Spackling My Brand Identity: New Website Header!

Spackling My Brand Identity: New Website Header!

One of the great sins of my personal branding effort has been to let a temporary photograph stand in as my website identity for so long. If you’re reading this article through RSS you missed the new header image that has replaced the old collection of scotch bottles. I just didn’t see the bottles anymore because I’m too close to the website, but every once in a while someone comments that they just assumed that my website is about drinking. I’ve resisted changing it until now, because I liked the photo, but I’m finally starting to define my design methodology and the image is incongruous with respect to a respectable practice. It’s time to put my childish preferences aside.

The visual history of my website header is documented in my post Inadvertent Branding, but the short version of the story is that the bottles (see below) were a joking commentary on my cavalier attitude about moving my website between servers, live, without doing a whole lot of testing. At the time I was also rather fond of the colors in the image, taken with my previous-previous digital camera (a Canon PowerShot G2). Looking at the image now, I can see the nasty contrast issues. Check it out, preserved below for posterity:

Old Header The picture in the new header was taken at Starbucks with the 40D to illustrate a blog post, and was serving as (wait for it) a placeholder in my new website design. The new design, sadly, has not been going anywhere since January, so I decided to just grab the image from it. At least the new photo is somewhat informational in its subject matter. Plus, it has my two favorite pens in it (a Lamy Safari and Al-Star) laying on my favorite notebook (a Cachet Classic Graph). The eventual plan is to shoot a new header image depicting a ton of my favorite bits of gear used in support of my identity and design agency philosophy. But first, I’ve got to write it. So for now, this header will serve as a transitional brand image. That probably is some kind of no-no, but as I am also in a transition period, I am allowing for poetic license. So there. So much for growing out of my childish preferences.

Another transitional element I’ve deliberated added is the shift in colors toward the orange-blue palette that my latest business card is using:

Current Business Cards The evolution of my business cards has never really matched the evolution of the website, but there’s no more excuses now that I’m settling in a “design niche” I think is suited to my peculiar skillset and personality. To help, I’m using some language from the cards (“investigative designer”) while retaining some of the keywords that the site has become known for (“productivity”). I also am using the gestalt dot story as a bullet for the design portfolio” button, which is now a little more obvious than before. I’m not sure if I like the bullet, but at least we’re starting to get some repetition of elements between the business card and the website, which helps make it seem more like a “brand”. It’s not great consistency, but then again my so-called brand identity has always been somewhat “ambient” as opposed to “direct”. Certain elements like proportions in my design work, color choice, typography, and use of photography have been fairly consistent over the past few years. The explicit use of my name has also been consistent; I demoted the original name of the blog, Better Living through New Media, to a subheader quite some time ago. This probably was a lucky decision, as I’ve discovered that I really do prefer to engage with people one-on-one, representing me-as-me.

So that’s that. I’m giving myself another 10 years to fix the rest of it :-)


  1. Spirilla 15 years ago

    Yes, the previous header was incongruous and I kept wondering about those bottles. They had lots of nice colors though which now I miss. It looks very serious now, nad even not so attractive in my opinion, as if you weren’t the perfectionist that you are those seem scribbled by a child.
    Why don’t you use a detail of one of your templates where you use different colors, I love how you use it! I think that your brand it has to be playful yet functional, refined yet professional
    And now the header isn’t much playful, doesn’t look at all functional nor refined nor professional, but may be I missed something.

    I’ve been reading Be your own brand lately and it’s an excellent book about it: there is is written that branding is not about showing off how you would like to be perceived, but is based in how others perceive you. And this is the way I perceive the work you do in this site:
    How do you feel about these?
    Perhaps you perceive your work in a different way, but I thought you might care to know how it is seen from a distance. You put up a header about the crafting of new ideas, but we mostly deal with the end results of that craf and that I’d like to see in the header.

  2. Dave Seah 15 years ago

    Yah, I miss the colors. I do like the texture of raw creativity, though, which is why I like messing around with nice papers and pens.

    The vision for the new header is to put those playful/functional raw/refined professional/silly elements in, but I have to collect the pieces that will go into it. Years ago I bought a bunch of PixelBlocks that I thought would be a nice replacement for the bottles. I have a few interesting toys scattered around, and I also started a good luck charm collection. Not to mention all the odd little “productivity-boosting” gadgets I have.

    For now, though, I needed to dump those bottles as I’m actively now presenting myself as a “serious designer”, which is definitely one of my sides.

