When you grow up with siblings, every adult conversation takes place in shorthand developed over decades of shared experience. You can says things like “there’s a moose on the table,” even when there isn’t, because your siblings will know there used to be a moose, and that your mom threw it on the table when there was a problem that no one was talking about, and that even though the common euphemism is “there’s an elephant in the room,” your mom likes moose, so in your family it’s a moose, and that it doesn’t really matter what animal it is because it’s a metaphor.
But when you marry into a family, you suddenly gain siblings who don’t speak your language.
I met my first sister-to-be when she was 12. [I would provide photographic evidence of this fact, but as she has sworn me off said photo, I will comment only that we are both wearing pastels and that one of us is wearing white plastic sunglasses. There are also a lot of photos in which the other one of us makes a questionable scarf choice.] When you gain a new sister as an adult, you don’t have to fight over chores, or clothes, or shotgun, or control of the stereo. You get to jump right in to romantic woes, parents who don’t understand, changing friendships, and shoe shopping.
There’s a catch, of course. Because you didn’t have years to practice disagreeing about clothes or boys or what box of cereal to buy, you aren’t as well-prepared for the bigger conflicts that arise when you’re older: college, career, religion, and politics. But it’s those big conflicts–those different ways of seeing the world–that can have enormous impact on your life.
“Why do I need all of this background about your sister-in-law before I design my blog?” you might reasonably be asking. “Can’t I just pick a splashy font and a cute graphic to accompany my _____ + _____ title?”
No. WordPress or Squarespace might let you choose whatever color you want. You can name your blog whatever you want. But you shouldn’t do either of these things. And this is why you need an Amanda. You need someone who didn’t grow up with you (or who is currently growing up with you) with whom you can’t lazily rely on shared experience. You need someone to help you see what you can’t see about your own work.
Amanda doesn’t just metaphorically see the world differently than I do. As a designer, she literally sees things I don’t see. On vacation, she’ll stop in the middle of the street, not to take a picture of a famous landmark but to photograph bricks, or a balcony, or a patterned floor. She doesn’t take bursts on that phone because she needs the extra space for photos of hand-lettering projects and interesting signage. Her dedication to design extends to her work wardrobe: she wears neutral colors to work to avoid clashing with whatever she’s designing.
She’s also the kind of person who, when she finds out her big sister’s writing has been picked up by her first big publications, will offer to redesign her blog. She has taught me that design isn’t merely a way to make things “pretty,” it’s a way to convey who you are and what you stand for. She has done a beautiful job capturing the mix of research and whimsy I want for snackdinner.
Long before we got to that design, Amanda gave me a homework assignment: write a brand brief. This assignment forced me to think deeply about not just what I wanted the site to look like, but what I saw myself contributing to the conversation about parenting. I’ve reproduced that assignment, along with sample answers to get you going on your own brand brief, below.
Note: if you do a Google images search for “brand brief” and you’ll notice that most of them are circles, not lists. That’s in part because you can’t really finish one part without the others. You’ll write a bit about competitors, which will help you cement your mission, which will clear up your design preferences, which will make you reconsider your design preferences, and so on.
What is your mission/vision?
Your mission is who you are. Visioning is, as Ari Weinzweig puts it, “a picture of the success of a project at a particular time in the future.”
When redesigning your site, design for the vision, not the mission. Before my redesign, snackdinner’s mission was already clear: research + creativity + practice. But the vision was “hope my child will take a nap so I get some time to work on the blog.” While working on the redesign, I also focused on where I hope to be a year from now, even making those goals public on Beyond Your Blog. Visioning helped me make choices that impacted the overall design of the blog.
What are your blog’s attributes?
Your mission and vision are big. But your attributes should be small and immediate takeaways. How do you want people to view your blog? How do you want them to describe you? What impression should they come away with? A good designer can use these attributes to help you create that impression.
Who are your key competitors?
You may think you don’t have any competitors, because you are not looking to compete with anyone. You’re a blogger! We’re all in this together! But force yourself to name three blogs that are similar to yours. Describe them. Then describe yourself in opposition to them. Doing so will help you refine your purpose, and make design decisions that set you apart from others.
Who is your target market?
You might not be in this to make money. Maybe you just share your stories in hopes of helping others through similar experiences. But even if that’s your goal, you still need to understand who you are helping. It may help you to start with a narrative description of your audience rather than specific attributes. At snackdinner, for example, I first wrote that I was writing to people who read about being a parent before becoming one. That initial picture helped me fill in much more specific details as I went on. Be as specific as you can, and don’t worry whom you might be alienating: your goal is to narrow your focus to a core audience of readers. And remember that “specific” doesn’t mean “small.”
What is your competitive advantage?
If you’re writing a parenting blog, you’re probably aware that a lot of other people are, too. A lot of them are tired. Many are terrified. Many bake cookies. Each is attempting to out-craft the next. All of them think their children are the most beautiful ones on the planet. If you’re going to stick out, you don’t just need a catchy logo: you need an angle behind that logo.
What makes your blog different from everyone else’s? You! So you need to spend time thinking about what makes you unique. In my case, it’s my research and teaching training, which help me to see parenting “givens” (like using a pacifier or burping a baby) as open questions.
What is your value proposition?
What will readers get from your site? You need to be more specific than “they’ll learn crafts” or “they’ll feel better about their day.” At snackdinner, for example, I focus on three main values. First, parents will save money by not buying gear they don’t need. Second, they will develop the “research mindset” to help make them less susceptible to always seeing “you’re doing it wrong” on social media. Finally, they’ll build research skills that can assist them in their day-to-day decision making.
Putting it all together
Once you have completed a brand brief, you–or your designer–can help you create a design that tells a story. Orange isn’t just my favorite color, it’s one that sets my work apart from the reds and blues in the parent blogosphere. “SD” isn’t just an abbreviation of snackdinner — it’s me and my son’s initials. The round badge isn’t just a social media necessity, it’s a way of showing parenting as a process: you research, apply it with creativity, practice, and then start all over again. The bite of our logo is a nice callback to snacking, but also to parenting, which is always perfectly imperfect.
Do you need your own Amanda to show you what you can’t see? You can contact her here to start building your brand identity.