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Brand Self-Care: The Discovery Phase

Welcome to our “Brand Self-Care” series! Throughout this series I am breaking down our design process into actionable phases. By the end of our series, you will have created a fully custom brand following our system! Finally giving either your own brand, or a concept project for your portfolio, some self-care and attention it deserves.

Because otherwise, it’ll likely stay on the back burner!

To kick things off, you’ll need to define which brand (your own, a side project, or a mock portfolio piece) you will create a new brand identity for throughout our self-care series.

Today we’re diving into one of the most crucial aspects of the brand identity process: The discovery phase.

Though it is tempting to jump immediately into Adobe or to your sketchpad, taking a step backwards to assess your brand is essential. The discovery phase allows us to get to know the target market, context the brand will be used primarily, competition and logistical considerations.

We’ll work on two parts of the discovery phase this week: The brand questionnaire + moodboard.


When designing for brands, I always have this questionnaire printed, highlighted and ready to reference. It’s my map to creating a visual brand that works and keeps me from getting caught in trends, aesthetics or blending in with competition.

The discovery phase is the foundation for the brand. Without it, you risk creating a brand that doesn’t appeal to your target market. You also will miss out on opportunities to create a truly unique design.

I love this quote Becky Simpson, of Chipper Things, shared on her Instagram the other day.

“The best way to be original is to be specific.”
— Judd Apatow

As you dive into the discovery phase this week, lean in to each of the questions and get as specific as possible. Specificity is what will spark unique ideas, allowing for a truly unique brand.

For example:
Throughout this series I will be walking you through my own mock project. I’ll be designing a fresh brand for a hotel I’d love to visit one day called The Dwell Hotel. Their current branding is fantastic, but I couldn’t help but get inspired by their interiors and itch to create a brand inspired by them.

When responding to the question below (found in the questionnaire below) I could answer it a few ways for The Dwell Hotel.

“What is your client / target audience’s most basic problem, that you have the solution for?”

  1. Our customers are looking for a boutique hotel experience while visiting Tennessee.

  2. Our customers are looking for an inspiring space to stay while enjoying beautiful Tennessee. Though they are spending time outdoors and shopping/dining downtown, they are interested in spending time relaxing in our hotel during their stay. They aren’t looking for a “place to crash” but instead enjoy spending time hanging out with their travel companions in the hotel. They want to feel inspired by the interior (wallpaper, bedding, mid-mod furniture, flooring, etc.), landscape and charming architecture.

See how the second answer is very specific? As a designer I instantly gain a few concepts to pull from visually for their brand. Flooring, mid-mod, wallpaper, landscaping and charming architecture are all terms I would pay attention to when designing. They might make their way to the logo, a submark, pattern or somewhere else in the brand.

Without the discovery phase, creating a brand identity would be such a challenge for me. I’ve always found creativity through the lens of structure, and the discovery phase allows just that. It filters the design possibilities into something specific. Maybe it’s the math-loving side of me that enjoys this structure, but I find it immensely helpful, not to mention specific to the brand.


Following the completed questionnaire, we’ll begin the visual process for your brand. Though I don’t believe the moodboard is 100% necessary (I’ve even gone without it for a few clients and had no issues), I’ve found it to be a valuable tool in our process.

The moodboard is simply a collection of visual reference images that set the tone for the design. This could include anything from typography, illustration, logo design, color inspiration, photography, patterns, etc.

Here’s a few things I keep in mind as I’m gathering inspiration for my brand moodboards:

  • Don’t set a limit to the number of images you save for reference. Though our moodboard typically shows 9 images (mostly to not overwhelm our clients!), we’ll have many more saved behind the scenes.

  • Vary your inspiration. Look to books, magazines, signage, Dribbble, Pinterest, Instagram, photography, etc. for inspiration.

  • Keep in mind the brand you are designing for, and the primary application. If the brand is a brick + mortar, consider including signage as a reference image. If you’re designing for a personal brand, consider incorporating lifestyle portraits (even existing ones if available).

  • Don’t get too caught up on color. I know, I know… this can be tough at this stage! Though I am mindful of color during the discovery phase, I don’t let it deter me from including imagery that I feel aligns with the tone of the brand. If it truly bothers you that the colors are off, just adjust in Photoshop 🙂

  • Get messy. I’m a big fan of getting messy in the creative process. No one is looking at your artboard, or the hundreds of screenshots on your desktop. This means that you are free to mix + match your reference images as many times as you’d like.

  • When designing for our clients our moodboards look different than designing for ourselves. With our clients we like to show a few slightly different directions within the same moodboard, along with prompts to help guide us. This part of our process is so helpful! This doesn’t make much sense to use the same strategy for our “Brand Self-Care” series as we’re designing for ourselves.

  • Tread carefully. The inspiration stage of the Discovery Phase is a helpful tool, but it’s just that. A tool. We want to avoid mimicking existing artwork (oftentimes even unintentionally!). This is why I don’t spend too much time in the moodboard phase, and like to focus primarily on the questionnaire.

For example:
Here’s the example of the moodboard for The Dwell Hotel (the mock project I’m using as an example).

Dwell-Discovery-Phase-Moodboard.jpg*Sources from left to right: Top: Pinterest (unknown), Simon Walker, Eight Hour Day. Middle: Jay Fletcher, Dwell Hotel, Eight Hour Day. Bottom: Dustin Haver, Steve Wolf, The Riviera

Within the moodboard you’ll find:

  • Images of the hotel interior

  • Tile floor pattern. Going along with the questionnaire, I’m imagining the hotel to have a distinct tile floor at the entry way and something that the “client” mentioned in the questionnaire that customers enjoy.

  • Graphic illustration style — reminiscent of mid-century style

  • Type inspiration — a few different styles at this point in the process.

  • Type composition — showing different styles paired together, also with a retro vibe

And that’s a wrap for day one! I hope this was helpful to glimpse into our process with examples, as well as gives you some good homework this week.

Action items:

  1. Complete the brand questionnaire (snag our template here)

  2. Create the moodboard (use Pinterest, Illustrator, Canva or InDesign)

  3. Tag @spruceroad on Instagram and use the #brandselfcare hashtag so we can follow along together! I’d love to see your process!


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  1. Katie

    I’m really enjoying your entire blog! I was wondering if you could check the link to your template for the brand questionnaire? It takes me to the next page, but the button doesn’t take me anywhere. I’d love to see what kind of questions you ask your clients! Thanks

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