What’s my brand, sis?
Discovering my own personal brand and finding my voice as a creative through others.
I recently got an assignment for one of my classes about doing a case-study-ish about 5 designers and/or creatives that are active on social media in order to eventually implement a social media plan for myself as a creative and possibly rebrand myself. I really dislike the words “case-study” so that’s why I’m referring to this assignment as a “case-study-ish.” This particular assignment really had me questioning what’s my POV as a designer, as a grad student and as a creative in general. I have an interest in branding, but I have worked on so many other projects in the design spectrum that I’m not 100% sure of what I want to do as a creative. I also started wondering if my current logo/brand really reflects who I am as a creative individual and to be honest, my conclusion was:
After coming up with this conclusion, my plan was to first of all, study creatives that have a strong and consistent POV in social media. I’m also wanted to focus on creatives that have a steady and consistent social media presence as well as a specific look-and-feel and/or style.
The 5 creatives that I chose for my case-study-ish are:
Founder of Draplin Design Co.
Designer, illustrator, art director and author
Type designer, letterer and author
Internet celebrity, makeup artist, entrepreneur and musician
Latinx designer, illustrator and activist
With the exception of Jeffree Star, I have had the honor to meet or attend a speech for the artists I have chosen to feature in this paper. My hope with this assignment is to answer the following two questions for myself: What’s my POV as a creative? And what type of creative do I want to be?
So let’s start this journey, shall we?
One of the first creatives that Immediately came to mind when I got this assignment was Martina Flor. This past summer I had the amazing opportunity to do a one-day workshop with Martina in Berlin while studying abroad with the MFA ComDes program at Texas State University. I’ll be completely honest with you, before meeting Martina in person I had almost no interest in lettering, hand-rendered type, or learning more about these things in general. In a way, I’ve always been intimidated by typography for a few reasons. First off, I don’t think I know much about it and it always felt like a foreign language to me. And secondly, I never felt my drawing skills were up to par with what was required to be successful with typography. Martina completely changed my mind and helped me to close the gaps in my knowledge of the craft. Learning about her experiences, her techniques and just her in general really opened up my eyes to new possibilities for myself as a creative person.
After spending a day with her and my classmates, I found myself discovering new skills that I didn’t know I had in me. It was such a humbling and eye-opening experience that I’m very grateful for. One thing about Martina that I got to see in person and that I think it translates well into her social media presence is transparency. She carries herself like an open book and she invites you to learn about her, her family, her experiences, her techniques and her life in general in a way that is very inspirational for other creatives. I think Martina Flor is an incredible and successful creative and she has done a great job at marketing herself and displaying her work online as a letterer, but what I really enjoy about her is learning about her journey and her experiences in person and through her posts and how she got to where she is now. Martina is not only amazing at what she does, but her sense of humanity really shines through her work and her presence on social media.
By no means, I consider myself a type aficionado, or a hand lettering artist or expert but I do have an appreciation for that type of work. With that being said, one of the other creatives that I chose for this assignment is Timothy Goodman. I think part of the reason why I haven’t discovered creatives such as Martina Flor or Timothy Goodman before is probably because up until I started grad school, I have never really researched current artists in the creative world. I graduated from my undergrad a little over 5 years ago and I immediately immersed myself in the corporate America world. My main goal when I got my first job was just to climb the ladder as fast as possible and make as much money as I could. When I was working an average 9 to 5 job, my goal was not to better my craft, but it was simply to make clients happy in order to benefit myself. I would say I was decently successful at doing what I thought I needed to do in order to climb the corporate ladder but most days when I left work, I felt like one of the most miserable people in the world.
While working as a creative in corporate America, I never took care of my mental health or sometimes my physical health. I was working in auto-pilot for the most part, and sometimes just straight up faking it until I thought I made it. Up until this summer, I didn’t really believe in work-life balance or taking care of my mental health, but it was through the posts that Timothy Goodman was posting on his Instagram that I came to the realization that taking care of my mental health was just as important as eating, sleeping, working out, etc. I’ve heard of Goodman once or twice before, but all I knew about him is that he was a successful letterer living the dream in NYC. It wasn’t until I started following him on Instagram that I discovered that he was way more than that and that he would be the person that unconsciously would help me start my path to a healthy and balanced mental health. Don’t get me wrong, I admire his work but what I admire the most is the way he uses his voice and platform to encourage people to take care of themselves.
