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The Webs That Define a Destination’s Brand — And You

Webs of Destination Branding and You

I define myself as many things: A painter. A graphic designer. A mother. A wife. An artist. A traveler. An optimist. A believer.

It’s not something I was always so comfortable with — that is, feeling confident calling myself so many things. At any given time, I would describe myself as one of those things, but not the others. It took a while until I could fully embrace the fact that most of what we are in our lives is completely intertwined.

I am a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter… all in the web of family.

I am a designer, a journaler, a painter, a sketcher… all in the web of creativity.

I am a business owner, an accountability partner, a student, a mentor… all in the web of my career.

These webs are what make our lives complete. And these webs are what make me realize and appreciate how my work can impact the rest of my life, and vice versa.

Why I love destination branding

The majority of my design work takes place in the travel and tourism space, giving birth to and developing brands for specific destinations around the Finger Lakes, New York State, and beyond.

During this work, I am able to travel to beautiful destinations, where I meet amazing people who tell equally amazing stories of where they live, work, and play. I learn about the attributes that make each destination unique. I learn about the history that has impacted the area today. I learn about the ongoing developments, and I get to share in the vision for the future.

I love this time during the project — the time I define as research in my BRANCH process. It’s a time when I absorb what a place means, what it stands for, and what potential it holds for the rest of the world.

Sometimes, I’ll even pull out my easel to paint in a place that I’m branding. Because I’m most present when painting, it’s this practice that helps me really center on what’s most important in a destination.

And what’s important is typically a handful of things. The beauty of the Finger Lakes isn’t just in its waterways — it’s in its wine; its culinary scene; its parks; its history. The mystique of the Adirondacks isn’t just in its mountains — it’s in its lakes; its pubs; its arts community.

Destinations, much like individuals, are often characterized by one thing, but the detriment is that they’re good at many.

Instead of zoning in on one thing, I look at the web that’s weaved by all things. This way of looking at destinations (and individuals, really) reminds me that we shouldn’t mistake simple for ordinary. It reminds me that there is so much to every story. It reminds me that unless we’re fully present, it’s impossible to witness, explore, and capture the details, the stories, and the people that weave the web that is ultimately a destination.

How destination branding impacts my every day

Destination branding brings me to places I might never go to otherwise. In Cayuga County, I went on a hike with the town of Montezuma’s historian. In Ontario County, I kayaked the beautiful Canandaigua Lake. In Seneca County, I took photos of my husband and daughter skydiving. (No, I didn’t join in — but they LOVED it!) In Livingston County, I hiked the Grand Canyon of the West (Letchworth State Park) — and it’s now become one of my favorite places to paint.

Of course, these are important experiences that have impacted how I’ve developed and designed each destination’s brand. But it goes well beyond that.

Because I spend time experiencing the here and now in order to really express the essence of each area, it’s taught me how to travel with my eyes fully open. It’s taught me how to be a tourist in my own backyard. And it’s taught me how to tell the whole story.

Ultimately, being a traveler, a destination designer, a storyteller, a painter… it all weaves together in my web of mindfulness — yet another aspect of my being.

A destination is made up of many things, that weave together to determine its brand, much like you are made up of many things that make up your identity.

The real question is: How will you tell the whole story?

10 Tools That Empower + Enhance My Design Business

graphic design tools

Life is very much about surrounding yourself with people that push, inspire, and support you. That is why I surround myself with positive people that make me a better person.

I also happen to think that the tools in your toolbox play an incredibly important role in supporting you. After all, a roofer can’t get by without a ladder, and a doctor needs her stethoscope, right?

And while I might only rely on natural light, a blank canvas, and a few supplies when I’m out en plein air painting, my graphic design studio looks a little different when it comes to the tools I rely on and look forward to using each and every day.

Software, books, and music…oh my!

Moving my graphic design studio from an office and into my home was one of the best things I’ve ever done for my business, but whether I’m in rented space or my home studio, there are a few tools that I simply couldn’t live without.

Let’s start with the hardware and software:

1. My Mac: This seems pretty basic, but the truth is that I couldn’t run this business without it, so it’d be silly for me not to mention it. I am grateful for the power behind my Mac and its ability to simultaneously run several of the other tools on this list. (I might also be hoping that by listing this first, I earn some good karma that will help me continue to learn and grow easily.)

2. WACOM tablet: There’s only so much you can do with a trackpad or a mouse. For those times when I wish I could just pick up a pencil and sketch right on my monitor (not a good idea!), my drawing tablet saves the day.

3. The Adobe suite: A designer’s delight. InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator have become second nature to me, providing the tools I need within them to bring my ideas to life for my clients.

4. Social media: I attempt to spend quite a bit of time unplugged when I’m not on my computer working. That being said, I can’t help but appreciate social media as a tool for my business — not only in being able to promote the behind-the-scenes of my business via this blog, on Instagram, and on Facebook, but also for my ability to follow what my clients and other businesses are doing.

