Branding and Design 101 for Food Bloggers Part 1: the BlogHer Food Presentation

by Irvin on July 21, 2011 · 19 comments

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Branding and Design 101 for Food Bloggers

A couple of months ago, my fabulous friend Sabrina of The Tomato Tart and I gave a presentation at BlogHer Food. The title of it: Branding and Design 101 for Food Bloggers. At the end of the presentation, we promised that we would post the presentation online…and then we didn’t. UNTIL NOW. Part 1 of the post is here! Hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed making it. If you have any questions, feel free to email, tweet or leave a comment below and Sabrina and I will be happy to answer it.

As a warning, this is a graphic heavy, long post. But I’ve done the best I could to condense a long graphic heavy presentation.

Why Branding?

We have to start with the question of “Why branding?” To answer that questions you have to ask yourself first “Why am I blogging?” If you are blogging for yourself, your friends and loved ones and as a creative outlet, than don’t worry about branding yourself. Branding is for people who want to take their blog to the next level, whether its to gain more readers, turn it into a career, become a chef, food writer, recipe developer, food photographer, land a cookbook deal or (dream big here folks) a TV deal. Branding is vital for bringing in a larger audience and building your platform.

But not everyone wants that or cares for it. If you love to blog just to blog and don’t care about all that other stuff, than branding should be the least of your concerns. Go to the kitchen and fire up the stove/oven and make something fantastic to blog about. Just ignore this post.

What is your brand?

So if you DO want to take your blog to the next level, then you have to ask yourself, “What is my brand?” When we meet with a design client, we often times do a design exercise where we ask them to describe their company with adjectives. We’ve gone ahead and done that with a few well known blogs. Keep in mind that these adjectives are words that Sabrina and I came up with, not the blog we are discussing. They might disagree or object to the words we picked but since they weren’t at BlogHer Food, they couldn’t protest ;)

101 Cookbooks brand adjectives

101 Cookbooks brand adjectives

Notice how the brand adjectives we picked match 101 Cookbooks‘ blog. You want adjectives that directly correspond with your own sensibilities. The word “Natural” is a perfect fit for her blog, and in fact, is in the title of her best selling cookbooks Super Natural Every Day.

Pioneer Woman brand adjectives

Pioneer Woman brand adjectives

Pioneer Woman brand adjectives

Keep in mind that the adjectives that you use to describe your brand, is also the adjectives you would use to describe yourself. Your blog is an extension of yourself. Looking at The Pioneer Woman‘s blog, the words “energetic, friendly and vivacious” totally describe it. If you’ve ever had the chance to meet Ree in person, you’ll know that those words also describe her.

your brand

your brand

So we challenge everyone who is thinking of branding (or rebranding) their site, to make a list of 8 to 10 adjectives that describe themselves. As you develop your brand, you’ll slowly want to whittle the list of adjectives down. The less adjectives you have, the stronger your brand becomes.

Simply recipes brand adjectives

Simply recipes brand adjectives

Simply recipes brand adjectives

Sabrina and I originally came up with nine adjectives to describe Simply Recipes. Then we whittle it down to five. But in the end, you really only need ONE adjective to succinctly describe Simply Recipes. Simple. Her blog is all about simple to make food. It’s in her name!

Brand adjectives for new food blog

Sabrina and I decided we wanted to make a new blog, that we would both contribute to. We picked adjectives that described the both of us. You’ll see how we use these adjectives later in the presentation.

don't be afraid of these words

You want to pick words that describe you, but as you grow as a blogger, and as person, you’ll discover that your might outgrow those words or you might evolve. Don’t be afraid to evolve your blog as well.

Early Steamy Kitchen

Steamy Kitchen book

New Steamy Kitchen

Steamy Kitchen started off with a concept of Modern Asian. She then released The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook that was 101 Asian recipes simple enough for tonight’s dinner. After writing 101 recipes about Asian food, she was tired of just doing Asian, so she evolved her blog to be Fast Fresh and Simple food. She still has Asian influences in her food, but not every blog post is restricted to Asian dishes. And, if you look closely on her book cover, there’s a pink circle in the bottom left corner (I’ve circled it) that says “steamykitchen.com” – the circle seems to hint to her new blog logo.

