a woman in a striped sweater works on a design

Why (and how) to Design with Personality

Think about your last few designs. Which are the ones you really loved? Which are the ones you thought were really good but were missing a bit of that elusive “it” factor?

Website designs should be effective, of course, with easy navigation, eye-pleasing colors and fonts, and a logical structure with clear calls to action on each page. But there’s more to it than just ideal function, isn’t there?

What is it that makes the difference between good design and great design? The sites you’re proud to turn over to the client vs. the ones you would kiss on the cheek if you could?

Odds are that the standout web designs are the ones that invoke a sense of “personality.” Web design with personality isn’t something that just happens organically—it’s a deliberate (but fun!) approach to web design.

The way to stand out as a designer is to “show some personality” in your designs, but what does that really mean? Let’s find out!

What Your Personality has to do With Web Design

The way we see it, designing with personality actually involves two personalities: yours, and the one your client wants to convey. Let’s talk about yours, first.

Your web design business, no matter its size, should be branded somehow—that’s a given. But what you might not have down is that your brand needs to be based, in some part or in large part, on your personality. Not your entire personality, just the parts that are relevant to your business.

a man in a beanie reads a book on design. two stacks of books sit on either side of his desk

Whether you-the-designer have a personality that’s bold and brash, warm and whimsical, or completely quirky and surreal, own it and make it evident in your branding…especially your online branding.

Why Being You is Good Marketing

When you own your personality as a designer, you carve out a space for yourself in a crowded field. The more you rely on your authentic self as the backbone of your brand, the more unique you will be and the more pronounced your positioning will be.

Your site design is an important part of this—and so is your portfolio. Use your portfolio strategically. In it, you should highlight the types of design you want to keep doing (and be known for) and downplay (read: eliminate) the types of projects you aren’t so excited about or want to move away from.

Your portfolio will communicate loads to your potential clients, not just about your design skills but about what you can do for them. Let each portfolio piece further strengthen your position as a designer who designs with personality, showing off what you’ve done for past clients and making it clear that you can do the same for future projects.

By infusing your personality in your business, you strengthen your position in the marketplace. You’ve amplified your strengths and unique offerings, making you the go-to person for your ideal clients.

What’s more, you’ve become special—memorable. That’s a good thing when it comes to your branding, because you’re standing out from all the other web designers out there.

And a bonus: your clients know that if you can make yourself memorable, you can make something memorable for them, too.

The Secret Benefit of Designing With Personality

When you build your web design brand with a heavy dose of personality, you’re doing two things: you attract the right clients, and you repel the wrong ones.

If you’re bold, your evident boldness will attract clients who resonate with an overt design style and repel anyone looking for something basic and cutesy.

If you’re cutting-edge modern but sweet, you’ll attract clients who want their own design projects that will tap into those same (or similar) feelings. And you’ll be less likely to get inquiries from potential clients who are totally wrong for you.

Those clients won’t immediately resonate with what you offer, they won’t find your portfolio as compelling as your ideal client would, and they might even be put off. While going around repelling people isn’t what most of us are after in our regular lives, in our business lives, this is a great strategy when harnessed well.

You’ll be more satisfied with your work, your clients will be thrilled to be working with someone who really understands their needs, and you’ll be able to turn the project around and use it to market yourself. You’ll be getting the best kinds of clients and turning off the rest.

What’s going on behind the scenes is this: the personality that you display in your web design will give the sense that it’s authentic, with a real person behind it. Your business won’t be a sterile shop that churns out product after product. Instead, you’ll be a real person—one that your prospects can connect with emotionally.

It’s that emotional connection that becomes your powerhouse marketing tool.

Web Design and Emotional Connection

When your prospective clients can connect with you emotionally, even if they’ve never interacted with you before, you’ve done something really special.

You’ve built rapport before you’ve even said hello. You’ve connected with someone without exchanging a single email. There’s already a relationship there.

It’s in relationships that people grow to know, like, and trust you. And after someone knows, likes, and trusts you, they’re much more likely to work with you. They’re more likely to buy something you’re selling, join your mailing list, or do whatever action you want them to take in your CTA.

This is a fundamental marketing principle. You know it, and your clients probably know it too. Which brings us to this:

Your prospective client knows that if you can infuse your web designs with the kind of personality that creates positive emotional responses for yourself, you can do it for them, too. And that’s what they want.

If you can position yourself as the designer who can make that particular bit of magic happen, you’ve got a great foothold.

Some Tips to Design With Personality

So now it’s time to talk about what we’re actually talking about: how to design with personality.

Designing with personality doesn’t necessarily come easily, especially if you’ve never done it before. There’s an approach to take that goes beyond grids and wireframes and navigability, to infuse every design decision with a sense of personality. Let’s go into a few strategies to get you started.

Think About Characteristics

When you’re in the planning stages for a new design, think about some of the characteristics you want to emphasize. If this project (or company, or person) were a person you know, like a friend of yours or a colleague, what “person” would it be? The brash leader who gets stuff done? The jet-setter who looks effortlessly stylish all the time? The quiet one who’s into yoga and meditation?

Each “type” comes with a built-in set of general characteristics—things that a type of person tends to put forth, like level of formality or color schemes. Think about ways to translate a physical presence to a website. Once you have a sense of the persona, you can come up with ways to evoke some of that persona’s characteristics in your design. Your client could probably benefit from a conversation about this, as well.

Design With Traits in Mind

Come up with a list of traits that the brand or project wants to exhibit. These traits could be provided by your client in the onboarding process, but if the client isn’t totally clear on it, you might have to uncover them yourself. Refer to conversations with the client, any information you have about the business, and even observations you make about what the client is drawn to or envisions.

Traits should be single words (like approachable, luxe, powerful, elevated, happy, refined, etc.), and if you can work with about 5 of them, you’ll be in good shape to put together a cohesive design that communicates the core essence of the client’s vision.

Remember What it Isn’t

When you’re working on a design, keep in mind what the project shouldn’t be.

Use this framework: It’s ___ but not ___. So maybe it’s sweet but not childish. Or bold but not harsh. Spacious but not minimalist. Earthy but not brown. This will keep you focused on the personality you’re working with, and help you edit out elements that don’t fit well.

Find Inspiration in Visuals

If you’re stuck on ideas, do some strategic image searches. Use some of your traits or characteristics to do an image search (or search for ___ + design) and see what crops up. Save some of these images or collect them on a Pinterest board. Consider having your client do the same.

While you’re collecting these images, look for trends. Are there colors or color combinations that pop up a lot? What about fonts or use of white space? Anything you pick up there might be great to refer to when it’s time to make decisions about specific design elements.

Let the Fonts do Some Heavy Lifting

Font selection isn’t the only element of web design, but it’s one of the most important ones. Typography can make or break any design. While this particular post isn’t going to be a deep-dive into fonts, just know that a lot of your web design’s personality will be communicated via the typeface choices you make.

If you want a deep dive, you can read The Type Taster, a book about type and the way it elicits emotional responses, get a quick overview of types from GoLiveHQ, or check out fontpair.co to play with font pairings that work.

Final Thoughts on Designing With Personality

One of the greatest things to keep in mind about designing with personality is that it’s just plain fun. If this approach to web design gives you pause, don’t worry. You have your whole career to master the ideas we covered here, and when you’re ready to experiment, the best place to start is also the easiest: yourself!

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