Brand Identity is Crucial to be Successful, Clear, Confident & Focused – Julie Harris

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Meet the Blog Designer Series: Julie Harris of JulieHarrisDesign.com on DesignYourOwnBlog.com.

Meet the Blog Designer Series: Julie Harris

Julie Harris and I met on Twitter sometime last year and although she is a relative newcomer to the scene, I have absolutely fallen in love with her generosity, amazing resources on her blog and her seriously mad design skills!

Today she’s talking with us about branding.

This post is part of the Meet the Blog Designer series, a series from the perspective of female blog designers.

About You

Tell us a little bit about yourself: How did you get started in web/blog design? How long have you been doing it for?

For anyone slightly familiar with me, they’ll know that I started out with Broadway on the mind. I dreamed of being a Musical Theatre performer on Broadway with a back-up plan of being a Disney Princess. (No joke, but then again, what little girl doesn’t want to be Ariel when she grows up?!) It wasn’t until I moved away to college that I really discovered my passion for branding and web design.

[Wouldn’t she make an awesome Ariel, guys!? – Marianne]

The performing arts are all about self promotion, marketing your skill sets, storytelling and designing a whole experience around yourself, a.k.a branding 101! You have to be so vigilant on what the current trends are in the entertainment world, constantly engaging your professional community, networking, marketing, socializing, and all on top of working and training to strengthen your triple threat! So once I decided that I no longer wanted to pursue the big stages of NY, I decided to pursue my passion for people and business on a digital stage, the world wide web.

So, with my education and training in branding, business, and event planning, I started studying web design and development. I read blog after blog after blog by designers and online entrepreneurs, I subscribed to Lynda.com and took as many classes on the Adobe suite,* coding, and user experience design that I could find. I took classes from Creativelive and watched every free webinar I could that related to web design and development.

So between my personal marketing and business experience and my DIY design education, I created a truly unique triple threat of my own: Branding, Business Development, and Design.

Do you have your own business or do you freelance on the side while working full time?

I am the owner and CEO of Julie Harris Design, a virtual creative studio specializing in brand development and design. About a year ago, I quit my day job and committed all my time and energy into building and launching my own branding and design business. I officially launched in January of this year, and it’s been such an incredible experience.

What blogging platforms do you prefer to work with?

As far as web and blog design goes, I specifically work with self hosted WordPress sites. WordPress is by far my favorite CMS (Content Management System) and the flexibility and customization of the platform make it ideal for most of the bloggers and small businesses I design for. As a web designer, I often partner with a web developer who builds the sites or customizes pre-designed themes with custom coding while I design and develop the visual branding materials and content copywriting that gets inputted into the site.

I also love designing branding elements for the various Social Media platforms and helping my clients infuse as much of their brand and business through their social engagements, creating a stronger personal experience for their followers beyond just their blog or website.

What type of clients do you look for? Do you specialize in a certain market? Any particular reason why?

I work with a somewhat wide variety of professionals. While I do design blogs, my target clientele are generally experienced industry professionals who are looking to expand and elevate their brand through digital and content marketing, meaning a fully integrated website and blog combination. They usually have established businesses that have been successful offline, but the are looking to create an online presence, making them look as professional and approachable online as they are in person.

Branding is a hugely undervalued process. Most businesses are so eager to get started that they are often willing to compromise the success of their brands by limiting their investments in the brand development process. By working with professionals with even a little bit of entrepreneurial experience, I find that they value the brand process more and are willing to invest more time and energy into creating an authentic experience that looks, feels, sounds, and acts just like them.

It’s these people that I believe I can be of most service to. They aren’t looking for a quick fix, but a long term investment into the success of their business. I believe that we are our brand, and in order to be successful, a clear, confident and focused brand identity are crucial so I strive to help other businesses achieve this creative clarity through my branding and design packages.

A few months ago you redesigned your own website/blog. Would you mind sharing with us your process: How you came upon the final decision for your design, what factors you took into consideration, etc?

