How Lisa Jacobs builds brands through design
”I think most designers can really appreciate when something is well made and designed. So to be able to create that for other people feels like a superpower.”
If you’ve been enjoying our fabulous moving blog headers lately, we’ve got our own Lisa Jacobs to thank. Turning abstract design concepts into a visual experience is Lisa’s specialty, but we’re not the only ones who’ve benefited from her skills! Before joining Sketch, Lisa focused full-time on breathing life into brands through design.
Today, we’ll take a deep dive into her process to learn more about what it takes to make branding work.
Has graphic design always been your passion? How did you get started?
It wasn’t! I actually never got to open Photoshop or Illustrator until I was in college and got my own laptop. That said, all I did in my free time as a teenager was draw realistic portraits, trying to make them look as close to the reference photograph as possible. I didn’t have a specific area of expertise in mind but knew I wanted to do something along those lines. I think it was only halfway through college when I started focusing more on graphic design of all creative traits.
What’s your favorite thing about design?
The fact that you can create a whole identity, vibe or experience tailored to a specific group of people from scratch — with nothing but your machine. I think most designers can really appreciate when something is well-made. So to be able to create that for other people feels like a superpower.
Your portfolio is chock-full of brand design. Can you tell us more about that?
Yes! So in my last year of college, roughly six years ago, I got into brand design. I love how you can create the whole face and visual personality of a brand with design. I started creating logos for fictional companies and posting them, which led to people reaching out about wanting to give their own brands a facelift. I enjoyed a successful freelance career doing that up until I joined Sketch.
I think the brand work I’m most proud of was the logo I created for TOGETHXR, founded by Alex Morgan, Chloe Kim, Simone Manuel, and Sue Bird. Because of the size of what they’re doing and the impact the founders have, I started seeing the logo in the most random places online — even worn by some of my favorite content creators like Marques Brownlee. And that’s probably the coolest part: when you make a brand and it starts to live a life on its own.
What do you find inspiring or motivating about working with brands?
I see brand strategy and brand design as being a translator. The client wants to say or offer X to this group of people, but has no idea how. There isn’t one way of translating it, so you can go in all sorts of directions. The best feeling is when your direction or design completely ‘clicks’ with what the client is trying to achieve.
What does your brand design process look like?
Firstly, I sit down with a client and have a deep discussion about their brand. What is their mission? Why buy your product or service? Why not buy from you? What’s the customer experience like? What have you tried before, and what did you learn from that? These questions help me narrow down the target I need to hit.
Then I work with moodboards and style scapes to create visuals of what I think will fit with what they’re trying to achieve. Once I’ve presented my ideas and gotten their feedback, that’s when the real fun starts: creating the logo and all the accompanying elements — like typography, colors, iconography, photography style, patterns and so on.
Surprisingly, I often spend more time in this discovery phase than designing the brand itself. But it really helps to get the direction just right, which also minimizes feedback when you’re done.
You also create many of our beautiful header images for Beyond the Canvas. Which Sketch tools do you use for these?
It’s my favorite thing to do at Sketch! I have a soft spot for illustrating and animating. Since we work in an isometric style, I often use the Skew Plugin to get my designs in the perspective I need. I also often use Symbols to divide the header illustrations into layers that I then place on top of one another. I do this because I can easily export these layers and then animate them. But Symbols also work great for me if some elements are re-used in different parts of the illustration, like in the header I did about libraries that had a dozen books in them.
What’s been your greatest career challenge so far and how did you overcome it?
Imposter syndrome, which is probably known to all designers. Every time a new project would come in, especially if it came from a big client, I’d worry that I’d fail and disappoint them. I didn’t want to cause them to miss deadlines or revenue. But honestly, I don’t think that’s ever happened. And once you’ve done a couple of these projects, and more people start coming to you for help, you have to realize they’re coming to you for a reason.
You become more than capable of doing it because you’ve done it before. So I’d say that the way to deal with imposter syndrome is to get started, regardless of what your head tells you. The way to drive away worry is to gain experience and learn how to resolve issues as they come.
What’s the best career or design advice you’ve received?
I have two, one on the freelance side and one on the design side.
On the freelance front: always work with contracts and a deposit. I’ve worked with clients from all over the world whom I’ve never seen in real life, and I’ve never had any issues working this way. However, when I worked with people I knew and decided not to work with contracts and deposits, it almost always went wrong.
On the design front: Create for your ideal client, even if they don’t exist. I was able to kickstart my freelance career because I posted fictional case studies. Clients who resonated with the type of work I was creating contacted me, and that’s how I got to focus on the niche designs I was interested in. So, ask yourself what type of client or niche you’d love to work for, and start creating case studies for that type of client.
If design didn’t exist, what other career would you have chosen?
Okay, this will sound weird, but I love to watch and listen to anything crime-related. I’ve always been fascinated by forensic sciences. It’s funny because I was never good at science at all in school. But since we’re speaking hypothetically, I’ll say forensic scientist. That seems like a rad job.
Want to keep up with Lisa’s work? You can follow her on Behance or on Instagram.