Help your SaaS clients’ web apps suck less.


Stop designing and creating things that suck and nobody wants. DO read this step-by-step guide and learn to design web apps that don’t suck and people actually want to use.

This exhaustive article will guide you along and learn how to organize & contextualize key screens to stop making your users think and start having them complete your apps’ purpose.

☝🏽 i. The game plan

Summary: Define your ideal paying client (audience, goals, tasks & objectives). Go past gender & age. Include habits & tools they currently use and how they’re using them. How does your product fit as a solution to get them to the promised land?This exercise is quite simple, but it’ll force you to think critically about your business and make some tough choices. If you want to do this well, you’ll have to leave the ego at the door.

Marketing 101: Client pain point + Your product’s solution = Paying customer

That’s easy enough, right?

However, somewhere along the line of users navigating your web app, they start to get confused, don’t know what to do, need clarity, or there are too many options all at once. Frustrated, they leave and never come back.

Remember that smooth scene sequence in the Matrix with Morpheus turning to face Neo? It was brilliant, seamless continuity.

Part of what makes it such a great scene is that the editors were so skilled in clipping the scenes, you didn’t even notice the change of cameras. They were so great at doing their job that the audience didn’t even notice them. That’s it, that’s the secret.

UI so good, it doesn’t even look designed.

The perfect experience you can offer your users is to simply get out of the way of their tasks to accomplish their goals.

Stupid question, do you want them to stay or go (aka, churn)?

So, in order for you to provide your users with the tools they need so that they don’t need you, you first need to gather intel on your potential power users.

Who is your target, paying user?

I’m not just asking about gender, age, and profession…I need you to think about their habits, what other products do they already use, what forums do they hang out at, what comments do they post on the blogs they follow?

Do they have the purchasing power to use your product? Do you even like them?

What’s a big enough goal with obstacles that your web app has the solution to?

Let’s talk about you. You want a better solution to your product’s UX:

  1. Because you want more paying clients;
  2. Because you want better, paying clients;
  3. Because you want to make more money;
  4. Because you want more freedom to not be run by your business;
  5. Because you want to spend more time with your loved ones;
  6. Because you want to travel more;
  7. Because you want a nest egg for your retirement;
  8. Because you will one day be in an amazing position to start a fund, charity, trust, or non-profit.

My job isn’t to help you start a non-profit, but my service offering does help cultivate the big lifestyle changes related to the success of your business if I can help it.

Let me ask you again, what big obstacle is your ideal client, facing that your digital product can help solve and what sequence of bigger and more important goals does it help them align with?

What are they repetitively doing and using on a daily basis when they’re logged in?

Set critical thinking aside and simply list out the steps in the sequence of tasks they perform to accomplish their tasks.

Let’s answer this question with commuting to work: do walk, take your bike, or use your car?

1. Use your keys to open the car
2. Get in
3. Check your mirrors
4. Adjust your seat
5. Put your seatbelt on
6. Turn on the engine
7. Put your favorite music on
8. Look for oncoming traffic
9. Shift gears
10. Pull out…

Hot damn, we haven’t even gotten to the part of where your office is at, yet we’ve been able to list the necessary tasks at a granular level of what needs to be done.

But we know enough of what that repetitive tasks are and what objects are being used to get it done.

So now, answer me these:
1. Who are your ideal, paying customers?
2. What’s an obstacle you have the solution to and what will it help them achieve?
3. What do they do and what do they use to do it?

If you can answer those three questions, you’ve laid the groundwork for your game plan, your strategy.

☝🏽 ii. User journeys

Summary: You’ll learn how to provide your users with all the brief and intuitive instructions to get them on their way to complete specific tasks, and to nudge them back on if they’re at risk of straying off.

Can I tell you one of my biggest pet peeves with ANY type of web designer?


OMFG does this make me click away at best and make me binge the Office (US version) just so I can yell at Michael Scott.

Listen, creative & pragmatic decision-making in web design & development go hand-in-hand. But FFS not when I’m trying to look for pages, files, resources, assets or g’damn CONTACT support link!

Establishing proper user journey design patterns is all about saying it succinctly. Get to the point and get me there fast!

Overly clever headlines & labels are the loose arrow signs in Alice & Wonderland that could send your users anywhere (including away from your application) except where they need to be.

If you’re going to forget everything you’re reading right now, at least drill this list into your strategy:

  • K.I.S.,S. – Keep It Simple, Stupid. Don’t go on fixing things that aren’t broken;
  • Don’t nest your navigation too many levels deep, this isn’t Inception;
  • Avoid hover states whenever possible…in fact, if you can do it without pseudo-classes that aren’t touch screen friendly, DO IT;
  • Depending on the complexity of the task and if appropriate, make it mobile-friendly.