JulieHarrisDesign.com's recent redesign

JulieHarrisDesign.com’s recent redesign

When it came to redesigning my own blog and website, I knew how I wanted to be perceived online and I knew who I wanted to target my content towards. I knew I didn’t always want to be just a blogger, but a fully established online entrepreneur.

So that meant I needed a platform that could grow and expand with my business. I knew I wanted a way to market and sell my services directly on my website so I made sure to get a WooCommerce compatible platform, with a strong blogging background. I chose the hugely customizable and functional WordPress theme, Enfold.

Because I was so clear on what my blog and website goals were, selecting the color palette, stylistic elements, typography and visual branding materials followed smoothly. Since I believe that I am my business, it was important to infuse as much of me as possible into my design and that meant investing in branding photography. I hired a professional photographer to help style and shoot all the photos for my website, eliminating my need for stock photography and helping create a stronger personal identity into my brand.

Because I was so clear on what my blog and website goals were, selecting the color palette, stylistic elements, typography and visual branding materials followed smoothly.

Your Thoughts on Design and Redesigns

What is your favorite part about redesigning a blog or website?

Honestly, it’s the brand development process in the beginning. Getting the client to be honest about where they see their business growing in the next 5, 10, 15 years and helping design a platform that complements all those options. When my clients get to a place of clarity and confidence in their brand’s vision and mission, they just light up. It’s incredibly rewarding.

What do you feel is the most important thing to keep in mind when redesigning a blog?

Who you’re designing for. Who is your target audience? Why are they here? What do you provide, how do you provide it, and why is that important? Know who is coming to your blog/ website and what they are coming there for. Every step of your design process should be easily explained. You should be able to define why each section of your design is there and what purpose it serves to enhance the experience for your readers and clients.

What is your method for selecting a color palette?

I first ask my clients what type of tone or mood they want to set for their brand’s experience and then, using those key themes, I look for colors that complement them. I’ll refer my clients to Design Seeds or Pinterest to look up images that speak to them as visual inspiration for their brand’s tone and then pull colors from them that come up again and again throughout the images.

What is your method for selecting a font palette?

I have a questionnaire that starts my brand design packages where I ask specifically which styles of typography stand out to the client. Some people love the handwritten script fonts while others are looking for a more timeless vintage typeface. To me, the content is everything in a brand so making sure the content styling complements the brand’s goals is important.

Looking for a blog and web designer? Learn more Julie Harris Design here on DesignYourOwnBlog.com!

Focus on your brand’s message. Your vision, mission, and brand promise.

What advice do you have for a blogger who wants to do a few small touches to their blog’s design to spruce it up?

Professional photos. There is nothing as powerful as really clean, clear, attractive, unique photos that you haven’t seen 100 times over on everyone else’s blogs. Stock photography has its purpose but with so many blogs and businesses popping up every day, Death to Stock Photo and Unsplash’s gorgeous stock images are so overused.

Some great examples of good photography are Regina’s byRegina.com, Maya Elious’s mayaelious.com, Elle & Co.’s elleandcompanydesign.com, and Keizra Tyson-Griffin’s vidaluxestudio.com. Gorgeous simple website designs with really attractive powerful branded images that make them stand out.

What are your favorite trends in blog design at the moment?

I love all the handwriting and script fonts. Everyone’s personal handwriting is so unique and I love seeing how people are integrating more of this free writing style into their blog designs.

What blog design trends do you wish would go away?

I don’t think I really have any specific blog trends that I wish would go away. I hate pop-ups but that’s an enduring trend that I know isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

What is your biggest pet peeve about the design of some blogs?

Poor navigation. If I can’t find that post I pinned on Pinterest because of bad links, or poor navigation, it’s super disappointing and I’ll probably avoid going to your site in the future. I want to see your content, but if it takes too long or is too confusing to navigate, then I’ll leave.

Is there anything you feel people spend too much time on (in terms of design) that is really not that important?

