pops of yellow are compelling and vibrant. Colour and size is used to move the viewers’ eye across the posters in rhythmic and unpredictable ways – another reflection of the personality of the festival.
06. Individualistic, inspired, and irreverent
Fun. is an American indie band that produces music that is, well, fun. This poster by Tommy Sheehan of TOMMYINK represents the inspired, irreverent, and individualistic personalities of the three musicians who make up the band. This cheekiness is represented by an image that is at one time the classic American ice-block, the Turbo Rocket, while also resembling the middle finger coated with America’s patriotic colours. I think we can say they’re definitely poking fun in this one!
07. Wishful, wistful, and subdued
Colour and imagery is key in this catalogue page for Ölend handmade backpacks from Barcelona by Querida. Each person is viewed only from behind as they seemingly stare into the distance or walk towards a two-dimensional landscape. By never seeing their face we can only imagine their wishful aspirations while the subdued and subtle colour palette embodies a feeling of sentimentality and wistfulness as they are caught between the present and the future.
08. Unique, playful, and sophisticated
Six strong flavours equal six strong design personalities in the case of Sabadi chocolates. Happycentro designed six characters to represent each flavour, adding an extra layer of appeal to already appealing chocolates. Each unique character is playfully expressive with a face, arms, legs, and props illustrated over the top of their distinctive ingredient. And each one has an air of “look-at-me sophistication” as they jostle for attention.
09. Story-teller, dynamic, and traditional
Happycentro also designed the packaging for Sabadi’s Torroni (nougat) range. This time, they looked to the heart of Sicily to tell a visual and metaphorical narrative of where the product originates. They created a dynamic mosaic of stories that explores the traditional areas of Sicily including the countryside, streets, squares, places, and people, creating an authentic and trustworthy personality that suggests this is one brand you can trust.
10. Ordinary, extraordinary, and empowered
For those yogis out there, you’ll know that yoga is empowering. Step onto the mat and your extraordinary inner yogi shines. But who are we in real life? Just ordinary people. Dutch company Studio Airport tapped into this paradox making a series of individual yogi personas who are ordinary on the outside and extraordinary on the inside: Wouter Warrior, Harry Handstand, plus others. They expressed a not only personality for each character clothing, body shape, stance, name, and yoga strength, but also a personality for the yoga studio, one that is empowering, universal and fun.
11. Zestful, approachable, and smooth
Steven Bonner collaborated with the agency Work Club to produce illustrated animations and a typeface that celebrates the flavour characteristics of premium blended Scotch whisky Ballantine’s 12 Year Old. He illustrated the first letter from each flavour to reflect the tasting note (pear, orange, honey, etc) and as Bonner writes, “the story of its own flavour.” In doing so, he created a personality for each letter that depicted its zestful tasting note, as well as the overall smooth and approachable style of Ballantine’s 12 Year Old.
12. Delightful, nostalgic, and old-timey
This redesign of the Baskin Robbins logo by Kaitlyn Haddlesey should happen as it pumps personality into the rather dated visual identity of the company. The colour pink maintains brand consistency while the homespun hand lettering embodies three personality traits: old-timey – the company has an enduring legacy; delightful – we all know going for cream is always pleasurable; and nostalgic – the sense of childlike-fun associated with eating ice cream never grows old.
13. Debonair, traditional, and respectful
When you design with personality, that personality doesn’t necessarily have to jump off the page. In the case of Premium, a sofa tailor hailing from the north of Portugal – a region with a long history of furniture production – the personality is more serious. Design agency Bullseye used a black and gold colour palette to portray the company’s debonair sophistication while the crest and wreath represent tradition and respect. And they place the logo on stationary and tags like a stamp of approval or a maker’s mark in a show of pride.
14. Unpretentious, friendly, and humble
Similarly, the design personality for Ahal by Futura doesn’t scream at its audience but it is no-less effective. Ahal is a Mexican company that uses eco-conscious ingredients and handmade processes to make soaps and other products. Their desire for simplicity, care, and responsibility is reflected in the packaging and branding. Friendly colours and unpretentious typography cover simple packaging that has nothing superfluous or unnecessary. The modest packaging is back-to-basics – much the like product and humble personality of the company.