Inform the user what the anticipated click action will do before it’s actually clicked. Remember that first confirmation button you clicked that is bringing you this newsletter guide? “Subscribe” was vague at best while “Send Me the Free Guide” told you exactly what was going to happen.

Optimize your click actions around specific tasks at the first line of defense: top-of-navigation or first touch-point.

If you’re having a hard time figuring out where your users are facing bottlenecks, go to your click-through heat map (you DO have one installed, right?) and refer to your most requested support inquiries. What do they keep looking for that makes them give up, but miraculously still stick around to ask you?

Communicating with clarity is key to completing smooth user journey experiences. Use the same EXACT language for elements that are doing the same EXACT tasks. Speak in their tone and be consistent. Is it “Hello”, “Contact”, “Support”, “Help”, or “SOS”?

How savvy are your users? Are they techies themselves or at the ugly bureaucratic end of HR? Top-level navigation sections are precious real estate. Don’t let it go to waste with mundane, standard features like “Settings”.

Group your elements with related tasks. When push comes to shove, grouping 5 – 8 item lists is much easier on the eyes than a long-ass navigation list across the top that pushes the block element to the second row, crowding onto each other.

Lists are nouns. Buttons are verbs.

What is an Sex Icon?

Do put icons next to labels to reinforce organization, but avoid icons without labels, unless it’s a watertight meaning that trash cans are to remove elements & plus icons are to add them.

Ask yourself this: if you had a given route on Google Maps and you grabbed the little yellow guy and dropped him ANYWHERE along the path, does your interface have enough information to orient the user and get him back on track to reach his destination?

☝🏽 iii. The dashboard

Summary: Decide what type of user is accessing your web app and at what stage touchpoint in their journey. Provide relevant information only, or remove clickthrough steps to get the information faster. The dashboard isn’t a work environment, nor the primary access point to your user’s tasks, but a facilitator of viewing systems’ status and accessibility.

Let’s step outside the scope of nerdy talk and talk about houses, apartments, condos, townhomes, etc…

Different styles are meant to evoke immediate feelings & actions under the umbrella of hospitality, warmth, excitement, and a sense of belonging.

The moment you enter through the front door, what do you see? Chances are that your first step into a foyer, followed by a living room, then dining room, and possibly a kitchen.

How is this possibly different from a penthouse suite? What is the priority here? How are this space’s priorities similar or more likely, different from a college dorm and public housing in section 8 (the projects, for non-US readers)?

Your users have logged in, now what?

Before you decide where to send your users, you must decide what type of user they are. At its most basic, are they an administrator or primary user? Secondly, are they new or returning users?

A dashboard and a home page aren’t the same things because their purposes lie explicitly with their visitor. I’ve been speaking at length of simplifying systems, elements, and patterns.

Houses don’t particularly have two front doors, why would you feel the need to have both? Perhaps, and the likely scenario, you need to rename & re-position your idea of a home page screen. Is it closer to “user profile”, “settings”, or another set of instructions closer to administrative tasks?

Do Lead with a Dashboard, if:

The user requires metrics of system operations (i.e. databases, API hook calls, polls, reports, feedback, tests) that are paramount to the visibility of system status and keep the user informed throughout for reassurance or alert of necessary action;

Don’t Lead with a Dashboard, if:

The user consistently goes to a specific screen view of your web app that requires more clickthroughs to get to their desired destination. Just go ahead and do it for them.

Dashboard Recommendations

    • Provide information relevant to the user role. Administrators shouldn’t see the exact screen elements as the primary users;
    • The form follows function. No glamor & glitz, get them the information first;
    • Group related elements in a way that the user can navigate to different areas of your web app easily;
    • Give your metrics a human context. Is the label “System Operations Satisfactory” a way you’d want to let your users know their system is up & running? What is a better, simpler, more bitesize, ways to say it?
    • Use a small color swatch and stick to it;
    • A neutral background;
    • A primary color for important call-to-actions;
    • A secondary color for less important, but necessary actions
    • Standard text color;

If you think you need more colors, think about other aspects of visual hierarchy to convey information: size, font weight, background elements, images, square vs circle bullets for lists…;

☝🏽 iv. Your key screens

Summary: Less theory and more action. You’ll identify and run usability tests on your key screens.

Write down ALL of your screens viewable to the end-user. Cross out administrative & user settings views for this exercise. We can fine-tune those later.

Map the Design Patterns

With pencil and paper, as you’re going through your screens, draw them out as a wireframe to visualize the conditional logic of different design patterns the user can create.