Don't Be Afraid of being Slick

Don’t be afraid that branding your blog means you’re slick and corporate. There are a number of down to earth bloggers that have branded themselves, and kept it real.

Smitten Kitchen

Smitten Kitchen has her blog branded with the stylized cropped “sk” but otherwise, her blog is pretty bare bones and she keeps it real by shooting all her food in her kitchen. Branding doesn’t necessarily have to mean corporate or fancy. Don’t feel like you have to create a super polished logo or blog to brand it.

Creating a Logo Mark

What’s a logo mark? It’s a symbol used for your logo. Think the swoosh in Nike, or the white apple with the bite taken out of it for Apple. We really recommend that you hire a designer to create a logo mark. Unless you have experience as designer as well as Adobe Illustrator you’ll want a professional to make a logo mark.

Creating a wordmark

However creating a wordmark is different. What’s a wordmark?

Example wordmarks

A wordmark is a logo made of type. Picking a font and using it in a creative way (whether it’s hand drawing it out like Matt Bites does, putting it vertically like Orangette, or just adding a green dot over the i’s in David Lebovitz) is an easy way to create a unique logo.

finding a font

Now finding a font you like can take time but the first thing you should do is look on your computer. Most computers have hundreds of fonts already installed. And before you dismiss these fonts, keep in mind that all you need to do is tweak them a little bit to make them unique by changing their color or stacking them. But if you don’t like the preinstalled fonts, but have seen one you like, try using one of these sites.

identifont

identifont

Identifont asked you a series of questions where you have to answer based on the shape of the letter forms. You can even limit the characters to a certain set (say you’ve seen the word “Delicious” in a cool font, you can limit the character questions to d-e-l-i-c-o-u-s because those are the characters that you know. Identifont isn’t the best solution but it might get you close. When they give you the results, they’ll even give you a list of other similar fonts, which might help.

What the Font

What the Font is another nifty website that allows you upload a picture of a font and then it’ll try to find the font that is used. Say you visit a website and you want to find out the font they used for their logo. You can do a screen capture and then upload the screen capture and it will try to figure it out. If the computer can’t figure it out, you can post on the What the Font forum and other font geeks can try to figure out the font for you (I’ve been desperate before and have resorted to this, and it’s amazing the level of knowledge the font geeks have).

What the Font even has a nifty iPhone app that allows you to snap a photo of the font you like with your iPhone camera and upload it directly. Say you’re out on the town and you see a cool poster and want to know the font they use. Snap the photo, upload it and see what comes back. Cool huh? That said, I’ve never used the iPhone app, so I can’t tell you how good it is.

Buying a font

Once you’ve found your font, you’ll want to get it right? You can buy it from a number of sources. Like myfonts.com, typography.com, fontshop.com, veer.com and smaller font foundries like chank.com. What’s nice about some of those fonts shops is that you can test our your type and see what it looks like before you buy it.

My fonts.com

Here’s an example of the words “Yummy and Delicious” that we punched into MyFonts.com. You can see the different fonts and the way it looks.

Free fonts

Now we’re all on a budget right? So some of us want it cheap. And when I say cheap I mean free. Free fonts are easy to find, but keep in mind that you get what you pay for. Sometimes the free fonts will be truncated fonts (meaning they have the ABC letters, but don’t have punctation or numbers or such). Sometimes the free fonts only come in one weight (meaning it comes in regular, but not italic or bold) and sometimes the fonts just aren’t designed well. That means it might look good small, or on the screen, but once you blow it up into poster size it will look ugly and distorted. Things look different at different scales. If you don’t believe me, look at a flower on the ground and then look at a Georgia O’Keefe painting. Both flowers, different scale.

You may not think you will ever need your logo blown up into poster size, but what happens when you land that book deal, and they need to print up promotional posters? Bad fonts are everywhere and they separate the professional from the amateur.

