A Branding Matrix of Epic Proportions

{See the finished project on our site!}

I’ve designed a lot of brands in my time, and in doing so, have developed and refined a process that allows me to work in a manner I like to think is more scientific than artistic, but I could just be that kind of an artist. Who knows. What I DO know is this particular project is one I am so abundantly proud of.  It allowed me to see what I suspected would show up eventually: the nexus point of designing/crafting imagery and analyzing/charting The Kubrick Project. This client and I went on a long, exploratory journey, the entire time I relied on my gut and my comfort inside a tried and true method, and when things went weird, I went to Kuby-town.

Normal Process

I’ve been calling it a Brand Matrix for the last few months, but this, my friends, is a complete (and deliciously complex) branding system. Settle in, and let’s get awesome:

She’s a Northern California Photographer with a wide variety of interests and subjects inside of her site. Her passion and ambition is beautiful and clearly displayed, but there are huge disconnects. Who’s not up for that challenge? Amiright?

Screen shot 2014-08-06 at 2.20.03 PMScreen shot 2014-08-06 at 2.21.01 PMScreen shot 2014-08-06 at 2.22.08 PMScreen shot 2014-08-06 at 2.23.11 PM

We started in the same way we always approach branding; review the FAQ, the inspiration, and hold a conversation that allows the client, Jake and myself, a clear pathway of places to explore with our designs. Things were great on the surface, we had plenty of samples to choose from. An issue arose when we sent the client our rough sketches. It’s my preference that the reactions I get from our clients be strong. They don’t necessarily have to be gloriously ecstatic or even remotely positive, but I do like to gauge the creative direction on the client’s reactions. If they are so turned off, I know I’ve gone off the deep end. Usually they ARE gushingly positive, but still. Strong reactions make for better brands. Her reactions were lukewarm at best. Our usual methods for gathering information weren’t working, except for a clear signal for applied-texture on craft paper, but what does the typography look like? Is she drawn to serifs or sans serifs? Are there any recurring themes showing up in the inspiration aside from the texture & craft paper? Illustration, types of things to illustrate? Gestural? Literal? What’s the style? What’s going on here?!!

The inspiration wasn’t providing the fillers to blanks the FAQ answers had left, so we went back to the drawing board. Only this time, I compiled the inspiration to present based on keywords she entered into our FAQ:

Craftsmanship, Detail, Grace, Nostalgic, Ardent, Playful, Curious, Wanderlust, Quirky & Girly.

This is probably one of the easiest aspects of my job while in troubleshoot–mode. When I look for inspiration, I consider all aspects inside of one image or sample. I could pull an image for composition, line quality, mood, styling, typography, mix of typography, proportion, color, gradient, texture, illustration style, all of these things, one of them, or focus only on the nit-picky surface: “look at how they handle this flower or leaf”. I put on my raccoon eyes, and collect all baubles delicious, shiny, and beautifully kerned. The client gets a ton of new suggestions, and hopefully it shakes things up.

Only this time, it didn’t.

The same issues kept coming up; it was clear the client really wanted us to create things for her to use, but was not clear on what types of things we could try creating. Is it a series of rotating icons? What KINDS of icons? What for? Based in what?

For me, the options on how any of this could work are truly infinite, and not for me to solve. This is a brand for someone else, and I’m not sure I want to treat it any differently.

I started with a typographic-branding system that paired various arms of her business with coordinating/varying stylings of her name that depended on use. It paired two scripts and a sans serif, but I based it off of this doodle I made:



This diagram is visual thinking for combining elements in a strategic way to build a lot of different parts within the same brand. It was also the first symptom that Kubricking had fully infested my branding world. I mean, I’m sure it was there all along.  The same person who branded POPSUGAR’s Beauty Awards & American Greetings’ Blog charts all dang day about clothing textiles and American History, but to see it in the same place was weird. Cool… but weird.

She’s got 3 aspects to her business {Boudoir, Lifestyle & Wedding} and needed to connect them all to make sense inside of her name. Based on the inspiration, I thought the solution was meant to be/could be  typographic- having versions of her name for various roles. Like this:

Logo System 1Logo System 2

Logo System 3

and here’s a comp of a business card along with this concept:

Business Card Front Idea4

Business Card Back Idea 4


and this little love right here, is a testament to the fact that I just love type as image. Just wonderful.

