Right now I feel like it’s Christmas morning and I have the butterflies I used to get before presenting a design project. By now I’m hoping that most of you reading this have noticed that things look a little different around here… The biggest things you’ll see is that our old header has been replaced with new branding and our navigation has been streamlined. From the outside I know it looks simple and clean – exactly how Sally and I wanted it to – but I wanted to use this Toast Talk to explain the process behind the redesign, mainly because we worked with two very talented people who made it possible and also because we learned a lot.
Back in November I started thinking that it would be a good idea to move our blog from SquareSpace to WordPress. SquareSpace had been great to us for two years and made it possible for me to design the old site myself and do simple updates, but as we grew I knew that the platform would limit us in terms of design, plug-ins, and other site options. In WordPress you can basically do anything. The plug-ins are endless and you can customize the way you want the site to look (as long as you have someone to do the coding!). So, I emailed Lisa Butler from Elembee on the advice of Victoria and she told me that she could migrate our blog from SquareSpace to WordPress mid-January. Even though that was more than two months away, I figured it was worth the wait and happily jumped on her calendar.
As we moved through the holidays and I started in my new job, I felt like I was in this blogging “slump.” I was feeling exhausted from churning out content but also really uninspired and generally unsatisfied with out blog even though we got nothing but positive feedback from family, friends, and readers. One day it hit me when I was looking at our site, “I am so over the way this looks.” I should have realized it before (only because I am hyper-sensitive to visuals be it my physical surroundings or any graphics) but it wasn’t until the beginning of January, just weeks before the migration was to happen, that I knew I wanted to trash our whole design and start over. I consulted with a few blogger friends about the idea of re-designing and got a lot of, “But I love your header! I love your design… I like your branding.” I liked it too, and I had fun updating the header each month. But I didn’t like seeing so many other blogs that had adopted the same concept for their branding. I wanted something that was “us” and something special enough that even if other people liked it, it wouldn’t make sense for them to borrow the design.
I reached out to a former co-worker and someone who aligned perfectly with our aesthetic and graphic sensibility – Katie Ogden. She immediately agreed to work with me on concepting a new brand identity and I happily handed over all the graphic design responsibility to her. How did a type-A control freak do such a thing? Honestly, as controlling as I am with our brand as a whole, I knew that the new design needed a fresh pair of eyes and it was such a relief to take the creative weight off my shoulders. Katie lives in Dallas so after emailing her some tear sheets on graphics I loved and providing links to blogs I liked, we met in person to brainstorm more and flushout a design direction. What Sally and I wanted was something that was a total departure from our old branding. Something simplistic but distinctive, timeless with a tiny bit of edge. Below is one of the mood boards Katie made so you can get a taste of where our head was at:
Initially I thought that all the new blog would need was a logo + header. Katie created logo options, Sally and I picked the one that felt right, and Katie continued to refine and tweak things until it was just right… Once the logo was sewn-up, we both knew that a pretty new header demanded a pretty new layout as well. We spent a good week examining other blogs and sites, sending tons of emails back and forth with links of “likes” and “don’t likes” to get an idea of what A Piece of Toast should look like. Then we got together on a Friday night, opened a bottle of wine and split a pizza and Katie got to work designing the layout while I perched over her shoulder giving my input. I am so, so grateful that Katie and I align when it comes to graphics and I’m even more grateful that she was happy to let me collaborate with her throughout all the design phases.
Katie and I made sure that Lisa was looped in from the beginning and we are so appreciative that she was on board to do the coding when the simple migration turned into a full layout change. Adding a new design meant extending the original launch date almost a month but it was well worth it… What you see did not happen over night, not by a long stretch, but Sally and I are both so happy with the final result that the wait time was worth it. Katie nailed the branding and design: it’s simple but special and will represent our brand well into the future. Lisa is a coding wizard and made everything we wanted come to life (while also putting up with all my emails and nit-picky feedback). I could not have asked for better people to work with!
My biggest take-aways from the whole process are these:
- Reach out to developers and designers as early as possible. They are typically booked to the max and you want to get on their calendar asap!
- Designers can’t read minds. Give a strong design direction and provide detailed feedback on what you like, don’t like, want to change so they can make the most of their time and really create you want you want.
- Be patient and don’t rush the process, you want your design to be perfect and it takes time to get there.
- Know what you like and go with your gut. Just because all your favorite blogs make things look one way doesn’t mean you have to follow suit. Do what works for you and your brand.
- Nothing comes for free… But investing in your brand is only going to make it stronger!
So what do you think? Do you like it as much as we do? I’m equal parts in love + obsessed. The whole site just feels like a breath of fresh air… The logo gives us warm fuzzy feelings (literally) and having something so clean keeps our content from looking overpowered. Now that the digital design is wrapped up, we can’t wait to share our printed brand materials with you once they are done!
A bit about Katie. I really can’t say enough good things about her as a person and a designer and can’t imagine things going any more smoothly on our project than they did. She’s finishing her Masters Degree in Advertising and is currently working as a graphic designer. She is available to take on freelance jobs for both personal branding and blog design so if you like what you see here you should definitely send her an email and get in touch!