When you have your to-do list visualized, now we can run our UX audit.

01 The Title
Let the user know where s/he is right away. Nothing clever, nothing fancy. Straight talk. Give the user context of what they’re looking at and where along their path they’re at.

Recall the earlier exercise of distinguishing terms such as ‘Dashboard’ and ‘Home Page’ or ‘Contact’ and ’Support’.

Is your main audience reading Latin characters? Then it’s likely that they’re used to seeing important information left-to-right and top-to-bottom. Don’t give them the chance to guess.

02 Clear Navigation

This part should be easy since we’ve already talked about it. How much information is enough information for your user to know where they are in your web app?

Horizontal VS Vertical Navigation

Horizontal navigation is helpful because they’re usually located where our eyes are trained to see first on a web browser.

Breadcrumbs can be included to give sub-pages context of how far into the rabbit hole a user is, without actually feeling lost. Bonus tip: make the breadcrumbs active links to allows users to skip steps without going through unnecessary doors to get to their destination.

Vertical navigation is super helpful when you have many objects to group and categorize without crowding the top bar.

Collapsible trees make it easy for users to understand the context of those objects and its organization.

However, you decide to guide your users, remember that context is key. What’s more useful for a user that was paying for add-on plugins on your system and forgot one other plugin…a ‘back’ button or ‘return to plugins list’ button? 😉

03 Primary Calls-to-Action

As you’re quite familiar with landing pages, their main objective is some type of conversion. Whether it’s to fill out a form, make a payment, schedule a call, or up/download content, there’s an expected action from the user to complete that pattern.

On web apps, your CTA is centered around the context of the objects currently available to your user. Your objective is to present content in such a way that makes it easier for your users to complete the action with decisive resolution.

To make this easier, start with the end in mind. What do you need to happen? Let’s say you want to qualify a potential lead to get on the phone with your sales department.

Now that the keyword is “qualify” because you don’t want just anyone using up your sales resources if the caller has no purchasing power, you need to ask yourself what qualifications need to be present to evaluate the lead. When you’ve decided on those metrics, how are you presenting them?

Think of the nature of those elements: labels, input fields, radio vs checkbox buttons…what group of objects create an ecosystem where that ONE CALL-TO-ACTION (qualified leads) can thrive?

Finally, run that simulation again, but in the proper order and look for gaps that hint at even the smallest chance for your user to lose focus and decide if more information is needed or you need to remove elements to reduce confusion.

There will be many instances when two major actions can take place, such as restaurant POS software or big data tables.

But don’t just throw your users to the wolves. Remember, context is key! Your software is a live organism in a digital ecosystem. What needs to happen right now vs what needs to happen tomorrow vs next week?

The context will help you simplify and tighten your focus, no matter the complexity (waaaaaaaaAAAAAAAaaaaaay easier said than done, I know).

☝🏽 v. Just-good-enough UI

Summary: Want to avoid the bulk of design pattern pitfalls? Get a theme!

Big question: what should you do?

Simple answer: just-good-enough.

What is the minimal amount of information you can present without overwhelming the tasks or the decisions the user needs to take?

I’m not saying your digital product’s home should be empty, but you’re at the beginning. Features should come gradually where “bells & whistle” features should come ONLY after your basic user needs have been met.

Think back to the penthouse suite example where you only want a house.

Take a moment and browse splash pages on and to be on the lookout for modern and minimalist design.

Look at how they present and group elements.

Now go back to your app’s UI: limit yourself.

I’ll just go ahead and give you the recipe:

  • 1 serif font for headlines (no bigger than 42px) or body (no smaller than 14px) copy, but not both, avoid light weights for phrases longer than five words;
  • 1 sans serif font for headlines or body copy, but not both;
  • 1 primary color that is your main call-to-action (also should be your text link color), but don’t overuse it, remember if the user has to remember one thing, it should be in this color;
  • 1 secondary color that is for less urgent actions, but still important. Keep it on a muted tone against your primary color because it could also be used for your icon elements;
  • 1 body copy color with high contrast against a white background, preferably black;
  • 1 icons library that don’t compete with other visual and elements and signals;
  • Don’t you dare let your UI become a rainbow, but do allow contrast in tints and shades between your initial color palette.

Helpful Resources

Use for font selection and even let it help you pair your sans VS serif combination.

Use for color palette selections and explore swatches other users have uploaded.

Use Google Material Color to preview your color swatch combinations and trust Google to make the contrasting hues VS tints combinations for your UI elements.

Use to make sure that your text is legible in size and color against its backgrounds. Great tool for text alerts.

