How to use design to build your personal brand

Deanna deBara
Deanna deBara

When you’re building a personal brand, the most important thing you can do is differentiate yourself. When you have a strong sense of who you are and how to differentiate your personal brand, you can break through the clutter, stand out from the competition, and grab the attention of your ideal customers.

And the best way to differentiate yourself? Through design. But how can you leverage design to build a standout personal brand? We spoke to Marc Anderson, designer and founder of design and branding studio Rainfall, to find out.

Homepage design by Rainfall design and branding studio. Rainfall has produced work for major brands like Chase and Spotify.

Building a brand can be tough—but building a personal brand is arguably even tougher. When you’re building a personal brand (whether you’re a coach, a consultant, an author, or something else entirely), not only do you have to develop a brand that captures your audience’s attention—that brand also has to feel true to who you are.

And the most powerful tool for nailing the one-two punch of being attention grabbing and unique to who you are? Design. “Design is important when building a personal brand because above all the minutiae of imagery, color, type, and layout, ‘designing’ yourself demonstrates that you have considered how to communicate who you are and what you stand for,” says Anderson, designer and founder of Rainfall, a design and branding studio that’s produced work for major brands like Chase and Spotify. “Design doesn’t have to include any of those individual elements listed above, it can instead be as simple as a well crafted and executed photo, a sentence, or sound. Design simply means that you are conscious of what you are doing or saying, and how that is perceived.”

But how, exactly, do you leverage design to build a powerful personal brand? What are the factors or elements you need to consider? How do you carry that design across all platforms—including social media—to connect with your target audience?

Find your voice

Finding your voice. Photo by Jason Rosewell via Unsplash

As you’re starting to build your personal brand, you might be tempted to jump right into the design process. But there’s a crucial step you need to tackle beforehand—and that’s figuring out your brand voice.

“Your overall message and personality takes top priority, and then all the ‘design’ elements will fall into place,” says Anderson. “Do you want to be bold and boisterous? Gentle and soft? Minimal and reserved? These are all elements of your brand tone of voice and will guide all the visual decisions you will have to make.”

Remember—your building a personal brand, so your brand tone of voice should align closely with your innate personality. The key is authenticity; the more authentic you are when developing your brand voice, the more authentic it will come across to your audience—and the more connected they’ll feel to your brand.

“Don’t try to be someone you’re not; the inauthenticity will be painfully obvious,” says Anderson. “We probably all have friends who want to be Instagram models or ‘influencers’ who we know don’t have that personality and it’s cringe-inducing. Even worse, it’s difficult to keep consistent, and will make promoting yourself feel like much harder work than it should be.”

Get to know your audience

Photo by Hanny Naibaho on Unsplash

Once you’re clear on who you are as a brand, it’s time to get clear on who you’re marketing to—your audience. “First and foremost, understanding your audience is key because it will help you design to them,” says Anderson.

Do your research. Who is your ideal audience? What platforms are they engaged with? What kind of content connects with them?

You’ll also want to do competitor research. What personal brands in your space are making a mark on your ideal audience—and what is it about their design and branding that’s working?

Now, don’t get us wrong—you never want to rip off someone else’s design or branding. But you do want to understand what’s working in your market. That way, you can put your own unique spin on the elements that connect with your audience and differentiate yourself from the competition.

So, for example, let’s say you’re a yoga teacher and you’re working on building a wellness brand. Through your research, you might find that all your competitors are making recipe cards for their audiences to share on social media. Obviously, recipe cards are a hit with your ideal audience—but to differentiate yourself from all the other recipe cards that hit their newsfeed, you could put your own spin on it by building each recipe around ingredients that will support your followers’ yoga practice.

“I often call this the supermarket approach,” says Anderson. “If you are selling crackers your box has to look like a cracker box just enough so that consumers know what you are, but after you’ve accomplished that you need to find a way to visually establish your point of differentiation so that people consider you when making a purchase.”

Lock in your design elements—the building blocks of your personal brand

Photo by Rick Mason on Unsplash

Once you know who you are and who you’re targeting, it’s time to lock in the design elements that will become the building blocks of your personal brand.

But where to begin? With figuring out the basics—things like color, typography, hierarchy, and layout.

“A basic understanding of grid-based layouts and content hierarchy are a must so that you can create items that feel considerate and balanced. Typography should be clearly legible not so dense that people have to set aside time to read it,” says Anderson.

“Color choices are important, and they are related closely to the overall message you are trying to convey. Additionally, understanding basic color wheel relationships will help you build palettes that are pleasing and provide enough contrast between colors to minimize distraction or frustration.”

Another design element you’ll need to consider—and potentially one of the most important—is photography. Building a personal brand is going to require a lot of personal photos, so it’s important to establish the look, feel, tone, and style of your photography from the get-go.

“If you are going to use photography heavily, it is best to choose a style…[so] you will then be able to ‘see’ your brand come to life,” says Anderson. If you’re not sure what style of photography feels right for you, look for inspiration. “You can find samples of what you think best communicates your tone and compile it to create a mood board that you will reference for future shoots.”

Build your personal brand through design

Canva has templates for many design types. Check out a few of them below.

Logo:

Social graphics:

Business card:

Once you’ve locked in your design elements, it’s time for the fun part—to use those elements to build your personal brand.

Every personal brand is different—and the designs you’ll need to create to build your personal brand will depend on your goals, your audience, and which platforms you’re going to use to promote your products or services.

Some designs you’ll definitely want to consider creating for your brand include:

  • Logo
  • Website
  • Social media graphics
  • Business cards
  • Proposals
  • Advertisements

Whatever designs you decide you need to build your brand, the key to success? Creating a consistent design experience so your audience instantly recognizes your brand—whether they’re interacting with you on your website, at an in-person event, or through social media. “People need to look at your materials and recognize that they come from you. This takes precedence over how groundbreaking the design over individual elements are,” says Anderson. “Always opt for consistency and clarity first.”

Wrapping things up

Design is the most powerful tool in your arsenal when you’re building your personal brand—and now that you know exactly how to leverage design to get out there and create a brand that not only connects with your audience, but feels true to who you are, all that’s left to do is get out there and start designing!

Ready to get started? Get the ball rolling by exploring database of templates and start designing your way to an impactful—and successful—personal brand!