5. My printer: While I love employing talented printers to make use of the more complicated papers and sizes, my handy-dandy studio printer is fantastic for letting me get a feel for what projects are going to look like. Hearing it churn out samples is often music to my ears.

Now, let’s unplug and look at the non-technical side of things:

6. Notebooks: There really are the times I just need a pencil and paper. That’s where my sketchpads and notebooks come in. I especially rely on these in client meetings, where I appreciate the arrows and lines that let me capture my thoughts exactly as they’re happening. (And where my notes often look crazed.)

7. Calendars: I never really got into the digital calendar world. But paper calendars? Oh, yes. Not only do I have my paper planner, but large, printed calendars adorn my studio wall and keep me clear on everything from my appointments to deadlines for client projects. To the naked eye, it might look a bit disorganized, but these calendars are the key to my organization.

8. Books, books, and more books: From PMS (Pantone Matching System) color books to design manuals, and business books to personal development reads, I consider books to be one of the greatest tools for growth in my business, and am so grateful for the knowledge that other people take the time to record.

9. Paper samples: While I work on a good amount of design for web projects, I still work very largely on print projects — from visitors guides to product labels and marketing brochures to large trade show displays — which makes paper samples a crucial tool in my business. The type of paper can make all the difference for a project, and different textures, weights, and materials can be a big inspiration.

And, finally, the sounds:

10. Music: Much like a color or smell can inspire a memory or ignite inspiration, music is a must-have office companion for my design work. Sometimes it means meditation playlists on Spotify; other times it means throwing the windows open and letting the birds sing. (And don’t get me wrong — sometimes, the best music is silence.)

Choose the tools that amplify your days

Much like the people you surround yourself with, the tools you choose to use can both empower and enhance your business. It’s easy to get distracted by shiny objects — that new project management tool, or the new music player. Instead, focus on finding a handful of tried-and-true tools that work for what you need.

What tools do you turn to in your business? Share with me in the comments, below.

Designing an Experience

designing an experience

When you walk into a floral shop, it’s easy to find yourself attracted to certain bouquets. Maybe it’s the Calla Lilies sprinkled with the Bells of Ireland and dotted with Lily of the Valley. Or the way the tulips are balanced by hydrangeas. You see, florists are experts in pairing just the right flowers to make you want them staring at you from your kitchen table every morning.

They do something that many people can’t: they see what works together, so they package it. Then, they sell it. And it works — because suddenly we see what we might not have seen before. And when it works really well? It resonates with us.

The magic of packaging

The same could be said of your brand. Your brand starts with a single element — maybe it’s your logo. It could just as easily be a texture that speaks to you. Or a color that represents you. The talent of a good graphic designer comes in being able to take disparate design elements that work on their own — a logo, certain graphics, a color palette, various patterns — and package them together so that they work even better. In their unique packaging, they form an identity for you and your organization — one that resonates with your ideal client.

Packaging items helps people understand, appreciate, and connect with the experience, whether it’s flower buying, interacting with your brand, or embarking upon new travel destinations.

Packaging travel

Consider the organization AAA: as a travel agency, AAA packages vacations to present them to potential buyers as a one-stop shop: your airfare, lodging, meals, transportation, and excursions organized over 7; 10; 21 days for maximum enjoyment. They can do it because they know the product. Where you might look at a trip to Ireland and be overwhelmed with options, they can present to you an all-inclusive trip with an itinerary delivered to your inbox.

Local travel bureaus are doing the same. But what’s even more fun to see than the standard packaging of hotels and restaurants is the coming together of partner entities to form a trail you can explore — one with a unique brand to call its own.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

That’s precisely what so many local tourism partners have done. It’s the trails created by others that give us the encouragement, and the understanding, to explore newness without overwhelm. Take for example the Finger Lakes Sweet Treat Trail. Voted #7 on USA Today’s 10Best list for Food Trails, this one’s focused on the good stuff: the cookies, jams, honey, ice cream, and other sugary delights, all made with a focus on locally-sourced ingredients.

On their own, each of the businesses on the trail operates just fine. But together? They’ve joined to create a brand that brings more visitors and fosters a better experience. (And gets featured on USA Today…)

The same could be said of other local trails with which I’ve worked: the Canandaigua Wine Trail, the Cayuga Healthy Choices Trail, and the Let’s Go Hike and Bike trails. Each is made up of seemingly disparate entities — ones that you might think to visit individually, but wouldn’t necessarily know how to approach together as an outsider. As collective entities with distinct brands, they’ve united to offer experiences.

Trails you want to be on

It is incredibly important to create a brand that excites the people you want to reach. Whether it’s perfecting the pairing of flowers in a bouquet, partnering a logo with graphics and textures for a company identity, or packaging the wineries, waterways, and sweet shops into a trail, make your next creation an experience that others want to take part in.

Create a brand that excites. A package that inspires. A trail that invites.

What skills, elements, or ideas will you blend into an experience next?

