Oh AUTHENTICITY. You sure are getting a lot of press lately. At least around my circles, everyone is talking about the importance of finding your true, authentic self. I love this concept, and I totally preach it to my clients.

But there’s another side to this conversation that’s been a bit swept under the rug.

I was invited to be a speaker at Amber Housley Inspired a few weeks ago in Nashville, Tennessee. I spoke about the importance of being authentic and telling your story. Telling your story in your brand and your website (and every touch-point along the experience) is paramount to getting the clients you love, and doing what you’re best at. When we are authentic to our story, we are able to fill our buckets with what we love.

I got a question after my talk that really got me thinking. The woman (a fellow graphic designer) pointed out that she agreed with me – that finding your authentic self really is the right way – but that most of the time, finding your authenticity as a DESIGNER can prove EXTREMELY difficult. And I totally agree, as a graphic designer, it can be darn-near impossible.

We designers pride ourselves on designing for OTHERS’ voice, style, or look. We ourselves have trouble finding a voice, a style, a look of our own. We can get so lost in designing for others, that we forget who WE really are somewhere along the way.

How ironic huh? We can design for everyone but ourselves. Heck, I even design for OTHER designers all the time. I thought a lot about WHY it’s so tough, and here’s where I think the issues lie:

1. We are style chameleons, and METHOD designers.

We are masters of so many styles – connoisseurs of them even.  We can see beauty in just about anything. We are able to change ourselves to the style/authenticity of the client. It’s why we are good at what we do. Just like a method actor, we are able to remove ourselves from the equation to truly immerse ourselves in the client and their needs.

2. We are too hard on ourselves.

We expect whatever we do for ourselves, to be our MASTERPIECE. It needs to be genius, it needs to be the best thing we’ve EVER done. The trouble with that standard, is it’s impossible to reach. As designers, we are constantly growing and learning. The magic design that will be everything to everyone, doesn’t exist. If I’m being honest, I don’t want my brand or site to be the best thing I’ve ever done. I’d rather save my best for my clients. Truly. My clients inspire me beyond understanding.

3. We can’t see ourselves from the outside.

The biggest reason I think we struggle with self-design, is that we can’t see ourselves. We are too “close” to the project to identify who we really are. We know we have a style, but we can’t see it from fresh eyes.

So, what’s a designer to do? How can we share our brand story? How can WE be authentic? Let’s figure this out by tackling the problems above.

1. Identify what sets our hearts aflame.

Although we are masters of a lot of styles, we DO have OUR style in there somewhere. So then, it’s a matter of identifying WHICH one really is the sugar in our tea. We can do this through self-exploration techniques, Pinterest boards, magazine cut outs, etc. We can identify which styles we love above all the rest, and which ones truly fit.

2. It doesn’t need to be genius. It just needs to be YOU.

Let go of the idea that your design is going to end world hunger. That’s too much to ask. It just simply needs to feed your soul, and make YOU feel good. Does it make you happy? Does it make you smile? Are you confident it speaks your language? That’s what matters most.

3. Get to know yourself, outside of yourself.

This is tough, I know. Think outside the box if you have to. How can you get out of your own head? When I was doing my own re-brand, I re-designed my office with the help of an interior designer. I had an ah-ha moment when everything in my style board SCREAMED me. I thought, how can I translate this room into my brand? Now I love my branding and it really speaks to who I am. It’s not my most complimented brand or website, but it’s ME, and that’s all that matters. It makes me happy.

You may notice I didn’t mention anything about designing for your ideal client. While I think it is important, I think it’s just the first step. Designing for your ideal client is easier than designing for yourself. I’m assuming here that your design will encompass your ideal client’s style, and yours. If you are designing from scratch, design for your ideal client, and then freshen it up for yourself. But take care of YOUR needs. You won’t feel understood until the design feels authentic to you.

I’d love to encourage you today to think about YOUR brand and how it makes you feel. Try some of these techniques and see if they jog some ideas out of that brilliant brain of yours. If you need help, I’d love to invite you to join us for the Design Life Project e-course! The first part of the course, we’ll do some exercises to really figure out who you are and what sets your heart on fire. Registration opens NEXT WEEK and there are limited seats to keep the experience personal. Make sure you’re signed up to hear about when registration opens and you can snag your spot.


P.S. The response to telling my story was surprising and overwhelming (in a good way). I got SO many messages thanking me for sharing, and telling me how much it touched them. It was hard to write and even harder to relive, but I’m so glad I did. It meant the WORLD to me to hear from you. I am blessed to have your ear. THANK you all for reading.