Logo System pattern for tape

At this point, we’d been working together for 2 months with very little to show. We reworked our proposal, had a heart-to-heart consultation about how nobody wanted to walk away without trying one more time, and we proceeded. Our minds determined more than ever to make this happen for her.

We learned that it wasn’t the typography she was drawn to in the inspiration, but the combination of the elements that created a cohesive brand. So she wasn’t drawn to any elements in particular, but the use and cohesion of these imaginary elements.

And these are the days where I REALLY love my job (no sarcasm detectors should be going off, because this is true)

When the typographic system, and thus our second full attempt at a brand, was a no-go,  we asked her for images of her home and her clothing.

It’s one of my favorite tricks to call on when all else has failed in designing for someone else. It creates an un/subconscious style guide for me to interpret and create from. How someone decorates (or does not decorate– all choices are valid and relevant) their home and space, and chooses to decorate and represent themselves has always provided an unfiltered way to the natural affinities a person has– along with what they are taking for granted. I find it absolutely fascinating, and when designing for 12 people at once thru Flosites, was literally the only way to short-circuit my process so I could still deliver something people would feel was personally crafted, in a fraction of the time.

Her photos were filled with such non-stop awesome, I was so grateful we didn’t walk away. (This feeling relates to something I’ll be blogging about next, but this is already a long’n, and we ain’t done, honey)

See if you can spot the recurring themes:

CS_Room1 CS_Room2 CS_Room3 CS_Room4 CS_Room7_4 CS_Room7_3 CS_Room7_2 CS_Room7_1CS_Room5CS_Room6

Here’s what I see:

EVERY ROOM IS DIFFERENT! I mean, aside from the fact that there are walls, and places for people to sit, and things to look at- yes, those things repeat, but the style of those rooms. The colors and textiles used within them. Good lord, it’s just amazing.

A ton of variety, along with tons of PATTERN. Patterns on top of patterns, and where there is no literal pattern– there is pattern built into the composition. And a whole lot of line. Going through her photos with Jake, I found myself rambling on about “the repetition of line & shape”, but in reality, it’s a repetition of all the basic tenants of design; scale, proportion, shape, line, color, balance. Tons of organic-ness breaking the heavily-lined grid, it’s just gloriousness and gorgeousity going on in there. There are some beautiful touch points that carry cohesion across these photos, but to speak to those, I must lead you through some Kuby process.

Here we go!

I was getting overwhelmed by all of the fabulousness nested within these photos (I mean, can you blame me?), so I turned to my charting circles and singled out all samples of pattern:

CS_CallOutCircles1Linear pattern parade, amiright? But then there’s also holes/crochet/embroidered/’small things making up big things’ what have you, the ‘organic pattern’, and then the abstract modern approach to the organic botanical pattern. Delicious.

Next, there was the overlap and combination of patterns (which is a whole other level of spectacular):


Once I got here, I knew I needed to create a wide range of assets in the form of patterns– in all of their varying styles. Allowing her to combine patterns, switch them out on the reg, or however she wanted to use them, but pattern was the answer.

Again, the diagram:



To be fair, I was wrong about the Typographic Branding System Extravaganza 2014, but seeing her house photos and all of the multiple uses of patterns was all the validation I needed that something needed to be combined to build a bad-ass branding Optimus Prime.  The connecting ‘parts’ were going to be pattern, or if combining the patterns were too crazy, she could, at the very least, use color .

Selecting the multiple patterns allowed me to look for such a wide variety, I began to see overlaps. Doilies became the same as spirographs, which became the same as underwater algae masses, and dessert skeleton plants.  Fishnet patterns, arabic tiling, homey lattices, all were welcome, and they all had the potential for working within this situation. Even though I can replicate what I’m seeing, it doesn’t mean I understand how it became that way to begin with, so if it’s a potential fit, it gets sent to the client. Like a design asset job recruiter.

Here’s some of them: (because to show you all of them would be too, too much)
















I know what you’re thinking: “Since you’re already knee-deep in analysis territory, why not use the same method for color palettes?”

And to that I say, Melissa,  I TOTALLY did the same thing to derive the color palette. I happily sampled all of the photos, and because every room was styled differently the palette included the entire spectrum! Huzzah, the possibilities!

CS_ ColorPalette

I like naming things.

Here’s the color palette, arranged & scaled to show prevalence. We can all thank my huge Smashbox eyeshadow palette for helping me understand this, or at least see how it could potentially work. At first, I just laid out the color circles and thought, “huh. It’s EVERY color. What do I do NOW?”, and then I waited.