    I really appreciate the “view from afar”, though…that kind of feedback is invaluable! Let me know if I can return the favor someday.

  3. Dave Seah 15 years ago

    I may reshoot that header image now using a Day Grid Balancer, CGT or ETP underneath those pens now. Hope it’s a nice day today!

  4. Eric 15 years ago

    Congrats on the spackling!  Call me sentimental, but I do miss the old header a bit.  It *was* incongruous, but I liked that every time I visited your site, I was reminded that I don’t know enough about good whiskey and should remedy the situation sooner rather than later.

    The one minor complaint I have with the new image is that it feels almost too corporate.  Maybe a little less pen and a little more doodle?

    In any event: congratulations Mr. Cobbler, on shoeing your children.  :-)

  5. emp 15 years ago

    I have to admit, I also thought the bottles had to go.

    Spirilla is right about the colors, though. It was a nice picture.

  6. Marty Marsh 15 years ago

    Hi Dave,

    Personally I really like your new header much better than the one with the botttles. I never understand that concept.

    I think the doodles on the page with the pens speaks to your tagline of “an investigative approach….” That photo certainly looks like you’re investigating a concept to me and that’s a great representation.

    No matter, I enjoy your work and your honesty in your posts. Your challenges are many that I face myself and it’s great to hear how you think things through. I take much inspiration from your words and get much benefit from using your productivity tools. Thanks!!

    Marty Marsh

  7. Mike Hickerson 15 years ago

    Personally, I disagree about the “looks like scribbled by a child” comment above.  Children rarely use graph paper, good pens, or questions about design in their scribbles. :)

    I do, however, like Spirilla’s idea about using one of your PCEO templates. When I think of your work, I think of my OWN scribbles on your PCEO templates. When I think about your blog, I admire your openness about your process. A shot of one of your templates in mid-progress through your day (in a similar angle/feel to the photo above) would be pretty neat.

  8. Cricket 15 years ago

    I do see perfectionism in the shapes on graph-paper. You use graph paper, a fine marker that’s not running out, and tidy printing when brainstorming. Maybe I know it’s that stage because I’ve seen examples of your work at various stages. Perhaps add a bit more doodling or questioning or vagueness if that’s what you want others to see.

    I agree, the bottles do not belong on this blog. My first thought (when I came here looking for the compact calendar) was, someone who hasn’t outgrown “Accept me as I am, drinking jokes included,” and pushes it in my face. I would not hire a person with that attitude.

    Speaking of that, goes to your blog. Not a safe thing to do. In that critical 30 seconds, they want your portfolio and maybe design philosophy, not your travels or groundhog day resolutions and reviews. Give them what they expect on the main page, and entice them with a link to your blog. Your blog is awesome for the interview stage, when they know you have the skills but want to know your personality. Less good for the cover-letter and resume stage.

  9. Rose 15 years ago

    I remember asking you bout the choice of liquor bottles about a year ago. Off message.
    You miss the colors? Open it up in GIMP or photoshop, dropper the colors and use them! Paint your walls those colors! Wear a shirt with those colors. Design one of your forms with those colors! My favorite part of the new image…your sketch below the pens. Vibrant bit of humanity there!

  10. Michael Kozakewich 15 years ago

    I can’t for the life of me remember what I thought when I first saw the bottles. From what I remember… I knew I was clicking on a link that had something to do with websites or design, and it was a lovely photo, so I didn’t think anything of it.

    Actually, I just completely jumped over this new one. I had to read the first lines before looking for it.

  11. Dave Seah 15 years ago

    Thanks for the feedback, everyone! This branding stuff is pretty subjective and scary. I LIKE IT! :-)

    It sounds like the new header, while “safe”, also loses the incongruity that appealed to several commenters and myself. For others who were baffled by the header, they still miss the splash of color. The comment about using some of my own forms in the background is an excellent idea. I think this gives me a good idea of how to art direct the next shoot.

    Perhaps there is a way to incorporate auxiliary imagery elsewhere in the site. Those could be subsites or subblogs, which is something I’ve been thinking of doing.

    I might characterize the current photo as giving a glimmer of process and handcrafted analytical thinking. I think it does need to have a little more fun in it.

  12. Cricket 15 years ago

    Using one of your forms “in use” in the header is a great idea (subject to colour and all that). You actually use your own forms. (How many designers do that?)