But, what you’re REALLY after is to get a theme THAT WORKS!

Use envato to browse great, low price templates that have been rated and are supported by theme authors.

Plan of (in)Action

At this point, you’ve defined your strategy & goals, audited your key screens, and have a bundle of resource links to get it done.

There are three options for you to take:

1. Do nothing – there’s nothing wrong with this option. You’ve discovered a laundry list of improvements that can be done to your product, but say you’re brand new to the market and the launch date is around the corner.

It’s much more important to get your solution out there and in the real world than investing your shoestring budget into UX improvements and fiddle with hypothetical suggestions.

My advice, do nothing, launch your product, get real user feedback, and match it against your discoveries and fine-tune feature improvements for future releases;

2. Baby steps – this is my best recommendation. SaaS products are live & dynamic specimens. They’re not like working with logos which are meant to last as much as possible. SaaS software is a journey. And from these hypotheticals, it’s difficult to document what is working and what isn’t when you don’t have extensive resources and a dedicated analytics team if you’re making many changes all at once. So, look at your list and prioritize that ONE task that is pivotal to reducing the barrier of usability for your power users to complete a single task;

3. UI overhaul – whether you have the money or not, you shouldn’t invest resources in reinventing the wheel.

There are way too many great solutions of low-cost themes & templates on UI elements (such as dashboards) for you to redesign it from the ground, up. I’m not trying to be sneaky about it, but Envato’s Theme Forest marketplace truly is a great start for you to get a low-cost theme and customize to your needs.

However you decide to release your changes, they should be discreet in the presence and look like they’ve always belonged there.

We don’t want to disrupt user habits and create more friction between them and tasks we want them to accomplish.

Remember what I just said about SaaS being alive; your users want to know that their product is always striving to improve.

Look at how WordPress always has a list of changes and upgrades they’ve made each time they have a new major version.


You made it. What did you learn? What could I’ve skipped over? What should I’ve had gone into more detail?

I don’t consider myself a writer, but a designer (maybe). My feelings won’t get hurt if you tell me this training was horribly written but would like feedback on the content of the training.

Comment below and let me know what you think.

How to extract your next bizz idea & sell it before it exists.

How to extract your next bizz idea & sell it before it exists.

Summary: In this 5-min read, I’m going to teach you the steps to approach qualified acquaintances and strangers to find out about their business obstacles and extract your next online business idea.

You’re probably reading this post because you find yourself in the middle of an idea drought. You’ve been trying to come up with a new business idea, but nothing’s coming to mind. Or maybe you have an idea for a product, but don’t know how to make it profitable.

Most people think they have to come up with an original idea, but the truth is that there are already so many opportunities out there waiting for someone to take them on.

The secret is knowing where to find them.

The good news is that these ideas are all around us! All it takes is some creativity and curiosity about what’s going on in your community or industry, then taking the time to think about how you might be able to do something similar.

1. Identify what you want to sell
2. Determine who your customer is and what they need
3. Create a list of features that will make the product better than anything else on the market
4. Figure out how much it will cost to produce your product
5. Figure out how much you’ll charge for the product
6. Find a way to test demand and interest in your idea before investing too much time, money, or energy into it (e-mailing friends/family with an idea can be enough)

Pick your poison (market)

If you don’t want to spend the rest of your life selling to alcoholics, don’t pick wine & spirits. Also, if it HAS to be a boring market, be ready to have an exciting hobby.

Btw, don’t be me and pick a market that has potentially awesome people, but no money to spend.

You know it’s a digital product, but not sure for whom. Do this:

  • Is your potential client already using some other software?
  • How approachable are the decision-makers (phone, email, social media)?
  • The fellas over at Angel List VS CEOs at Fortune 500 companies;
  • Don’t go after your wantrepreneur friends at Amway, do go after like-minded people running their legit hustles (nothing less than $110K per year as a small business);
  • You’re able to extract a pain point within 10 minutes of your conversation (more on this as you scroll down).

The more of the above list items you can nod at, the better the chances of having selected a solid market.

Hit ’em up!

Start with your warm network, friends & family (but NO MULTI-LEVEL MARKETING drones).

  • Let them know what market you’re after and if they’re growing their business too because you’re trying to learn more about their #1 pain point;
  • Go through your social networks (LinkedIn & Facebook groups specifically) and engage them at an authentic level to learn more about what keeps them awake at night.
  • You’re not selling anything, so listen.
  • Don’t be that guy. Ask genuine questions and find out more about it within your friends, family, and professional contacts;
  • Contact them with a simple message of who you are (your mutual friend), why you’re reaching out about, and if ANY of what you’re saying resonates with them, to hit reply and tell you what’s the BIGGEST OBSTACLE they’re currently facing in their business. If you have a list of 25 contacts, know right now that you won’t get 25 responses. Play the qualified numbers and look for patterns as the responses start to come in.
  • Rinse & repeat until you get about 50 responses (this is a rule-of-thumb, not the recipe) and look for patterns to close in on your niche.

