How We Work

Will The Real Experts Stand Up?

Learn how brand designer & illustrator Krista Elvey approaches logo design.

Felicia C. Sullivan
Dec 16, 2020 · 12 min read
Credit: Krista Elvey

here was a time when I’d hurl sharp objects at my computer screen wondering why that moron was a millionaire. Before I learned how to keep my eyes on my own paper, I was flummoxed by the trend of mediocore influencers churning out derivative work and hitting the proverbial jackpot. Many fists were shook. Oceans of tears were shed. I might have kicked a chair. Here I was, showing up and doing exceptional work, and I struggled.

Make no mistake — the most successful people aren’t the most tenured and talented, they’re the luckiest. You could copy their playbook, hustle until you collapse, and produce the best work without ever achieving their sheen or bank account. And a new study backs up this theory. The researchers posit,

“The wealthiest individuals are typically not the most talented or anywhere near it. The maximum success never coincides with the maximum talent, and vice-versa.”

Normally, I would go to a VERY DARK PLACE, but the study is a reminder of what I’ve always known to be true: bigger isn’t better. More isn’t better. Instead of fixating on what other people are doing, I should focus on that which I can control — how I show up and do the work.

I’m running a marathon and I’m my only competition. Long before I discovered this study via Benek Lisefski’s most recent post, I’ve been thinking about the people I admire. I don’t worship at the altar of the guru du jour, rather I’m enamored by people like me who are constantly curious. Knowledge feeds our famine and we’re not in it for the clout — we care about getting really fucking good at what we do and enriching the lives we touch.

I’ve never considered peers as competitors because while we know how to get to the same destination, our routes are demonstrably different.

Our maps, compasses, guides, and snacks reflect the accumulation of not only how we learned to do the thing, but how we practiced and shaped our knowledge over time. The space between what we were first taught and how we do the work today is that journey. It’s the feedback we got from our colleagues, customers, and competitors. It’s how we change as the world changes because complacency is the ultimate career killer.

What I want to explore are those routes. How people do what they do. How they do it differently than the kid down the block. What people, process, and technology they use to get it done.

Imagine pulling out a microscope and magnifying one aspect of someone’s work. This is not about reducing what my peers do to one simple thing, rather, I want to shine a light on it. How we learn to do something is about breaking down complexity to simplicity. Starting with the smallest elements and building.

So, I decided to hound people I admire and invited them to pick one element of what they do and go deep. Explain how they do it. In detail. And I’m starting with the AWESOME brand designer & illustrator, Krista Elvey.

While I build brands for a living, I struggle with crafting my own. For a long time (read: seven years) I didn’t practice what I preached. My materials weren’t a reflection of me and the caliber of work I deliver and this year it began to gnaw at me. So much so that I finally hired a designer to create my visual identity (sans logo) and marketing collateral — starting with my portfolio.

I worked with Krista Elvey on a project and I found her professional, easygoing, talented as fuck, and delightful. Visit her website — she’s certified bonafide. See snaps from her website below.

Credit: Krista Elvey’s Website

I wanted to work with someone who didn’t know me personally and could translate the mess I dumped in their lap into magic. I’m not a visual person so it’s hard for me to articulate what I like, so I sent Krista a mountain of images, illustrations, fonts, and websites I felt reflected my vibe, and she came back with two rounds of mood boards that had me screaming for joy.

Credit: Krista Elvey

We finally ended up with some bolder pinks, richer blues, and a complementary Serif font I loved (I’m Team Sans Serif). She created a series of simple illustrations (as I’ve grown tired of stock photos) that felt wholly me.

When she delivered my portfolio, I was shocked because I didn’t expect it to look the way it did but it was exactly what I wanted, which is the mark of a true expert. Snaps from a few slides:

Designed by Krista Elvey // Text: Felicia C. Sullivan (STILL SCREAMING!!!)

I was so OBSESSED with her talent and skill, I wanted to learn what made Krista Krista. Naturally, I interviewed her.

Tell me about you. Give me the highlights reels of your career. Where you started and how you ended up to where you are now. (Note: I love how Krista used bullets, which is something I would totally do)

Krista Elvey: My brain works best in list-form, so here’s a point form breakdown of how I got here!

