The following is an article I wrote for Marian Schembari‘s blog, which mainly covers social media topics, advice for small businesses, and other communication concerns. Head over and read her blog.

Managing your messaging, tone, audience and communication strategy is delicate work. Doing it right pays off, but too often we overlook the design elements of our brand — the parts visually connecting us to our audience.

In this already overstimulated online world of our, here are a few simple steps you should take to improve your brand consistency and bring value to your audience.

1. Do less

DIY designers love to use as many colors, typefaces, photographs, illustrations and visual styles as possible, which is almost always overwhelming. Simplicity, however, is the ultimate sophistication and stepping back your design means people can focus on what’s really important. No one will get “bored” of simple designs. Ideally, they’re the wrapper for your expertise and offering.

2. Choose a font (or two)

Use one typeface for almost everything and a second one to fall back on for special cases like headlines or passages of text. Most fonts come in families, with various weights and italic variants, allowing you to create variety in your communications. Limiting your type choices (and sticking with them) will create a strong sense of recognition and your audience will begin to acknowledge your communications without reading a word.

Many fonts are created in pairs, intended to complement each other within a single piece. Examples of this are Droid Sans with Droid Serif; Mrs. Eaves with Mr. Eaves. Using two well-paired typefaces will make you look like a design ace with hardly any effort — see what combinations you can find online.

Type Examples

Finally, to stand out, it’s worth investing a few dollars in a typeface. There are many places to buy fonts online: premium shops like Veer and Hoefler & Frere-Jones who are masters at the craft. Sites like MyFonts and FontSquirrel also have tons of offerings at various prices (including free).

3. Set a color scheme

We live in a colorful world, but there’s no need to decorate your work with them all. Choose two main and two supporting colours. The main ones will provide 90% of what you need, but the supporting ones can be called on for diagrams, charts and more complicated materials like eBooks or presentations.

Need a starting point for inspiration? Think of what magazines your audiences reads or the kind of home they live in. Heck, might as well pick up those actual magazines or check out some interior design blogs for ideas. For more online color inspiration check out Colour Lovers or Design Work Life’s “Colour Happy” series.

A simple colour palette

4. Get a professional headshot

A good headshot becomes part of your brand identity the minute you use it. Take it one step further by asking your photographer or designer to slightly map the photo’s color tone to your brand style. Say you write a blog about camping equipment – a pale brown overlay could reinforce your values. If you’re in the high-energy world of teenage fashion, bump up the reds and yellows. A luxury brand could warrant a black-and-white photo.

Choosing an appropriate headshot

Use this photo consistently. Make it your avatar on LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, your blog and your site’s About page. This creates awareness and familiarity across all outlets.

5. Decide on a style for icons, illustrations, and other key art

Have a plan for selecting brand-appropriate images. For example, if you decide on a clean, glossy, futuristic look for your buttons and icons, don’t suddenly change tactic and go with a gritty, punk rock motif on your next newsletter.

An easy way to think of this is to create “sliders” like the one below. Make three of four sliders to describe your visual sensibilities and use these to govern subsequent design decisions.

brand sliders

6. Have a logo

Companies usually need a logo, but do people? Yes, but not in the same way. Your name, arranged in your chosen typeface and colour, can be a de facto logo. Add a simple graphic element to your name to create something distinct.

simple logos

But use this wisely. Stay away from abstract symbols that may be hard to associate with your brand and don’t create a “spin-off” of any well-known corporate identities. You don’t have to over-think though. The simplest logos are usually the most memorable.

7. Hire a [real] designer

An experienced designer can give insight you don’t have yourself. Most will offer hourly consultations, allowing you to get opinions without commissioning an expensive re-design. If you’re willing to buy an expensive suit to look good in front of clients, shouldn’t you also be willing to spend $200 to chat with a design pro?

Do make sure you’re hiring a real design professional though, not a “fast-food service”. Don’t buy a logo for $99. Don’t hire someone to do a complete re-brand in 24 hours. And don’t assume your neighbor’s second cousin can lay out your entire brand campaign. These shortcuts usually lead right back to where you started.

For recommendations, browse design blogs to see who has good taste. For work samples, check out Dribbble, a site for in-progress design work, or Behance, where designers post personal projects or rejected client work.

Not everyone is a design ace, and that’s okay. When in doubt, go with something tried and true — simplicity — your audience will respect and remember it. In the long run, that translates to a stronger personal brand. Simple as that.

Thanks for Marian for the punchy editing and for letting me post!