We currently live in a society where a lot of times we are expected to suppress our emotions and where taking care of our mental health is not really a priority for a lot of people, but Timothy Goodman encourages people through his art and his social media post to take care of themselves and to not be afraid of their emotions. It’s so refreshing to hear a successful creative like him be so passionate about these topics and to see how this translates so naturally into the content of his posts on social media. The messages he is putting out there have a unique and raw point of view, which in my opinion, make them easier to relate to than your average daily inspirational quote from other social media accounts. He also comes across as a very humble individual and he has even said it himself that he feels privileged to be able to do this type of work. I also like the fact that one of the areas of focus of his work is storytelling and just stories about people in general. I think there is a lot of great design work out there being done by very talented creatives, but what sets Goodman apart from other creatives is his willing to be so open about taking care of yourself and finding balance between life and responsibilities. I absolutely admire his creative work, but I admire him even more for the way he uses his voice in social media platforms.
As I’m typing and completing this assignment, I’m starting to realize that I enjoy looking at work from creatives that have a strong sense of humanity more than anything else, which leads me to the next creative I decided to focus on, which is Aaron Draplin. While I was in Berlin this summer, I was able to attend the TYPO 2018 Conference where Draplin was one of the speakers. I’ve heard about him and his work before and I’ve also heard in more than one occasion about how “controversial” he can be at times when he is asked to present and conferences and other events. I was intrigued to learn more about this guy, so I attended his session at the TYPO Conference, and let me just say that I’m so glad I did. In a way, I find Goodman and Draplin similar as far as the way they use their platforms to talk about topics that they’re passionate about, besides graphic design and advertising. Both of them are very successful creatives but when they speak is almost like their work is not their main focus, but the things they care about and they’re passionate about become the main focus points of their speeches. One of the things that I enjoyed the most about hearing Draplin speak is just seeing the guy how he truly is. He honestly didn’t care about following a specific script, or dressing up the part, or trying to meet maybe other standards that as a speaker in a conference like TYPO people are expected to meet.
His message truly came from his heart and it was raw and unapologetic at the same time, which really resonated with me. Sometimes as creatives, we are pushed in so many different directions and in some occasions, we’re forced to fit a box in order to keep our jobs or try to find a job that would pay our bills. Maybe this is not an issue that is unique to our industry, but I think is more noticeable in creatives industries because we’re expected to express ourselves even though that could mean losing our jobs or getting in trouble for saying something we want to say about a particular topic or issue. I think there is definitely a difference between expressing oneself, bullying people and just saying stupid shit on the internet but a lot of times as creatives, we silence ourselves in order to fit one of the corporate America molds just so we can be marketable and get a job. What I admire about Draplin is that he has made a name for himself without having to compromise who he is as an individual. His personality shines through on stage when he speaks, and it translates seamlessly to his social media posts. He has found a way to make himself marketable and successful without having to edit who he is and to me that’s something that I would love to do for myself one day.
Another creative that I have selected to highlight and that I feel shares similarities with Draplin as far as being unapologetically himself is Jeffree Star. He has made a career out of being himself and he has found ways to turn his personality into profit by letting people into his life through social media, even when social wasn’t what it is today. One can’t deny that Jeffree Star is definitely a controversial YouTube celebrity but what I really admire about him is that no matter the situation, the circumstances, or what other people think of him, he has always been 100% true to himself. Star’s personal brand, as well as his look, have for sure evolved throughout the years, but the essence of who he is has remained the same since his days as a MySpace celebrity. Jeffree Star has been involved in several feuds online and offline with other people, but he has always found a way to come out on top and somehow turn every situation into a money-making opportunity. He has been accused of multiple things including being racist in past videos, but he always addressed these issues and accusations very openly. I don’t want to say that I admire Star for everything that he has done but I do admire the fact that he doesn’t make excuses for himself and that no matter what, he stays true to his own personal brand. People can argue a lot of things about him but one thing that I feel it has been true about him since he first became popular on MySpace is that fact that he always stays true to himself and his personal brand. Jeffree Star has done a really good job at maintaining his social media presence active, relevant and consistent which I think it has really helped make him into the successful YouTube celebrity he is today. Star has taken advantage of social media as a platform for years and he has really mastered this tool to in order to turn his name and image into dollar signs.
