I feel a little guilty about Tuesday’s post.
Because when I was brand new to photography, I got so. darn. sick. of people telling me “Oh you don’t know what your brand is yet, it’s going to change, just keep evolving, figure out what you want to do first….”
It’s not that I disagreed, but I would sit there thinking: “Okay, I get it, but….what am I supposed to do in the meantime? I need some sort of web presence, right now!”
I know that’s a frustrating position to be in. And it often results in “template-hopping.”
Meaning: You have to find something to tide you over while you’re figuring out your own emerging style. So you go shop around for blog templates, and every five seconds you see something new that you love. “Oooooh, look!! That vintage-y, tattered, Anthropologie-esque website template is gorgeous!” Download, install. But not long after, you see something sleek and minimalist and oh-so-Apple, and you already regret installing the vintage one. Download, install, repeat.
Your blog changes outfits more than Kate Middleton.
Alternatively, you may fall for what I call the “Applepologie Effect” in which you try to combine both the vintage-y tattered goodness with the sleek and minimalist goodness, and end up with something that still feels unfinished and unsatisfying.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to leave you in the lurch.
There IS something you can do, right now, to help you be more consistent while you’re still figuring out your style and brand. A technique I stole from good old-fashioned psychology research. And it’s free.
The idea behind this technique is simple:
To understand anything, you have to look for patterns over time.
For example: Say you wanted to study the habits of people who work from home. And you were going to observe me as an example.
If you had showed up at my house last week, you would have seen my house in a total mess, and I would have been in bed. But if you showed up at my house again this week, you’d see me working at my computer in an organized house. A total, 180-degree change.
Based on what you saw, you wouldn’t know what to think – am I lazy or not? Am I organized or not?
If you observe something or someone only once or twice, you won’t get a clear picture.
But if you kept visiting my house for several weeks, you’d start to see a reliable pattern. You might learn that the first week, I had just completed a cross-country move and simultaneously came down with a nasty cold, which explains that mess of cardboard boxes and cough drop wrappers everywhere. It was an exception. But you’d only know that if you kept looking over time.
Now, let’s get to your website (or blogsite).
When you shop for templates, it’s easy to fall in love in the moment. I like this simple one! Wait, no, I like this fancy one! Ugh, I don’t know what I want.
The only info you have available is what you think about what you’ve seen right then.
We’ve got to concretely keep track of what you like over time.
The solution: Start a 30-Day Visual Journal.
Create a folder on your desktop, label it something like “Visual-Journal” and start taking screenshots of everything that you come across and like. And I don’t just mean other web design – I’m talking about textures, colors, e-magazine pages, clothing, details, typefaces, interesting layouts, words, humorous surprises.
Anything that arrests your attention when you scan the screen – grab it. Don’t question or second guess. Don’t even think “oh, but I would never use that.” You don’t know that yet. If it catches your eye, just grab it. Start NOW.
(Note: On a Mac, command + shift + 4 turns your cursor into a screen capture tool. Just drag it to highlight what you want captured. It usually saves it to your desktop. If you’re on a PC, use the PrtSc key to grab the whole screen, or install something like PrintKey or another free screen capture tool. If you’re a PC user and have another great way to do selective screen captures, let us know in the comments!)
Keep it up for at least 30 days.
This should be easy to do since you can do it alongside your regular web browsing – you don’t have to do anything out of the ordinary except snag a screenshot when you like something. That’s it. If nothing catches your eye one day, nothing goes in the journal folder.
At the end of 30 days, schedule a 45-min date with yourself to look over your Visual Journal.
What colors are consistently present?
How would you describe the textures or backgrounds you grabbed?
What kind of fonts show up over and over?
Are there any patterns in the kinds of layouts you snagged?
What specific emotions do you feel when you look at it?
What words describe the overall tone - light? heavy? funny? bold? simple?
Pull out the common elements and create a collage. THIS is a FABULOUS starting place for beginning to build your visual branding.
And here’s why: You photograph what catches your eye. So by basing your web design off of things that consistently catch your eye, you’re subtly introducing your clients to how you see the world. And by extension, a bit of how their photographs will turn out with you. Neat, huh?
Why 30 days? Well, in statistics (hang on, don’t glaze over, this is painless!) a general rule of thumb is that if you can gather 30 data points, you can start to see strong, reliable patterns. Thirty days might seem a little arbitrary, but you’re doing yourself a huge favor, because:
If you already know what you reliably love over time, it makes it much easier to shop for specific templates. You can admire certain design ideas without being swayed by them because you now have that nifty little collage that shows you EXACTLY whether it will fit the pattern of things you really like.
Thus, you’re much more likely to end up with something that you’re going to keep longer-term.
And that means the end of hopping between endless redesigns.
If you already keep an inspiration board, do this anyway – the results will surprise you.
Inspiration boards are awesome, but they can be limiting if you add to them specifically thinking “I should do this on my website.” A Visual Journal allows you to take a sample of your broad tastes without worrying about whether or not it’s going to be applicable. It frees you to grab whatever you like, and worry about usefulness later.
For example: I considered styling my own branding after the colors in my favorite painting of all time, Van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night. I always thought I liked bold colors, and the painting is meaningful to me. But when I started collecting bits that caught my eye, I found that I am almost alarmingly attracted to paper textures and neutral colors. My Visual Journal was chock full of ivory and cream and book pages. Not a bit of blue or red or orange in sight.
If I had gone Van Gogh on my branding, I would have ended up changing it. Again. Bleh. I would have found other things that I would have liked more, because I would have been swayed by one nifty thing, never being aware of my consistent, usual preferences. Keeping a Visual Journal allowed those preferences to emerge despite what I ‘thought’ I wanted.
And my website has been consistent ever since.
Okay, enough chit-chat – let’s get started! Create a Visual Journal folder and start screen capturing.
You know I’m going to check in on you – in a couple of weeks I’m going to ask who’s been doing it, and one lucky Visual Journal-er will win a 30-min Skype date with me to discuss your website (…or to shoot the breeze and exchange recipes, whatever you prefer). Whoop whoop!
Did you like this post?
The visual aspects of your website are important, but there’s more to it than just colors and fonts. I’ll be launching an e-book on September 5th that goes into exquisite detail about how to tailor your website to be absolutely irresistible to your dream clients.
If you’d like me to shoot you a sneak peek the day before it launches (24 hours before anyone else sees it!) and let you know more when it’s available, just enter your email below: