Robin Landa on Creating the Most Important Brand: Yours

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So, how’s your brand? Not that project you’re working on for a client. Your brand. Is it unique? Memorable? Have you spent as much time crafting it as you would a client project? And what about the words you use to support it? Could those perhaps use a bit of work?

Robin Landa tells brand stories, designs and teaches, and she’ll be on hand at the HOW Design Conference presenting a session that will teach you how to bolster your brand in 10 steps.

Robin Landa on Brand Stories and Sketches

Build Your Own Brand cover; Robin Landa

Landa has written 18 books about branding, design, advertising, creativity and drawing, including most recently, a guided sketchbook that teaches drawing skills. She is a Distinguished Professor in the Robert Busch School of Design at Kean University and is creative director of her own firm, working closely with marketing executives and their companies and organizations to develop brand strategy and stories as well as enhance corporate creativity through seminars.

Landa’s also the author of “Build Your Own Brand,” which includes prompts and exercises you can use to develop your personal marketing strategy. Citing designer Alberto Romanos, she says: “‘Designing your personal brand is arguably the toughest task for a designer, as you are you own client. You might think you know yourself very well but will be surprised.’”

We recently asked her for some advice on designing an effective personal brand.

Your latest book is really cool! Even as a word person, I couldn’t help but doodle around and explore my extremely poor drawing skills.

I’m excited about my new book, “The Guided Sketchbook That Teaches You How To DRAW!”—I cleverly disguised an entire college-level course on drawing in this fun, hands-on, begging-to-be-drawn-in sketchbook. Readers will learn how to use all of the formal elements of drawing—line, shape, value, color, pattern, and texture—to create well-composed still lifes, landscapes, human figures and faces. They have to keep their pencils handy while they’re reading because they’re going to get plenty of drawing breaks—and they can do most of them right in the book while the techniques are fresh in their minds.

To keep readers inspired, I break up the step-by-step instruction with drawing suggestions and examples from a host of creative contributors including esteemed designers Stefan G. Bucher and Jennifer Sterling.

rlanda_draw!_cover_final; robin landa

You’re quite a prolific author and speaker; surely, you run into creative blocks, right? What do you do to plow through them?

In “The Mystery of Picasso” (a 1956 documentary film by director Henri-Georges Clouzot and cinematographer Claude Renoir), Picasso is painting. As we watch Picasso paint, we realize his process is spontaneous—each form he paints brings him to another—nothing was preconceived. His free-form association continues. Five hours later, Picasso declares that he will have to discard the canvas, “Now that I begin to see where I’m going with it, I’ll take a new canvas and start again.” Picasso used the painting process to find inspiration and direction while painting; he was seeking an idea. Nothing was preplanned.

Like a fine artist, I employ problem finding, where the process of sketching or making marks allows visual thinking, allows for discovery, for staying open to possibilities during the visual-making process. The act of drawing activates many parts of the brain, sharpens thinking, provokes the mind’s associative network, and increases focus to a point where creative thinking can occur. When drawing for a solid period of time, I enter into a meditative zone of active experimentation. Drawing frees my subconscious mind from the design problem and leads to ideas.

Drawing as a way to let your mind wander—that’s great! Your session in Boston has a verbal component, not just a visual one, right?

Largely, most designers, art directors, and illustrators are visual thinkers. At times, it’s the verbal or written component of their personal brand identities that stymies visual thinkers. I hope the content I share at the HOW conference will inspire attendees to fully develop their personal brand identities. Crafting an elevator speech (30-second pitch about yourself), bio, “about me” statement, or Twitter profile is a difficult task. Most everyone needs some pointers.

Can you share a pointer or two?

Here’s a surprising exercise to try:

  1. Write the most obvious, boring statement about yourself. Critique it. What makes it obvious? Boring? (Don’t laugh. This exercise works to show what you should not write.)

  2. List all the qualities and skills—good and bad—that you do not possess. Then list the ones you do possess.

  3. Write an interesting story about yourself. Critique it. Cite exactly what makes it more interesting than the boring statement.

And here’s one method for crafting your elevator pitch, which takes writing and revisions:

First sentence—draw interest. Hook the listener with an attention-grabbing, active first sentence. The opening line leads to more, pointing to a fuller story.

Second sentence—content. Engage the listener with content about yourself. Show; don’t tell.

Third sentence—the payoff. What you can bring to the party? What’s your essential takeaway message? The last line leaves an impression, like the ta-da! ending of a performance. What do you want to imprint on the listener?

Most of us don’t like to think of ourselves as brands. We’re individuals, not cookies or cars; however, to secure a creative career you have to be a “recognizable type of something,” which is how one dictionary defines brand.

To break through, you need to make indelible impression on your audience. And, that’s what this presentation will help you do. Building your own brand entails using your design expertise to create an original visual and verbal identity for yourself. You are not a corporation so your identity should not look one. Nor are you exactly like every other designer, so your bio shouldn’t read like anyone else’s, either. Your typography, composition, and copy should reflect your design sense and sensibility. There are many admirable portfolios out there—an engaging personal brand identity can ensure that people notice yours.


Get Landa’s real-world advice on creating your personal brand at the HOW Design Conference. And discover a whole program full of sessions that explore various creative disciplines at HOW Design Live. Browse the program and design your ideal conference experience—and register by April 1 to save $200.