How I developed my brand and design process

It’s been a very good week so far. In addition to absolutely beautiful summer-like weather, I’ve just submitted the final draft for a map of the Philippines for a professor and will soon start a new project for a map of an imaginary world for another client.

My new client liked the work plan I laid out; the professor couldn’t believe how easy this was for her. I realized that I’ve developed a process over the years that is now second-nature to me, and one that my clients consistently appreciate. Here’s a look back at how my brand and design process developed over the years.

My first business name

When I first registered my business back in April 2013, I registered as Jewel CartoGrafx. It was a nod to a nickname – some family and friends call me Jul, which I choose to hear as Jewel – and I was not comfortable having my full name on a website or social media.

I designed the logo and business cards myself – with a purple and gold jewel. I had researched what colours can mean in advertising, but I really just liked the colours – similar to my alma mater, Wilfrid Laurier University.

Here’s what my first business card looked like. I like the tag-line – “working with you to make the maps you want” – and the map on the back. It’s a bit fuzzy, but the only copy I have of this old card is a screenshot from when I ordered it online.

Jewel CartoGrafx - Julie Witmer's first business card - front
Jewel CartoGrafx - Julie Witmer's first business card - back

In retrospect it looks pretty good, but the Jewel CartoGrafx name was confusing and didn’t tell people what my company did.

A fortuitous meeting

I’d been in the business for a couple of years by that point and was slowly becoming more comfortable existing on social media and having people know my name, so I simplified my company name and wanted to come up with a new logo. Luckily, one of the people I met at the NACIS (North American Cartographic Information Society) conference that year was Diana Hoover, a graphic designer (and educator and much more). Her company is Strong Heart Creative.

Over a series of virtual meetings she asked me about my business and how I work with clients. Then she presented several preliminary layouts, all in greyscale. Diana told me it’s easier to get a grasp on the content with black and white, before colour muddies the waters. Typography was the next step, and then finally colour.

The new logo

Diana presented me with a wonderful brand guide which distilled my values into a few words and showed how those were reflected in the new logo.

From the brand guide, Julie Witmer:

  • is all about clarity
  • is organized and focused
  • understands tradition
  • maps celebrate place

I love the graphic she developed for my logo. In the guide she explained that the rectangles suggest map forms and artboards, framing, and layering. And they also represent the active dialogue between me and my client.

Julie Witmer custom map design brandmark

A refined design process

I learned a lot from Diana and refined my own process. When someone contacts me about a possible map, I offer free consultations. With phone calls or video chats I ask questions about how the map will help them, how they will use it, what important information should be on the map, etc.. And I include all of those details in a written proposal. This clarity and ease of communication has been much appreciated by my clients.

The very first draft I send them is a layout draft – a simple black and white outline of the different map elements – to determine the final scale and extent and any detail or overview inset maps needed.

Once the layout is established I add all the details we discussed to the first design drafts. 

My work with Diana was the first of many steps along the path to where I am now. With her logo I presented a more cohesive image. And I tweaked my own process for client consultation, and submitting estimates and drafts. It would still be a couple of years until I stopped thinking of myself as a freelancer and embraced the fact that I have my own business.

It’s a small business but it makes me happy. And I’m able to help a lot of people get maps that show only what’s important to them, and to make the process as smooth and easy as possible.

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