Three Branding Myths We Need to Debunk Right Now

business branding myths

There’s a lot of buzz about branding. From one-person solo businesses to large corporations, the importance of a strong brand has only gotten more prominent as time goes on and companies rely on exceptional experiences and word of mouth to boost their sales. Your brand, quite simply, has to be on point.

But with all the buzz, there’s a lot out there to read and learn — and not everything you’re hearing is true — or necessary — for your business.

Three branding myths worth debunking

1 – Your brand can be created in no time. (Actually, that your brand can be created, at all.)

If there’s one thing you need to know right now, it’s this: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your brand won’t be, either. Branding requires research, time, and strong doses of intuition. The most important aspect of branding is authenticity, and because of that, it requires the patience to figure out what your business is, what your business stands for, and who your business serves. And all of that means you need time.

What should be done in this time?

Observation. Watch your clients, documenting how they interact with your business and current brand.

Research. Survey clients to gather stories. Get the lay of the competitive landscape. Create benchmarks and identify gaps.

Mission evaluation. Decide who you most want to serve and how you can best serve them.

Branding isn’t about creation. It’s about discovering what’s already there, and knowing it will evolve. When you allow for intentional and productive time to evaluate your business and where your brand stands, you and your branding strategist will naturally uncover your brand.

2 – Your brand is all about you.

The second most important thing to know is this: while your brand is a reflection of you and your business, it is not all about you. Your brand is the key that opens the gate to connect with your ideal customers, and because of that, your brand has to speak directly to them.

While you’re in the discovery process, take the observations of how people are interacting with your business and where that intersects with your mission, and note what speaks to them most. What do they come to you for? What desire or need does your business fulfill? Your brand has to be uncovered with the customer in mind — because it’s what connects with them that will ultimately dictate what your brand is all about.

3 – Your logo = your brand

Finally, this is perhaps my favorite branding myth to debunk: there are many people out there who will equate your logo with your brand. While your logo is a crucial piece of your brand, your brand is so much more than just the logo: your brand is a portfolio of the colors, type, tone, and ethos of your business.

So where do elements like your logo come in? Your logo, website, and marketing materials are vehicles to carry your brand, as are you, your team, and your ambassadors. Powerful, intentional branding is about activating and empowering those vehicles to tell your story.

The truth about branding

With three strong myths debunked, let’s get to one truth: your business is your brand. And a powerful, relatable brand is imperative for your success as a business.

I want to help you uncover where your current brand stands. Check out my free ebook, What Does Your Brand Say? and when you’re ready to level up in your branding and feel its impact on your business, book a complimentary (yes, free!) Brand Clarity Call with me.

To debunking myths + celebrating strong brands!

BRANCH: A Behind-the-Scenes of My Design Discovery Process

BRANCH design discovery process

While I’d love to say that all of my ideas as a graphic designer and artist come to me while lying in a hammock under the trees in my backyard, I’d simply be dreaming. (That’s only true for some.)

The truth, in fact, is that a good portion of my job as a graphic designer is to get to the bottom of your brand — from the history of your business to the market you’re catering to and everything in between. Intelligent design that connects with your ideal audience is more than just creative ideas based on aesthetics you’re partial to. Intelligent design requires research. That’s where BRANCH comes in here at Harris Studios.

BRANCH: design discovery

My process for working with clients includes three distinct steps before we get into the actual design: a 30-minute Brand Clarity Call to discover where your brand is at and where it needs to be, a package proposal that can make that happen, and, finally, the kick off: BRANCH.

What is BRANCH, exactly? I’m glad you asked.

BRANCH is a research process that gives me true insight into your business and your current brand by analyzing what’s in and around it.

BRANCH is all about qualitative research, through which I’m able to tune in to the foundation of your business, your potential customers’ perceptions of your brand, and how that compares to the competitors in your environment. It’s broken down as follows:

Brand discovery through:

Research

Authentic design

Necessity

Competitive analysis

History

To look a bit closer:

Research: I engage in qualitative research to uncover perceptions regarding your brand from current and potential customers.

Authentic design: based on what I learn, I begin the process of creating a brand and design elements that are authentic to your business.

Necessity: a good graphic designer understands how your brand fits into your overall business goals. It’s at this step that I dig into your needs to be sure to meet them.

Competitive analysis: to get an accurate feel for the landscape, I evaluate both your direct competitors as well as like-minded businesses that you wish to emulate.

History: your business’ future should be informed by the best pieces of its past. I dig into the history of your business and brand to understand what’s influential and important to keep around as we amplify your brand forward.

Why BRANCH?

Though the letters describe the process out of order, it all comes together under one umbrella: a holistic view of where your business and brand have been, and where it’s going. I love referring to the process as BRANCH because your brand truly begins with your roots, but grows and spreads over time through the branches.

BRANCH builds the foundation needed to inspire creative ideas in intelligent brand design; design that ignites true growth in your business.

Is your brand in need of a boost? Let’s get to know each other. Sign up for a complimentary Brand Clarity Call to get the gears in motion. We’ll figure out what’s holding your brand back, and kickstart the process to get you where you want to be.