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Meg Develops a Design Aesthetic

How to handle visual branding for your store when you're not a designer.

Hero image for Issue #17: Developing a Design Aesthetic

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned since opening Freddie and Co. is that, when you open an e-commerce store, you have to wear all the hats. And there’s a good chance that you’re not exactly suited for all of them. Maybe the accounting hat and the fulfillment hat fit just fine, but the design hat is a little too small, so it sits awkwardly on your head and draws too much attention to itself. What to do?

Well, like these ladies, you just have to suck it up and rock that hat! (Even if you’re faking the confidence.) This is exactly how I felt when I first started developing the design aesthetic of Freddie and Co. I touched on this briefly in Issue #5, but I’d like to revisit it now. After all, I’m 12 weeks older and wiser.

When I first started this newsletter, I realized if I tried to make it look beautiful, I would fail. I have no design training. I’m definitely no email developer. My shortcomings would be obvious if I tried to ignore them.

And then I remembered my favorite newsletter, The Pen Parade. Hallie Bateman writes pen reviews using the pen she’s reviewing, uploading her written images to her emails. Her aesthetic is so personal and free-form, and I bookmark them all to re-read over and over. (BTW: the first new issue in more than a year just came out!)

Inspired by Hallie, I’ve sent newsletters featuring my handwriting before — but only for a small, internal newsletter that goes to my team. For What’s in Store, I wasn’t sure if I could get away with it.

But I did it anyway. Using my own handwriting was freeing, and it felt more comfortable than trying to fit text blocks and image blocks together in a cohesive way. I stuck with what I knew, and I think the result was better for it.

When it came time to develop an aesthetic for Freddie and Co., I continued the tradition with a hand-drawn logo, and tried to keep things simple, easy, and consistent.

Keeping it simple is the best way to “fake it.” For Freddie and Co., we took a lot of product-focused photos, and let those shine.

The point of your e-commerce site is for people to buy stuff. I know, mind-blowing, right? But it really does come down to that one objective, so you should make it easy for them to do it! Show them how great your product is, and don’t let a bunch of pages stand between them and that final confirmation click.

An ecommerce site showing it only takes 4 clicks to checkout

Decide on your brand’s basic look and feel, and stick to it. Don’t take too many risks at first. Having some established rules can actually provide the freedom you need to be creative.

For Freddie and Co., Jane picked out a typeface she liked and used it for the whole site. We decided on a few colors we liked, and we stuck with those throughout emails, social media, and the site itself.

Once we had the logo, we set it up 2 different ways and decided to stick to those. But you may have noticed that the bag our new pins come in has…a third logo.

I regretted that decision as soon as I had the bags in-hand, because they look off-brand. Bummer, but lesson learned: consistency makes a brand recognizable.

I stuck with what I knew and built on that. Maybe you’re good at photography or illustration or building templates or writing! Start there. Thanks to all the great, inexpensive tools on the internet these days, anyone can create a website or email campaign. And you can succeed and create something appealing if you play to your strengths.

One great resource I reference a lot is Mailchimp’s Email Design Guide. It’s specifically for email, but the tips are versatile.

Let me know if you have other helpful resources!

Next week, we have another special guest. Brad sends all of Mailchimp’s marketing emails, and he’s also one of the funniest people I know. He’ll discuss which Mailchimp features we’ve been using — and how we’ve been using them. It’s gonna be great!

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