That said, if you want to go the free route (I certainly have used my fair share of free fonts) check out myfonts.com (just click on the free tag), theleagueofmoveabletype.com, dafont.com, fontspring.comchank.com (look for the $0.00 price) and fellow blogger Kevin and Amanda’s homemade handwritten fonts. Fellow designer Anile also gave me the heads up on fontsquirrel.com another wonderful free font resource.

Chit Chat & Chew

Now Sabrina and I decided we wanted to name our new blog “ChitChat & Chew” and we came up with a few logos designs. The one we settled on was one font, with different weights. Meaning, the CHIT and CHEW were in bold weight and the CHAT and & were in regular weight.

Side note: While giving the presentation at BlogHer Food, I really tried hard to enunciate the word CHIT. I’m a family friendly blogger.

The logo we picked is pretty decent as is, or “out of the can” as my designer pal Sandrine used to say. But as a designer, certain things bugged me. So I went back and customized it a bit.

Chit Chat & Chew

logo changes

logo changes

They are subtle changes to be sure, but if you look closely, I rounded the C a bit to make it more geometric, customized the ampersand so the curlique end lined up with the top of the letters, thickened the crossbar on the E and made the W legs symmetrical. Most of the changes aren’t hugely noticeable, especially smaller, but once you blow them up big, they’ll become much more obvious. Remember, think big here. When we land that television deal and ChitChat & Chew has it’s own billboard, Sabrina and I will be ready with a decent logo.

I’ll be back on Monday with part 2 of this presentation, where you’ll learn about mood boards, color palettes.

 

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Melissa @ Dash of East July 21, 2011 at 6:22 am

Oh, thank you for posting this! I missed this session at BlogHer Food and I was super curious about what you guys covered.

I go through this exact process when working with new clients on branding projects, but I am so guilty of skipping over a lot of steps when designing for myself. I usually feel like I can work everything out in my head and then what happens is that I end up re-designing my blog and/or my business site once every couple of months – ha!

Looking forward to part 2 of the presentation! Mood boards & color palettes = my favorite!

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Shawn July 21, 2011 at 7:41 am

You’re completely my hero!

Many thanks for sharing/teaching…I’m in the process of upgrading my blog’s look. I don’t have enough adjectives to explain the value of this post!

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Jacqueline July 21, 2011 at 9:56 pm

OMG… this is brilliant. Just brilliant. So helpful! I cannot wait for part 2 — I’ve been dying to learn how to do mood boards. (Tell me there’s a part 3!)

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Brianne July 22, 2011 at 8:41 am

I am completely redoing my blog because of this. I’ve been struggling with expressing myself through my blog, and I realized after reading this that its because I branded myself all wrong. Looking forward to the rest of the series!

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Jean July 22, 2011 at 8:48 am

Thanks so much for sharing! This is very useful information for a couple of projects that I am working on – one I hope grows into a blog. I do appreciate your emphasis on the finer details as in your logo. Really looking forward to more!!

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Brian @ A Thought For Food July 22, 2011 at 2:24 pm

A long but very informative post, my friends! All wonderful suggestions!

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vanillasugarblog July 22, 2011 at 3:12 pm

very nice. i loved reading this and was hoping it would help me find more of my brand. so far, all i have is modern, and kicked up w/ a side of clean & easy.
I’m in the midst of redoing my blog. finally my own dot com baby!

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Mikey F. July 22, 2011 at 3:18 pm

This is so useful right now as I am going to be developing my very first food blog, after a long time considering it. Thank you!

Cannot wait for the second part of your presentation!

Mikey F.

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cheryl July 22, 2011 at 3:50 pm

I need all of this advice. All of it. A friend once told me about a website that emails all your friends and contacts and asks them to describe your style, to help you figure out what your branding should be based on what you’re “putting out there.”

I think the idea is that sometimes, we (and in this case, I) don’t really even consciously recognize what “style” we project. And without knowing this, it’s tough to create a logo/workmark/cohesive brand strategy, right?