Speaking of using social media as a personal marketing tool, I have had the great pleasure of seeing one of my classmates and dear friend Yocelyn Riojas blossom into a successful artist and inspiring activist right in front of my eyes. Yocelyn has taken advantage of social media as a tool to discover and broadcast her talents and she has been very successful at growing her social media followers in the last year and a half. I met Yocelyn during my first studio class in grad school a few years ago. At the time, both of us had recently gone back to school to pursue and MFA hoping that it would lead us into a new chapter of our lives. When I met Yocelyn, she had just started the program not too long after me and we bonded pretty quickly after discovering that we shared some similarities in past experiences, taste in fashion and the love for chisme and tacos. The class we were taking when we met really allowed for us to experiment in different ways which I think helped make my transition back to school easier to navigate. One of the main reasons I wanted to go back to school is because I wanted to figure out what type of designer I wanted to be. After getting to know Yocelyn better during that semester, I realized that she was in a similar path and through her projects in that class we took together, I saw the initial steps of how she developed her own voice and her own personal brand. Yocelyn has been very successful at making a name for herself as a Latinx activist artist by staying true to who she is and by speaking out on issues that she is passionate about. Her projects speak her truth and her passion translates into her work seamlessly.
I have always admired her work, since the very first prototype she made for the class we had together a few years ago and I’m hoping that through interviewing her I can learn some tips on how to develop my own brand and finding my own voice as a creative. When Yocelyn and I met to talk about her work and how her life has changed in the last year and a half, I learned a lot about her as an artist and as a person. We chatted for almost an hour and we covered multiple topics during our conversation including cultural appropriation, how to brand yourself, being empathetic when designing and favorite drag queens among other topics, but one of the main takeaways I got from our conversation was hearing Yocelyn talk about how important it is to get to know yourself and build a relationship with yourself in order to learn how to develop your brand. That really resonated with me because I’ve never even thought about what type of relationship I have with my own self.
Yocelyn emphasized during our conversation how before you put yourself and your branding out there, you need to figure who you are and how you want people to see you. You have to be happy with who you are and be proud of yourself before you can expect others to do that for you. While talking to her about her work, she mentioned that she is passionate about the topics she highlights in her work such as women empowerment, immigration and cultural identity because these are things that she had to deal with while growing up. She says she found success in what she does because she felt personally connected to these topics and she had always had a strong sense of empathy as a result from the environment she grew up in. Yocelyn sees herself as a storyteller and she uses social media as a medium to showcase her work and to tell her own story hoping that other people that have gone through similar experiences can relate to her and realize that they’re not the only ones going through that. In more than one occasion she has thought about the backlash she could receive from being so open about the topics she showcases in her work and how doing so, could keep her from getting a job. At the same time, she also choses to stay true to herself and what she believes. “I’m unapologetic about my cultural identity and political beliefs. Sometimes it makes people uncomfortable. However, I took a risk in being vocal and will probably never be able to work corporate…but let’s be real IDGAF” says Yocelyn and for that I really admire her as a human being and the type of work she does.
After diving deep into learning about these 5 outstanding creatives and figuring out why I find them and their work inspirational, I have come to the realization that if I want to be a brand designer, or focus on branding as part of my practice, I should probably start by figuring out my own brand and my own voice as a creative. There are definitely some characteristics from the creatives I highlighted that I admire and relate to such as empathy, transparency, humanity, and being unapologetic but my current branding and voice don’t reflect any of that. When I first developed my own branding materials my goal was just make myself marketable in order to get a job and to be able to stand out and blend in at the same time but I’m in a different stage of my life and I don’t feel like I have the need to do that anymore. I see this assignment as an opportunity to get to know myself better and to rebirth myself in order to figure out who I want to be as a creative. I feel like I need to dig deeper and build a better relationship with myself so I can figure out what I want to say to the world as a creative, as a designer, as a grad student and as a human being. Stay tuned interwebz!