I believe that every decision we make as bloggers and small businesses is important, especially when it comes to the visual identity of our brands. But I see people constantly changing their designs, changing their images and not using the same profile photos across their networks, which creates inconsistency and makes it hard to build a loyal following.

People are so focused on making their blog “pretty” but if the colors, images, or style trends don’t personally mean anything to your brand, then you’ll never be satisfied by them and you’ll continue to change them. One of my all time favorite bloggers and boss ladies, Erika Madden of Olyvia Media once said in a post, “Pretty isn’t profitable,” and that’s always stuck with me.

Focus on your brand’s message. Your vision, mission, and brand promise. Once you have that down, it will bring consistency to your brand’s focus and you’ll be able to develop the other branding elements so much faster and you’ll create that experience you’ve been dreaming of.

Wrappin’ Up

Do you have anything else you’d like to tell us about design?

Design is not just about how it looks, but how it works. Everything about your blog or website’s design should complement your overall brand’s goals and promise. Create a space that looks, sounds, acts, and socializes just like you.

Do you have anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself?

For DIY designers who are looking for that second set of eyes or a professional review, I do offer one-on-one Brand Audits where I’ll go in and do a deep exploration of your online brand presence and write up a full review of the experience, complete with thoughts, compliments, and constructive suggestions on where to enhance your brand.

When we are DIYing our own blog or site, it’s easy to get distracted by certain elements or forget about others because we’re so used to looking at it. But by having someone else audit your brand’s design, you get the opportunity to get an unbiased review of your work, making sure all your vision is being successfully received. You can check out this service on my website.

Thanks Julie for taking the time to tell us about you, your business and your processes. It was fabulous to learn from such an amazing designer with so much knowledge in branding!

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30 Comments

  • What insight – I love reading the designers experience when it comes to branding. As with copy, asking questions like ‘Who is your target audience? Why are they here?’ is so incredibly important – not just at the start of the business, but throughout each phase.

    Love your website, Julie 🙂
    Razwana Wahid recently posted…Struggling to find your writing voice? Borrow ideas from big brandsMy Profile

    • Marianne says:

      Yes Raz! It’s something that many beginner designers don’t realize is important, but it’s oh so critical to your brand’s success! I’m so glad you stopped by 🙂

    • Julie Harris says:

      Thanks, lady! I always love your feed back. I believe (as we’ve discussed before) that the branding development and brand design go very much hand in hand. The questions asked in the brand development process are equally as relevant in the visual design process. Everything has to flow seamlessly together to create that unique recognizable brand identity that our brands will be known by.

      Thank you 🙂 It was quite a labor of love, and is still a constant work in progress, but it’s definitely 100% me and that’s what’s important. I’ve already told you how much of a crush I have on all the orange in your site! Love love love it! And your content is flipping fantastic. Thanks for stopping by DYOB!
      Julie Harris recently posted…Small Business Saturday March | How To Work With A Copywriter To Create Compelling ContentMy Profile

  • That’s just packed with pure awesome right there! I love Julie’s fresh take on branding, and I completely agree that it is so much more important than people realize. As a DIY/craft blogger, it frustrates me to see potentially great bloggers essentially just throw design elements at the wall to see what sticks, rather than spending the time to make wise decisions they can be happy with long-term. Julie is awesome! Thanks so much, Marianne, for featuring her!! 🙂
    Kirsten – Sweet Tea & Saving Grace recently posted…Dark Chocolate Mint CupcakesMy Profile

    • Marianne says:

      Ooh i love that Kirsten, “throw design elements at the wall to see what sticks!” Yes that is so true. Design requires lots of thought and intention and Julie has proven that she’s very good at that.

