Branding Backwards




Branding is hard.

It’s a subjective process for stakeholders, designers, everyone involved. Some companies pay a budget freelancer sub $500 for what amounts to a clipart logo. Others pay tens of thousands and get the same result! Folks have to live with it for a long time, so landing somewhere even off-center feels like a Big L.

Oh, and we needed this stuff yesterday but person can’t stop micromanaging a shade of corporate blue because they aren’t versed in design language and are very anxious about getting it right. They “know it when they see it.”

What a waste of time and energy. This high-risk / low-yield has never sat well with my Midwest pragmatism.

This is why I approach the Brand Design Process… backward.

Let me explain!

​The Process

Step 1: Choose your 3 Guiding Adjectives

Crack open a thesaurus and pick 3 Adjectives. Then, illustrate each adjective with 3 more adjectives.

These will never be the final words (you gotta grow). Still, they should be concrete enough to know what stakeholders value most about their organization and audience. The process takes 30 minutes, and everyone (even if it’s just you) leaves with a sense of clarity they didn’t have before.

Using my consulting brand Curiouser as an example:

  • Curious – playful, quirky, inquisitive
  • Pragmatic – logical, sound, grounded
  • Clear – transparent, tidy, inviting

In the future, ask, “Does this decision feel blank, blank, or blank?”

No = it’s not for us.

Yes? = Let’s do it!

Step 2: Map Adjectives → Constraints → Aesthetic

How do your adjectives translate to design choices? Collect inspirational photos, symbols, colors, typefaces, etc., in an infinite digital whiteboard like Miro. We’ll call this space your Brandboard. Then delete stuff that doesn’t mesh or ruffles feathers. Now ask, “How do these constraints map to existing aesthetics or trends?”

Continuing my example:

  • Geometric typefaces typically have a logical tone
  • A round body stays tidy, a quirky headline adds some play
  • An energetic pattern grounds visuals with a predictable rhythm
  • Warm hues can offset the coldness of those logical aspects

Sounds like Art Deco to me!

This exercise lays a solid foundation to create assets (like a logo) that resonate with everyone.

Now it’s time to open software to…

Step 3: Mock a single social media profile

Hey, it’s the backward part!

This step distills your brand to core essentials – a square avatar, the big hero banner, an elevator pitch bio, 1 intro post, 3 other posts defining content and voice, and 3 media templates.

The platform literally doesn’t matter since vendors require most of these assets. Pick your poison, take screenshots, and design these essentials right on top. Capture your final decisions in your Brandboard to reference and iterate later on.

Sure, call me a heathen and bury me in Comic Sans.

But imo the traditional branding process lacks context or goes overboard creating false context by placing proposed logos on sweaters and mugs no one ever produces. It may also briefly flirt with voice and tone without proper application.

This backward process:

  • forces actual design requirements
  • tricks your brain – “Hey, this is a real brand in the world!”
  • promotes repetition and cohesion on one canvas
  • allows expression in images, words, and content
  • let’s you crank the vibe to stand apart without overdoing it
  • grounds brand decisions for those who don’t speak the lingo
  • doesn’t take 4 weeks to draft!

Congrats, you now have a Brand

It’s essentially a box of Legos.

You landed the right vibe through words (inexpensive) instead of jumping into a whole (expensive) redesign process with goals like “we want a clean website like Apple and Nike.” Yes, I hear that request once a year!

These words mean something to everyone. They also let you interpret your values visually without a design degree. From here, you can create other low-key stepping stones like:

  • a business card
  • your first newsletter email
  • a single-page brochure website

I firmly believe in this Backward Branding Process, and hope more indie business owners try these 3 Steps for themselves.