What’s on the outside counts, too!

Two years ago, I made an incredibly rash decision. I was standing in front of a row of boxes, a little worse for wear due to an excess of celebration the prior evening. A sick feeling settled over me, and I decided to run with the impulse.

Two hours later, I was a blonde. (Actually, this isn’t true. It took more like the entire weekend and six boxes of bleach to get there, which ultimately destroyed my hair and left me with no option but cutting it all off, eventually, but that’s another story.) For me, it was a massive change, as I’ve always been prone to identify myself by my haircolour. People often know me as the girl with lots of bright red hair (admittedly, I’m still working on getting the “lots” part back), and all the varied preconceptions and stereotypes people have about redheads tend to apply to me, too. (Whether that’s an issue of nature or nurture, I’m not quite sure, but let’s assume it’s irrelevant.)

So going blonde was definitely an impulsive choice, and part of my desire to do so was to play with my own sense of self. It was fun for a while (mostly because I’d show up places to see friends, and they’d look quite shocked), but eventually I went back to something akin to my natural colour (after testing out almost every other colour combination available to me. Seriously, it’s no wonder my hair ended up destroyed).  The experiment led me to realize just how much of who we are—both how we see ourselves, and how others see ourselves—is encapsulated in our appearance. As much as we may try insist on silly maxims like “don’t judge a book by its cover” and “it’s what’s on the inside the counts”, what’s on the outside is almost invariably a reflection of what’s on the inside.

Sometimes people try to tell me that design isn’t important, because if you sell a product or service that’s good enough, people will flock to it regardless of how it’s packaged. To some extent, this is true; however, to a more relevant extent, it isn’t true. Good design translates the “what’s inside” stuff and puts it on the outside. It extracts the notable elements of whatever you’re selling and displays it in a visual form, in much the same way that my having red hair says “I’m energetic and a little bit mad”. Design is always relevant—not because it falsifies a product, but rather because it presents it in an optimal light.

Part of the reason I love working with startups is because we get to develop branding from the ground-up—start with a clean slate. Typically this will start with logo development, which is the central axis of the overall brand, and thus a highly important element. I find that, regardless of the service or product being branded, invariably elements of the person behind it become tangled into the message: their colour preferences, their fondness for certain elements, the fact that they like cats. In the past, I’ve typically tried to direct people away from this kind of thinking (just because you like lilies doesn’t mean that your sewage-treatment company should use a lily in its logo) but I’m beginning to believe that this is no longer as valid an argument as it once was.

I had my logo tattooed to my shoulder blade a few years ago, when I was just starting out. People kept asking me: "What happens if the business fails?" and I'd respond with "well, I'd have a reminder of a crazy venture I undertook!". Of all my tattoos, it's the one I'm the least likely to ever regret. Also note that my own branding was based, in part, out of a fondness for sparks, ampersands, and and Old-West aesthetic.

Invariably, as trends shift towards a focus on the person behind the business, rather than a corporation as a faceless identity, who you are is an integral part of who your business is, and thus it’s relevant that you like cats. (And I’m sorry for saying it wasn’t!)

Starting a business is such a personal venture anyway, and you put so much of yourself into the process, that what results is inherently ties to who you are anyway.

So: dress like your website. Dye your hair the colour of your logo. Throw your cats in there, so long as you can find a way to make it relevant. Embrace the parts of yourself that your audience will respond to, and make your business, and your brand, a part of yourself.