Bringing personality to your design work

As designers, how we tell our stories is key. We must be unique, genuine, and use language with purpose to get meaningful results in our design work.

Jonathan Morin
January 23, 2020
Inspiration

We all want to be original, right? We want to stand out and be known for something unique — the best shoe company, the best product designer, the best coffee brand. But how are we supposed to get there if we’re not willing to walk the uncommon path? Time to get your trailblazer face on.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of Webflow. Enjoy!

Oooh damn! It’s blog o’clock and I’m the one typing what’s gonna be on the screen.

stuff got real gif

Yeah that’s right. I’m from the GIF aficionado community. 

Plus, I’m Canadian. So yeah ... I've got that goin' for me.

drake with cargif

So I’ve been approached by people regarding my portfolio website — Jomor Design. Some complimented me on the personal brand and writing style. Some felt like it took a lot of guts to present my business in this playful way. Shocking.

It seems like one aspect of my site really jumping out at people is the tone.

Whether you’re a solopreneur or a company, I feel we should all be true to ourselves. There’s enough deception and insincerity going on out there already. No one needs to add to that. In my case, “playful” is the real me. It’s authentic. And from a brand positioning standpoint, that “flavor” is also very much by design.

Let’s take a moment to talk about words. Words are awesome. They’re seamlessly ingrained in our lives, and we often take them for granted — just like our cell phones, the air, and guacamole. They help to shape how we see the world and how we interact with each other. So I say: Thank you, words. I will do my best to make good use of yous.

🤷

Quick note: In this post, I’ll be using words to describe anything we read. So copy, text, copywriting, content, microcopy … Anything.

Sorry, micro-labeling world.

Design and words go hand in hand

Let’s make something clear:

If we design without words in mind, we’re doing it wrong. 

Plain and simple. Seems obvious, yet there’s a lot of design going on out there that fails to recognize this. 

Design relies on context. And context consists of everything within a set environment — which surely includes words. So if we’re looking to create a custom experience, how could we not think about words right from the start? 

Get this: I heard somewhere that what people read is 100% part of the experience.

i know right gif

“But Jo, I have to move the project along while the client works on his content otherwise we’ll fall behind.” I hear ya.

And you’re absolutely right. Still, let’s take this opportunity to open a discussion with the client as to what should go where and why. For instance, this section, what’s the point we’re trying to make here? That CTA, what do we want users to do, to think, to feel? … and so on. Take the answers to those and then wrap everything up in the brand’s personality. Voilà!

However, we should never lose focus of a website's ultimate goal. Let’s say a client hires you to build a website that will help with their Google ranking. Then you go full Edgar Allan Poe on them and use all headings to compose beautiful poetry. Poetry that won’t serve any SEO purpose. You sorta missed the mark there. So please, eyes on the prize.

Attention is today’s most valuable asset

The importance of gaining and retaining attention isn’t news to anyone. But it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of it from time to time. The words we choose, and the ways we present them, play a critical role in the effect we have on attention. We must address our audiences with purpose.

When someone is kind enough to grace us with some of their attention, it’s our responsibility to make good use of it. It’s a privilege we shouldn’t take lightly. When I say to make good use of it, I don’t mean for our sake — like closing a sale or converting a lead. I mean for their sake: bringing them a certain value, and enriching their user experience. That’s how we gain trust. So pretty please, let’s all do our best to respect people’s attention (and time).

But not so fast. First, we gotta earn it. That’s a pretty daunting task for the times we live in. Seriously. Could we be any more distracted? We’re rapidly turning into a squirrel society jumping from one Instagram post to another, while watching Friends, while eating breakfast, while planning our day. It ain’t pretty. So earning that sweet, sweet attention is getting harder and harder. 

It’s time to bring the guns out and show people a good time.

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There can be many reasons for a website to exist

I often witness some very unsolicited advising taking place. Some people tend to have premade answers when it comes to websites and more often than not, it comes from a good place. In spite of that, most of them don’t bother to ask anything about the project before weighing in.

left the tomatoes gif
There’s a reason why the tomatoes are on the plate. But how could you know that?

I get it. We all know our stuff. But a website can serve many purposes and unless you were part of the process, you don’t know what it is we’re doing here. And you don’t know the function of every component of that project. So thanks for the input but we’re good.

guy gif

That said, it doesn’t mean that everyone who will give their opinion about our work is out of line. We must always be open to constructive criticism and set the ego aside when it comes to problem solving. I just think we should be smart and think for ourselves rather than to take everything at face value.

Personality disconnect

Just like you, I don’t like to be sold to, and I don’t like when companies try to exploit my inner dumbass. Even though it has become some sort of buzzword, authenticity is what it’s all about — true authenticity that is. It’s what we should all strive for while we make our way through that colossal white noise vortex. 

Perception is the name of the game. We have a say in how people view us, and view our businesses. Even though we can only control a portion of the big picture, it’s our job to nudge that perception to where we want it to be. 

Pro tip: If you’re a brand (or solopreneur), don’t just find another brand to imitate. Truly ask yourself what you stand for and what you want to be. Be as genuine as possible. Define your brand’s personality and then act accordingly. Without any restraint, broadcast who you are to the world.

girls dancing gif
Take it all in people.

If you do what others do simply because you think: “It worked for them, it’ll work for me.” Think twice about that. I know, you know, and everybody knows this would do a disservice to you and your audience. 

For instance, you’re a freelancer and you present yourself as a funny easygoing person. You’re then hired to work in an agency for 2 months but 3 days in, it’s getting pretty obvious you're not funny nor easygoing. Uh-oh! You managed to pull a Plaxico Burress and you’re now stuck in a very unfortunate situation. 

Same goes for brands. You claim to care about the environment and people but then you use an antitheft device on your cars to violate the Clean Air Act. Whoopsy-daisy! Turns out you’re garbage and the environment was way down on your priority list. 

Try not to be on the receiving end of this.

The ones who will make it to the other side are the ones who dared to be different

Most people are scared to break the mould. They say stuff like: “If we talk like this, we could possibly offend blond mothers over 42 who also drive electric cars.” Or: “If we look different from the competition, this could maybe potentially make us lose business opportunities at some point perhaps.” Yes — solid point. Essentially, it all comes down to what type of brand (or person) we want to be.

The truth is, brands willing to take risks will always come out on top.

So with this in mind, I’ll paraphrase my very good friend, Paul Arden: “Dude! If you always play it safe, you’ll be the same as everyone else. And that’s seriously bad for business.”

But from the right perspective, times like these afford us a peachy opportunity to stand out. That’s right, I said peachy. While most are content with being bland, I think we should aim higher. Why not try to turn some heads and get some reactions? If we’re ok with people remaining indifferent, we fail. Because indifferent people won’t pay attention to us, talk about us, hire us, refer us, and so on. The Apples and Nikes of the world understand this. They apply it with precision and consistency. So if they can do it, why can’t we? My advice to you is simple: 

Be brave. Stand out. And know that, yes, that will probably alienate some people. Chances are, they weren’t the customers you wanted anyway.

As you were.

Jonathan Morin

Designer and founder of Jomor Design. Also French Canadian (yeah that’s a thing). Please follow my excessively active social life @iamjomor

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