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Brand Self-Care: The Sketching Phase

Hey there — let’s dive in to phase 2 of our Brand Self-Care series. Catch phase 1, the discovery phase, here.

Today we’re hitting pencil to paper and beginning the design process. With a strategy in mind from our discovery phase, you are ready to roll into designing.

But not so quick there friend — we still aren’t on the computer quite yet ;).

Though it’s tempting to hop into Adobe and begin mixing type + color, I recommend stepping away from the screen first. This is something I learned in design school, and that I still practice today. No matter if I’m working on a logo design or a PDF layout, I still have to sketch thumbnails first!


It’s trend-proof
Because you are focusing on concept, you’re more likely to create a timeless design that isn’t swept away in trends. When I skip thumbnail sketches, my instinct is to pull up Pinterest or other design inspiration. This inevitably leads me to get swept away in new trends that creatively I’d love to try. This is dangerous especially when designing brand identities.

You’ll be more creative
Sketching is rough. No one sees it. It’s meant to be loose and free-form. By its unpolished nature, you’ll be open to more creative ideas compared to the computer. When designing on the computer, I get caught up in creating polished designs, focus on the perfect color palette, kerning type, lockups, etc. This has its place (we’ll get to it in our series!), but not now.

By focusing on these things in lieu of the sketching process, you’ll limit the creative explorations of concepts and instead focus on details. It’s like having a beautiful craftsman house, sitting on a wobbly foundation. Pretty from the outside, but has weak support.

You’ll create a more unique brand
The strongest proponent of sketching comes down to this — the unique factor. Especially when designing for brands, uniqueness is top of mind. How can your design stand out?

I can tell you one thing… it’s not going to stand out if you are pulling up design inspiration simultaneously while in Illustrator trying to design your brand. Sounds harsh, but I’m only speaking from experience here!

The most unique designs stem from leaning into the Discovery Phase, sketching hundreds of ideas or word mapping, and then pulling the design into Illustrator.


Did I convince you to not skip the sketching stage yet?!

(assuming you said YES!)

Good :).

Now let’s finally get to sketching! I’m going to be the first to admit that I am NOT good at drawing. Though I have a degree in art, ironically I’m not so skilled with a pencil. This should bring you some encouragement!

I mention this so you don’t allow your drawing skill-set (or lack thereof) to become a barrier in your design process.

I love that sketching is private and meant to be messy and for exploration. That’s where the “ah-ha” moments come in!


List making
Maybe it’s the innate list-maker in me, but I always start the sketching process through creating lists. I’ll print out the questionnaire + discovery phase and highlight words, as well as make notes. From there I’ll pull out words. Anything from adjectives that describe the brand, to tangible elements that could make their way into the design at some point. Nothing is off limits, so don’t edit yourself at this point! I’ll find that one word jotted down, will lead me to a few other related words. This is where I get a lot of good concepts.

Thumbnail sketches
Sometimes I’ll sketch thumbnails while list making. If a word I jot down immediately brings a visual idea to mind, I’ll do a quick sketch. Otherwise, I find that I typically will finish writing a ton of words and then hop into sketching ideas based off of those words.

A few ways I sketch:

  • Typestyles — playing with serifs, script, sans, etc.

  • Monograms — some brands lend themselves to a monogram mark (for the primary logo or submarks). I’ll draft a few monogram options to see how the letterforms are working together.

  • Illustrative — whether it’s a simple mark, or something more illustrative that might make its way into an icon down the road, I go ahead and begin loose sketches.

  • Combination logos — Merging type + illustration. I usually don’t get to this stage until after several thumbnail sketches.

Icon sketches
As I’m sketching for the logo design, I can’t help but explore other facets of the brand including icon design. Even if the project doesn’t call for icons (or a client didn’t purchase them), I do a few loose sketches. Sometimes this leads to a logo idea, or I pocket them for later.


Spruce Rd. | Brand identity design process. Brand self-care series.

As we’re working through our Brand Self-care series, I’m walking through a “for concept” project designing for a hotel. Here’s a few snaps of my sketchbook as I worked through the sketching process. You’ll see a few list-making brainstorms, sketches with notes beside them, and overall loose exploration.

Nothing is firm at this point, I’m just playing with styles, type, and graphic elements. For the Dwell Hotel (my concept project) I’m recreating sketches of their floor tile pattern I’m imagining at the entryway, drawing retro-style type, playing with letterforms of the d + h, and bringing in some mid-century elements such as CorningWare or serving platters. We’ll see what makes its way to the screen!


It’s your turn! Begin sketching + list-making to create unique ideas for the brand you’ve selected for our Brand Self-care series. Don’t forget to tag @spruceroad and #brandselfcare so we can follow along together


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