I need help.

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Paula - bell'alimento July 22, 2011 at 6:43 pm

I’m so happy you posted this since I missed your session : ) Looking forward to the next installment!

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Lindy July 22, 2011 at 10:12 pm

I too missed this session at Blogher. Thank you for posting for those of us who were unable to make it. Great tips and information but I was a little disappointed to see the example from the PW blog. Given the fact Ree Drummond is being revealed to be somewhat less than genuine by blogs such as The Pioneer Woman Sux, The Marlboro Woman and Pie Near Woman, here’s hoping you’ll find many other quality blogs to use in your tutorials.

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Irvin July 22, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Hi Lindy. Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you liked the information that I presented.

Here’s the thing. Sabrina and I specifically picked some of the top tiered blogs out there as examples not because we like them or because we are friends with them. We picked them because they are successful examples of branding. If I were to a do an session on branding (in general, not regarding blogs), I would probably pick brands like McDonald’s, Nike, Coca Cola. You may not like those brands, or think they are worth talking about but each brand has been successful in creating a recognizable name for themselves and are considered top brands.

Ree of the Pioneer Woman is probably the most recognizable blogger out there, and is probably the ultimate successful blogger, by virtue of her best selling books and up coming television show, as well as the sheer traffic she receives at her site. We would be remiss to exclude her from our list of examples. In fact, it’s a testament to Ree and The Pioneer Woman’s brand that she has parodies and blogs dedicated to mocking her. If she wasn’t a successful brand, people wouldn’t care enough to put that energy into it.

On a more personal note, I was not familiar with The Pioneer Woman Sux, The Marlboro Woman, and Pie Near Woman but after a brief glance at those sites, I find them more offensive than anything Ree or the Pioneer Woman has ever produced. I have met Ree once, back at BlogHer Food 2010, when I went with my blog that was barely seven months old. I had never even heard of Ree or The Pioneer Woman, nor any other “big blog” name, as I was still trying to figure the food blog world out. Ree was nothing but kind and sweet to a “nobody” like me. The limited interaction I’ve had with her since, on Twitter, has only reinforced that.

Unless you yourself have a reason to dislike Ree (and perhaps you do, I don’t know) I hope you don’t let the negativity of others effect your perspective of people you do not know. I, for one, would like to see more positive attitudes in our blogging community and less competition and snarkiness. If one of us succeed, that opens the gates for more of us to succeed. Sorry to sound preachy and pollyana but sometimes I just wish that we could all get along.

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tracy July 23, 2011 at 8:04 am

EXCELLENT post!!! Love the examples too. Such a good way of thinking about your brand. I’m working on mine now….

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Jen July 23, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Great presentation. Looking forward to part 2. I’m planning a site update and branding is my biggest challenge.

Thanks for posting.

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In Katrina's Kitchen July 24, 2011 at 3:35 am

Just the best read this morning! Thank you! I started In Katrina’s Kitchen in February kind of on a whim after having talked about it with friends since Christmas. Little did I know that it would be more than just my mom reading it. Now I’m trying to slow down and figure out what I like/want and get rid of the free template I’m using. I’m just loving this discussion- thanks! K

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Broderick July 24, 2011 at 7:56 pm

Incredible work, Irvin and Sabrina. I’m looking forward to the next chapter. As an aside, as another graphic-intense blogger – I’m sure it took a LONG time to get this post together. I appreciate the hard work involved :)

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Jennifer @ Licious Food August 13, 2011 at 11:32 am

Thank you for this! I am in the process of recreating my blog and this helps ALOT! I hope I will be able to put this knowledge to use.

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Magpie's Recipes September 1, 2011 at 12:56 am

This is sooo interesting! Thanks for the tips, going to be working on that wordmark :)

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Susan October 16, 2014 at 10:27 am

Thank you so much! I am beginning to transition my blog from Blogger to Wordpress and this post helped me be prepared to have structured discussion with my designer!

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