3 Case Studies: The Wrong and RIGHT Ways to Design Your Branding and Website

I have had three huge lightbulb moments when it comes to the task of designing branding and websites for our clients here at 16 Hoops...

...which is why I can offer you these three case studies. Each starts with a wrong assumption about the photography business, and ends with a revelation.

Case Study #1

The first lightbulb moment happened about three years ago, when I started the journey toward founding 16 Hoops. Let’s call it Design Epiphany #1.

WRONG: A website is basically just a portfolio. You're a photographer, right? People are either going to like your work or not, and hire you--or not. What else is there to say?

RIGHT: Your success has almost nothing to do with your photos. A website uses copy, design, imagery, calls to action, and other subtle, well-placed cues meant to chat up your ideal client about your expertise. In design jargon, the way this process feels and looks to the client is called the User Experience, or UX.

Then, your site leads them into a funnel, taking them on a (short or long) pleasant journey of discovery. The funnel/journey ends in that client hiring you. 

Case Study #2

The second lightbulb went off while I was working with another designer on my own re-brand about six years ago. Design Epiphany #2.

WRONG: Your brand is just a logo. And your logo and website don’t have a ton to do with each other. A logo should just be basic and pretty, in a color that you like. And these elements only play a role somewhere on a header on your website, as a watermark, and maybe on a business card.

RIGHT: Your brand is so much more than a collection of design elements. I told my designer about my past, and what I loved, and why I became a photographer, and my field, and my location...and the list went on. She ended up creating the most perfect design that made sense for me, my clients, and my brand.

Turns out that your brand is a highly delicate and interconnected ecosystem. Every single piece of your brand works in tandem with the others. And good design feels like love. There is no way around it. Your brand and design are either eliciting warm fuzzies from your ideal client, or they're just sitting pretty.

Case Study #3

The third lightbulb went off during a project we took on our first year here at 16 Hoops. Design Epiphany #3.

WRONG: Good graphic designers make good website designers. Here at 16 Hoops, we learned that this was untrue the hard way: while working on an early project.

My role (creative director) is akin to the role of the architect in building a house. I am helping draft and oversee the design and construction of the dream house based on the client's true needs, their aesthetic, and their desires.

But instead of hiring separate experts for the carpentry (graphic design), electric (website developer), and plumbing (user experience) like I was supposed to--I just had one “carpenter” doing it all. Much like good carpenters do not always make good electricians (and vice versa), good graphic designers do not always make good website developers and user experience designers.

Learning this the hard way created a lot of frustration for all involved.

And what’s ironic about this, of course, is that this concept of “hire an expert” is one of our mantras here at 16 Hoops. It just took a misguided website design and a brave and honest client to make us see it and take our own darn advice.

RIGHT: User experience, website design, and graphic design are three separate and equally important jobs--all guided by the creative director, and all requiring different expertise to implement. The skills that make a great graphic designer are not the same skills as those that make a brilliant user experience designer.

Now all of our designers (and clients!) are much happier, too. 😃

Let’s recap the RIGHT ways to approach design

  1. A website is not just a portfolio + nav bar. When done well, a website should be working 24/7 with your ideal client, creating a pleasant journey of discovery that leads them toward hiring you. 
  2. Your brand is not just a logo. It’s a delicate, interconnected ecosystem that subtly elicits warm fuzzies from your ideal client when they rub up against it.
  3. Don’t hire a carpenter when you need an electrician. If you want to stand out and achieve success, hire a firm with deep expertise in your field. One that considers every part of your brand and business, and can catapult you forward to bigger and better things.