  • Earlier in my career, I worked in several environmental non-profits while working as a freelance designer on the side.
  • I took a leap of faith and studied design in Rome for a year.
  • After coming back to the US for a few years, I traveled the world for a year while working remotely and have worked remotely ever since!
  • I’m both an American and Canadian permanent resident, but work mostly with US-based clients out of my Toronto home.
  • I’ve lived really big, I’ve worked really hard, and all of those perspectives help shape the person and professional I am today. I bring all of those experiences and insights into my work, and I like to think it shows.

What are you doing right now as a product or service provider?

KE: I’m a multidisciplinary designer and illustrator. I specialize in brand identity design, but I also design websites, packaging, and more. I’m in the early stages of building a product-based company so I can make things and create experiences that I wish were more common in the world today!

How long have you been doing what you do?

KE: I’ve been doing design work for almost a decade, picking up new skills and challenges along the way. I just celebrated my 3rd anniversary of working full-time for myself, and I’m just getting started!

Who do you do it for? What audience (s) do you serve. Tell me about them and why you settled on this particular audience.

KE: I know this goes against all industry “best practices,” but I don’t only design for a specific niche of clients because I thrive in a world of variety. I’ve always done what works for me, because I believe that authenticity and quality comes from being honest with yourself and what you’re passionate about creating.

But in a more general sense, I work with medium to large businesses and entrepreneurs. They tend to fall in the Health and Wellness, Lifestyle, and Food/Beverage industries. It’s also very important to me to have at least a couple of nonprofits in my client roster (to which I offer special rates), because it aligns with my core belief of Doing Good in the world. If I can say I’ve been doing good work for good causes, I can be satisfied with where I’m at in life.

Why do you do it? What’s your WHY?

KE: Design is how I understand the world; it’s the language that all my senses and perspectives are filtered through. So on a very literal level, I’m a designer because it’s how I best communicate with the world around me. (Is it cheesy to say it’s my Love Language? Because it kind of totally is.)

My big WHY is simple: I like to help people. Always have, always will. Service is compassion in action; it’s where empathy becomes a thing you DO rather than a thing you feel. I also love problem solving, so my career lets me engage all these core parts of myself at once. I use design to help others solve their problems!

Let’s get into the weeds. Everyone’s role is multifaceted and multi-dimensional. But pick one part of what you do. It could be a deliverable for a client or how you put together an event — focus on one aspect of the million things you do every day. Now, go into detail as if you’re explaining this to someone who’s never heard of what you do. Feel free to include:

  1. Any mindsets, habits and routines
  2. People, process, technology/resources
  3. Any aspect of the how that sets you apart from the pack

KE: Logo Design

People often conflate Logo Design with Brand Identity, but a logo is just one component of a full Brand Identity. A Brand Identity refers to all of the components that make up a brand, such as colors, typography, design systems, marketing materials, and brand voice & tone.

Most of the time, when someone comes to me for a logo they are also looking for me to create more components of a brand identity than just a logo, like a full brand guide and assets such as marketing materials, brand illustrations, packaging, and more. Every client is different and therefore has specific needs, so I tailor my services to provide only what makes the most sense for each situation and budget.

A logo is such an important part of a brand identity. It has a tremendous amount of value because it often is tasked with providing the first impression to your business.

  • Client Brief: I always start with a brief to get a sense of the scope of the project. Why do they need a logo now? Where will this logo live and how will it be used? What’s the intended lifetime of this brand?
  • Discovery and Getting to Know the Client: My goals for Discovery are to learn as much as I can about the brand, customers, and client. This is where I ask a LOT of questions. This process also provides a lot of value to the client because it helps them to get really clear on their goals, priorities, and helps them to think more about the audience they are serving.
  • Research & Tone Setting: Before I start sketching, I provide the client with a series of mood boards Even if I’m only creating a logo and not a full brand identity, I still provide moodboards to help establish a tone and direction for the logo design. Something else that’s really important is that I aim to help the client separate their own personal tastes from what will make sense for the brand. It’s so important that your logo be industry-appropriate and speak to the customers you serve, rather than reflect your own aesthetic preferences. It’s a hard habit to break!

I also conduct research into my client’s industry so we can review what their competitors are doing. This is helpful to know how to stand out from the crowd.