  13. Dave Seah 15 years ago

    Eric: Yay, Scotch appreciation! And yes, it does feel very corporate. I feel itchy.

    Emp: Yay, bottle hater! So that’s 1:1 now.

    Marty: First, thanks for the really kind words for my work. I try to be open in the way that I appreciate others who have opened their processes and thoughts to me. Yep, that particular photo actually grew out of an investigation into something. I can’t remember what. I should post a scan of the entire thing.

    Mike: I’m glad you noticed that they are good pens…it’s a kind of coded message, to which I’ll speak more in the response to Cricket.

    As some people know, I don’t use many of the forms myself on a daily basis. The one I use the most regular is the ETP, and the funny thing is that I draw it by hand every morning. The reason is that I love using in that Cachet notebook. When I create bound ETPs, I will need to replicate that binding. It rocks.

    Cricket: It’s great that you mention the 30-second impression. The choice of blog as platform was to deliberately not be obviously available as regular “designer for hire” back in 2004. I had developed a severe allergy to marketing, and wanted to present myself first as someone who had stuff on their mind. A person who values that will pick up on the markers after a few sentences, and then if sufficiently moved will contact me. That was the model, designed to attract people more like me. As a result, most of the clients I’ve gotten have been exceptional ones, usually more executive and talent-minded in their background, who are looking for thinkers with skills that they can adapt into their workflow. That is a good fit. I think the “portfolio -> inteview” approach would work better if I was trying for “design for hire”, but I am angled more toward “thinker for hire, who happens to make things look nice.”

    The reason I’m changing it now is that I have a much better idea of what I’m comfortable doing and what will not drain me of energy. And I have so much material that is so badly organized (and broken after my WordPress -> Expression Engine move) that much material is just “lost”. It’s going to be a major project.

    Rose: That’s an awesome idea. I totally need a line of t-shirts and colors. Clothingwise I’m very fearful of color and tend to wear black. I have a friend though that might help with that.

    Michael: That’s interesting. Are you just used to visiting the site and seeing if there’s a new article?

  14. Ed 15 years ago

    I love the header!  I always felt the old header said “hobby,” but this one says “professional”!  I agree with perhaps adding more colors, but if you sketch in black and white, go for it!


  15. CricketB 15 years ago

    Sure, ruin a perfectly good theory with a fact. Do you really expect past success to be a good indication of the future? ;) I’m jealous. Every time I’ve attempted to self-brand with a bit more personality, my advisers have talked me out of it.

    Part of my hesitation with the alcohol is I (very small sample size) had no idea it was fine Scotch.

  16. Dave Seah 15 years ago

    Ed: Cool, more professional was what I was going for, via the route of “less boozy” :-) I may have to have a separate section for such things, though. It’s too bad that I don’t smoke more cigars, for example, because there’s a lot of interesting photographic opportunities there, not to mention the sheer variety of them.

    CricketB: Past successes (emphasis on the plural) are pretty well correlated with future success, given the same environmental conditions, so sure, why not? What’s not known is whether there’s some kind of opportunity cost associated with NOT doing it some other way. So what do I know? Maybe you should try self-branding with a bit more personality and see what happens. If your advisers are suggesting that you scrub out all personality so you can appeal to everyone equally, that may be the same thing as standing out to no one. I suppose if you were in a pure credentials-based business where personality or interpersonal relations are not a factor, it would make sense. That’s just an unsubstantiated guess though.

  17. Mike Schwiebert 15 years ago

    Hi Dave:
    I really like the new header. The old one was always about color to me, and to tell you the truth, I didn’t even notice they were liquor bottles at first. I just didn’t spend that much time looking at it.
    I think there is a nice layout between the type, the pens and the doodling.
    I really like your work and use your time tracking tools often.
    I do see Crickets point about the blog etc, but your reasoning matches my thought process. I have enjoyed seeing how and why you create what you create.

  18. beverly 15 years ago

    While I was accustomed to the bottles I didn’t really have an opinion about them other than the bottles offered an appealing visual. Both in color and concept. [FYI I’m a winter cognac, summer tequila kind of gal :) ]

    I like this new header as well, the pens are sharp and concise and the “doodles” present a “designer” theme with a hint of playfulness. You always present an excellent use of color.

    You could use one of your planners in lieu of the graph paper, but the graph paper represents more of your process than your products, and given the tremendously wonderful insight you offer in regards to process and productivity, I would say it works!