    • Julie Harris says:

      The only thing that should be thrown at a wall to see if it sticks is pasta. That’s just fun. But never should branding be a free for all. There’s a quote (I don’t know who originally said it) that says “Design is not just what it looks or feels like, design is how it works.” If what your putting out there isn’t working then it’s not right for you. Everything about your brand has to complement and support its self. It’s not easy. Sometimes it takes trial and error and even a little pasta throwing 🙂

      Your’s is one of my all time favorite brands. Everything about your content and design say sweet southern grace. Thank you so much Kirsten for taking the time to stop by and say hello!
      Julie Harris recently posted…Small Business Saturday March | How To Work With A Copywriter To Create Compelling ContentMy Profile

  • Julie is really awesome! She has such a clean and engaging quality on her website. It’s wonderful how she immerses herself in branding of other businesses and really finds who they need to target. It’s not just about making the website pretty. Love that!
    Lillian De Jesus recently posted…The 3 Video Marketing Tools That Will Help Ease The Fear Of Being On CameraMy Profile

  • Toyin says:

    I believe that branding is crucial for making your blog memorable! I’m still trying to find my brand…it’s a work in progress.
    Also, I just went to Julie’s website…it’s amazing!!!
    Toyin recently posted…Strawberry Peach Banana Cream Breakfast ParfaitMy Profile

    • Marianne says:

      You’re working on it Toyin and sometimes you’ve gotta figure it out by trial and error. You’ll get there, I know it! 🙂

    • Julie Harris says:

      I totally understand where you’re at Toyin. When I first started out, I thought I had a really clear idea of how I wanted my brand to function and how I wanted to position my design, but then as I started immersing myself in my content, creative community, and started developing my brand’s voice, I realized my design wasn’t conveying what I needed it to. It wasn’t me. So I made a change, and then I made another, and another, until I got to where I am today. My advice is always stick with what works. It’s ok to test out different ideas and it’s ok to make changes. Then once you start to find your brand’s rhythm, you’ll be able to add in more specific design elements that will only enhance everything else 🙂

      Thank you so much for stopping by! DYOB is a fantastic resource for all bloggers and online businesses. Definitely check out Marianne’s Blog Beautiful eBook. It’s really fantastic and does a great job blending both the brand development and brand design into one seamless experience.
      Julie Harris recently posted…Small Business Saturday March | How To Work With A Copywriter To Create Compelling ContentMy Profile

  • Erika Madden says:

    What an excellent interview! I couldn’t agree more with Julie’s point of view, and love all the value she adds to the branding conversation. Thank you, Marianne!
    Erika Madden recently posted…9 Smart Facebook Groups For Women Entrepreneurs, Freelancers, + BloggersMy Profile

    • Julie Harris says:

      Thank you so much Erika for stopping by! I always appreciate your feed back. I love your choice word there, “conversation.” That’s really what it is, a conversation between you and your readers/followers/clients (whatever term you choose to use). A conversation through the content and design of your brand. It’s not just a one way street but a relationship. This is why I value the branding conversation so much. My favorite business book is “The Passion Conversation”, uniting both the branding and marketing processes into one engaging conversation and experience.
      Julie Harris recently posted…Small Business Saturday March | How To Work With A Copywriter To Create Compelling ContentMy Profile

  • Regina says:

    M (I just nicknamed you), I’m so, so glad you featured Julie on your blog. I love her whole presence online and she is a joy + delight to be connected with. Thank you for all this thoughtful insight.

    I love your thoughts on educating yourself and taking classes as well as pro photos. Thank you for this, as well: “Create a space that looks, sounds, acts, and socializes just like you.”

    Brilliant as usual, Julie.
    Regina recently posted…How to Start a Profitable Business for $50 in 3 MonthsMy Profile

    • Julie Harris says:

      Thank you so much Regina for popping in! As one of the craziest busiest ladies I know, I always appreciate your time and feedback. One of the things I love most about this business is that there is no end to education. Each person I connect with has something new to share. No matter how many different design and branding clients I work with, each is so different and unique, forcing me to expand my knowledge and experiences to best help them share their message.