15. Diverse, welcoming, and energetic
Loz Ives of Fieldwork created a visual identity for The Community Shares Company, a fund-raising enterprise for community-based ventures, that uses a combination of colour and shape, which are, of course, the foundations of design, just as community is one of the foundations of society. The colourful palette and geometric shapes represent the welcoming energy and personality of the company while the variety and composition of colours and shapes reflects the diversity of the company and the community.
16. Fresh, bold, and playful
Sagmeister & Walsh’s campaign for Indian mango juice brand Frooti is as refreshing as the product itself. Sagmeister & Walsh informs audiences that their goal was to introduce the new packaging in a “fresh, bold, and playful” way. And that they do, also capturing the personality of Frooti. The backgrounds are composed of bold colours, while miniature figurines make use of over-sized mangos and Frooti packaging for both work and play.
17. Collaborative, creative, and fun
Brooklyn Beta is an entertaining gathering of highly creative people that used to happen on an annual basis. Charged with developing the visual identity of Brooklyn Beta, Tobias van Schneider and Verena Michelitsch called on the intrinsic personality of the event – collaborative, creative, and fun – and invited all attendees to participate. More than 800 people contributed to a mural that was then used in different elements of the visual identity.
18. Modern, dynamic, and adventurous
Tamer Koseli worked with a quote by Anthony Bourdain to channel personality out of the NetWork brand and funnel into the company’s luggage tags: “Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you.” He created the image of a man with filled with symbols of travel – a globe, airplane, suitcase, etc – representing the modern, dynamic, and adventurous personality and attitude of the traveller.
19. Mysterious, intense, and intriguing
How do you represent the personality of a story? Jessica Hische designed a series of book covers for Penguin Drop Cap editions, using the first letter of the author’s name to depict each story. For example, she illustrates an ‘O’ for John O’Hara’s Butterfield 8 (1935). Working within this theme, Jessica draws a simple O with woman peering through the centre, transforming into image that feels mysterious, intense, and intriguing, a perfect capturing of the essence of the novel.
20. Original, resourceful, and honest
Amy Harris combines her love of illustration and set design to make cut-out logos for well known English brands. Drawing on the key colour palette of each brand and the objects and figures connected with the consumer experience of each, her logo redesigns reflect the personality of the companies. Being such a handcrafted process, the cut-out logos are also an expression of Amy’s personality as a designer – original, resourceful, and honest.
21. Classic, fun-loving, and hip
Colourful bahia bands are a tradition in Brazil and retro Adidas is a tradition in casual sports clothing. Adhemas Batista brings the two together in his pitch for a version of the Adidas Originals logo for the 2014 Soccer World Cup. Batista encircles the recognisable Adidas logo with lots of colourful bands, helping the design tap into the classic, fun-loving, and hip personality of the brand.
22. Imaginative, inventive, and enthusiastic
Robby Leonardi is a New York-based designer and his Mario-style interactive resume is breath of fresh air. Robby casts himself as the lead character in the game-based platform. His illustrations, saturated colours, and user experience are a reflection of his personality and skills: imaginative, inventive, and enthusiastic.
23. Playful, unique, and chatty
Jesse Willmon’s portfolio is also all about personality. He uses the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘you’ to quickly engage his audience, speaking directly about herself and to viewers, and he uses plenty of humour to discuss and display his work. Jesse’s illustrative style and his tone of voice is unique, and altogether his website is playful and chatty. You just can’t help but like it!
24. Sophisticated, experienced, and elegant
The red wine on these business cards by Studio Caserne says it all. The simple visual motif of a single wine stain paired with ultra simple typesetting and overall design generates a personality of elegance, sophistication and simplicity. It also speaks to Mylène Poisson’s experience as an elegant and mastered sommelier.
25. Futuristic, innovative, and creative
Design Terminál is a Hungarian agency that promotes creative industries; and the name and typography – by designer and visual artist Kissmiklos – conveys. Design Terminál is a forward-looking one-stop-agency of sorts. Kissmiklos uses type that resembles the neon signs of the 1950s, deemed futuristic in that era. Despite that being more than fifty years past now, it still embodies the Design Terminál’s innovative, creative, futuristic, and forward-thinking personality.
So, grab a pen and paper and come up with a list of personality traits – these 638 positive, negative, and neutral words (although it’s all in the eye of the beholder) may give you a starting point. Work with a mood board to guide your visuals. And you’ll soon discover the difference between good design and great design.