One night, eyeshadow called my name, and I was sitting down to pretty myself up when I saw on my vanity the same color organization in my Illustrator file. Eyeshadow palettes are organized in grids to allow the person using it to feel inspired- but the collection inside the palette can pretty much be combined, to the tune of 3 or 4 steps. Anything beyond that, and things can get crazy. Unless that’swhat you want, and then by all means! Go crazy with those colors.

But that same idea really stuck with me for Carmen. Her house was set up in this way, why not her brand also? She’s a natural at combining and carrying imagery and styles across a wide variety of spaces.



Here’s a little thing I made for myself to show the breakout of the palettes and how they can swivel around each other.

But what I really wanted to show you is this:


It’s too many assets and options for one person to use without feeling overwhelmed or driven to insanity, so I wanted to create a practical plan that could be carried out however she felt most comfortable. Depending on whether she wanted to be structured with her pattern and color uses, she could use a seasonal/quarterly change focusing on the conceptual markers of the season. It’d be an easy way to incorporate this branding into any marketing collateral, but would also allow her to continually keep this branding fresh year after year.

If structure isn’t her thing, then maybe conceptual or experiential attributes could help define the roles and selection of color.  Focusing on the project (a young girl’s birthday, a newborn baby announcement), or feeling “fun” or “sexy” could also help drive the decision for which color to use where.

What I love about something like this is it’s as expansive or as limited as you want/need it to be. Flexibility that communicates! I know it’s wrong to be so in love with your work, but just know it’s because  I’m so outrageously happy that I could even get here. Like, truly, giddily happy.

The last things I want to show you in this epic poem of a case study are some of the examples of collateral I worked out to illustrate through all of my abstractions and possibilities. I knew in my pattern combinations that my own personal taste for color palettes were seeping through, so I wanted to show her a HUGE variety of possibilities in the simplest way: envelope liners! We brought in the craft paper, the rubbed and stamped texture, and the bold patterns with fun colors: the results are just sublime.

CS_Envelope_BusinessCard13 CS_Envelope_Inside1 CS_Envelope_Inside2 CS_Envelope_Inside3 CS_Envelope_Inside4 CS_Envelope_Inside5 CS_Envelope_Inside6 CS_Envelope_Inside7 CS_Envelope_Inside8 CS_Envelope_Inside9 CS_Envelope_Inside10 CS_Envelope_Inside11 CS_Envelope_Inside12 CS_Envelope_Inside13 CS_Envelope_Inside14 CS_Envelope_Inside15 CS_Envelope_Inside16 CS_Envelope_Inside17 CS_Envelope_Inside18 CS_Envelope_Inside19_scaleVariation CS_Envelope_Inside19 CS_Envelope_Inside20 CS_Envelope_Inside21 CS_Envelope_Inside22 CS_Envelope_Inside23 CS_Envelope_Inside24 CS_Envelope_Inside25


If you’re still here reading this, then kudos to you and your amazing attention span. Now let’s reward you, honey:

It’s not easy switching up a process you’ve invested in for the last 8 years, but doing so can really be worthwhile. We worked in ways that felt natural to us until it became truly apparent that were were never going to succeed in that way. And honestly, it felt more like we picked a spot in the middle of the novel and worked our way around back to the beginning than really scraping our process or forging into unknown territory.

I thought it was fun to work out the diagrams of our process, focusing on this awesome journey (that should really say a lot, huh)

Carmen Process


I have to say the effort poured in here was worth every single second. Here are the elements in their final state, paired with the typographic block. It beautifully encapsulates all of her brand points and provides her with such a wide amount of stuff to use, I doubt it would ever get old — which truly does feel like the fountain of youth of branding designs. CS_PatternCombo2 CS_PatternCombo1 CS_PatternCombo3


I’m not sure where this really takes me in terms of future branding projects, but I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed using more of my problem solving skills in a visual way more than most of the projects I’ve had the opportunity to work on. I’m on to something, guys. I really am.

3 thoughts on “A Branding Matrix of Epic Proportions

    1. Thanks! Yeah it was so much work, but it’s honestly one of my favorite projects to date! I loved using my analytical brain to develop something so beautiful and complex; yet easy to implement. Branding perfection! (is it too much to say that about myself?)

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