      I believe 100% that you can have a learning experience with your readers/ clients/ followers. It’s a never ending adventure 🙂
      Julie Harris recently posted…Small Business Saturday March | How To Work With A Copywriter To Create Compelling ContentMy Profile

    • Marianne says:

      Regina, I’m so glad you enjoyed the interview and thanks for sharing it too! Julie is definitely a joy to have in our corner of the internet for sure and this interview knocked it out of the park!

  • Stephanie says:

    This is such an interesting and enlightening interview for someone like me who is not a designer but admires them so much. I love the point about the fact that bloggers always try to prettify things and that over time it can become confusing and inconsistent. But the quote you have “pretty is not profitable” sticks wit me now.

    I know that there are more things I need to do to have a true “professional” design look to my blog. I have had some professional photos taken but I made the mistake of doing them in the winter and my blog is “from the poolside” so right there and then, there was a disconnect. Some of them were inside so that’s OK but all the outside ones won’t really match with what the readers probably expect when they come to my site.

    So what you say here really makes me think: before you do the next “action” for your blog, really prep for it, think about your brand, reader and consistency.

    I also need to read Marianne’s brilliant e-book which I have. I’m sure it’ll help me a lot too.

    Thanks to both of you ladies
    Stephanie recently posted…Hotel Villeon in Ardèche, France – interview with Valérie Antomarchi, general managerMy Profile

    • Marianne says:

      That’s some really great insight you got from this Stephanie! I so appreciate your thoughts on this. I think that branding is something we never get right the first time, we have to learn and grow from our experiences and through trial and error and evolving with our audience, we eventually get there. So be happy you’ve learned some valuable lessons so far! One step closer!

      Also, I don’t think you are as far off as you think. Your blog is very clean, modern and inviting, just like the boutique hotels you showcase.

    • Julie Harris says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts Stephanie! Whenever I am designing for a client or even for myself, I always ask “why” before I make any big decisions. The details are not just simply the details, they are the design, and each decision counts. I’m so glad “pretty isn’t always profitable” sticks with you too. It’s a quote I refer to again and again personally and professionally.

      I love how you have winter photos even through your blog is from the pool side. Are any of them at the poolside in winter? That would totally read for me and set a very distinct brand image. “Snow or shine, you have summer on your mind” 🙂 But most of all, by investing in professional photography, you are showing that you take your blog seriously enough to invest your own money into it and that says a lot.

      I also agree with Marianne’s point that branding is an ever growing process and don’t often get right the first time around, or second time or third even. It can take trial and error but once you get it right you’ll feel it. I look forward to checking out your site and seeing what creative greatness you have going on from the poolside.
      Julie Harris recently posted…BRANDING WITH WORDSMy Profile

  • Deidre says:

    I love all of the handwriting/script fonts too! And I couldn’t agree more – unique, clean & fresh pro photos are so important. Thanks for this great interview! Some great insight!
    Deidre recently posted…Dear Men of the WorldMy Profile

    • Marianne says:

      Thanks for coming by Deidre and glad you enjoyed the interview!

    • Julie Harris says:

      Thank you so much Deidre for stopping by! I am a HUGE fan of your blog. So many of my friends are mothers and I am constantly sending them your way. I love how you have been able to reach so many different audiences through you different “blogs” while still maintaining such a specific and consistent brand identity. Huge HUGE fan of yours!
      Julie Harris recently posted…BRANDING WITH WORDSMy Profile

  • Aly Hines says:

    Julie is a gem, great post! “Create a space that looks, sounds, acts, and socializes just like you.” This is going on a post-it next to my lap top. I need the constant reminder!

    • Marianne says:

      that’s a great quote Aly, I should turn that into a tweetable huh?

    • Julie Harris says:

      Awww Aly! You just made my day 🙂 I genuinely believe that we are our brands and therefore our brand’s need to look, sound, feel, and act just like us. We are each so unique and powerful in our own way and it’s that that will make us successful. Thank you so much for popping in and sharing your thoughts with us.
      Julie Harris recently posted…BRANDING WITH WORDSMy Profile

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