Furthermore, this part of the process helps break down the really big decision of deciding on a logo into a series of smaller decisions. For instance, if we can make some general decisions on goals, tone, colors, typography before we even get to the point of reviewing options, choosing a design feels more like the logical final step rather than a big scary decision.

  • First Drafts: I sketch dozens of options before settling on 2–3 concepts to show the client. The number of variations isn’t set in stone because I only want to share options that I feel 100% confident that will be a great choice for the brand. I share the first concepts as stand alone logos, as well as on an application like a postcard, so the client can get a feel for how their logo will look in the wild.
  • Revisions: I have a set number of revisions (3) because it helps lead to a final decision. Design is an iterative process, and occasionally a logo concept is chosen at the first draft and then polished into a final version. But usually, we have a couple of rounds of edits to land on the chosen design.
  • Finalize: After the final concept is chosen, I will provide the logo (or begin the additional deliverables as applicable). On delivery, I present the logo in all necessary formats and file types needed to use it wherever needed. I also provide some education on how to use each of the file types.

One last thing about my process: I’ve been working remotely with clients for over 6 years, and I value great communication and building/earning trust. Also, I’m proud to say I’ve never missed a single deadline.

Trust is earned, and I do my best to always earn their trust. It’s a big leap of faith to allow someone else to collaborate in your business, so it’s very important to me that each client feels like I’m both dependable and that I provide a ton of value for their business.

Are there any points in the process that you’ve tweaked or altered over time? Why?

KE: I used to offer standard design packages for my clients, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution for companies across all the sizes and industries I tend to work with. So now I have a project minimum, but I tailor my packages to suit each client’s needs. It’s more labor-intensive of my end, but it brings greater value to the client and offers that level of focus and care that is a core part of myself and my brand.

On that same note, I used to have project management software where I onboarded each client to set expectations and be really clear on deadlines. It turns out, nobody has time to learn a new program just to communicate with their designer. Now I tailor my project management to match whatever software the client currently uses, and communicate my process through their workflow.

Finally, I hold personal post mortems after each project and make small adjustments to anything that isn’t working in my process. Design is iterative, and I want my relationship with each client to reflect that.

Anything else you want to share?

KE: There are hundreds of advantages to working for yourself, but one I really struggled with was teaching myself to rest. When you’re your own boss, it can be hard to tell yourself to take a break or shift into a lower gear. Without a team nearby to gauge yourself against, it can be easy to miss the signs of burnout. And when you start to view your day-to-day actions in terms of money you are (or aren’t) making, it becomes hard to justify taking time to yourself. But it’s the most important lesson in the world, so start learning it as soon as you can.

Balance is everything.

Speaking of balance, I’ve come to embrace a “one for them, one for me” mentality. The struggle between chasing your wildest, weirdest creative impulses and paying your bills is very real. So I always try to balance every case of high-intensity client-led work with a project that pays next to nothing, but is dictated entirely by me, for me. (FS Note: I love this!!!)

Working for myself means I’m working for all sides of myself, not just the part that makes money. Otherwise, what’s the point of working for ourselves if we’re going to import the same work-life imbalances that made a lot of us want to go solo to begin with? I try to be the balance I want to see in the world, and I know you can too.

There you have it. This is a new series I’m testing out on Medium vs. my newsletter, so I’d really love to hear what you think. And give Krista all your money and love because she is THE BUSINESS.

Falling Into Freelancing

All the tips, tools, and resources you need to thrive after…

Felicia C. Sullivan

Written by

Marketing Exec/Author. I build brands & tell stories. Work in Human Parts, OneZero, Forge, Index & Marker. Hire me: t.ly/bEnd7 Brand & Content eBooks: t.ly/ZP5v

Falling Into Freelancing

All the tips, tools, and resources you need to thrive after your 9 to 5.

Felicia C. Sullivan

Written by

Marketing Exec/Author. I build brands & tell stories. Work in Human Parts, OneZero, Forge, Index & Marker. Hire me: t.ly/bEnd7 Brand & Content eBooks: t.ly/ZP5v

Falling Into Freelancing

All the tips, tools, and resources you need to thrive after your 9 to 5.

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