I.E. Use this “ad-libs” email template as your initial message for people that share a mutual friend:

“Hi [LEAD NAME]. I’m [YOUR NAME] and our mutual friend, [MUTUAL FRIEND’S NAME] recommended I reach out to professionals in the [NICHE] market to learn more about their biggest obstacles right now and your name came up. I don’t have anything to sell. Is this something you’d be able to help me with? There are no wrong answers. If any of what I’m saying resonates with you right now, simply reply with “YES” and I’ll follow up with a link to my calendar to get on a 10-minute call to learn more about what’s keeping you up at night.”

Again, this is a TEMPLATE. You’ll find your own voice depending on your market and your style. The goal is to get a decision-maker ON THE PHONE with you.

Use a free service like to set up and connect your schedule to show your availability and let them do the work for you.

If you don’t want to give out your personal line, I recommend uberconference[dot]com to talk over an internet connection and you can give out the same URL or PIN number for them to connect with you. Skype works too, I guess.

You’re talking with them, now what?

Dude, you’ve done the HARDEST part of this training, getting a decision-maker on the phone with you.

If you’re a weirdo over the phone, you’ll just have to practice this part. More or less, here’s the script, ask them and listen.


“Can you tell me more about what you do on a daily basis?”

“Of those tasks, which one is the hardest and/or taking the longest to accomplish?”

“What is this costing your business?”

“If this obstacle were to be solved, what would it mean for you, both personally and at a professional level?”

“In an ideal scenario, what would your success look like?”

If you’ve read this far is because we both know your ideas suck. So LISTEN to THEIR problems and collect that information. You don’t have a business, logo, website, or friends (you don’t).


Right now I need you to get rid of your ego (and you should’ve long ago) and accept that THIS feedback is your business potential. Not YOUR STUPID IDEA(S).

What did they say?

How did they say it?

How big of a problem did they have?

Now, after you thanked each and every wonderful qualified business professional that agreed to talk to your sorry butt, let’s go back to the lab.

Do their problems make sense?

Can you see how bad they are?

If you know their problems at such an intimate level at this point, chances are, you can figure out the solution?

Can you?

NOW, for those of you that DO have an answer to their BIGGEST obstacle. We’re going to sell them the solution WITHOUT HAVING IT AT HAND.


I don’t have time to explain it because this is about action over theory without the fluff.

The Anatomy of a Pre-Sales Offer:

  1. The talk
  2. The goods
  3. The catch
  4. The guarantee

Ok, before we dive into offering a solution that doesn’t yet exist, we need to figure out how much it’s going to cost. Developers are EXPENSIVE, the good ones, at least.

Find out how much it’s going to cost you to deliver the MVP (Minimal Viable Product).

Think of a penthouse suite, without the ‘pent’ or the ’suite’ and you get a ‘house’. What are the bare minimums you need to get this digital product to JUST WORK?

This is a weird part of my training because the answer could be anything. If you care to guess-n-test it, head on over to my Google search result: and get a benchmark, but don’t get stuck on that number. This training is about momentum.

1. The Talk

Now hold onto that number and figure out how many early investors you need to PAY YOU to get your web app to work and in beta. These guys will ask you why you’re asking for that much and you need to be HONEST and ready to say why you need to raise this much to get the ball rolling.

2. The Goods

I won’t spend too much time on this part, because you already know what good can come out of this if you can solve their problems. You should, they TOLD YOU.

Now offer the solution and SWEETEN the deal:

  • Can you lock them at an “early investor” discount?
  • Can you offer them XX months free?
  • Can you provide extra TLC ‘round the clock?
  • Can you train them and their team for free?
  • Can you text them bedtime stories at 3 am whenever they ask you for one?

Sweeten the pot!

3. The Catch

Ok, now this next part sounds a little prison-y. There’s a catch. This part is about what THEY CAN DO for YOU.

  • Testimonials
  • Access to their network (Referrals)
  • Case studies
  • Linkbacks
  • Understanding that your beta WILL have bugs, but you’re working them out.

Don’t let them forget that they’re part of a MOVEMENT. That they’re the early adopters that believe in you and you will NOT forget about them.

4. The Guarantee

I won’t lie, this part is scary AF.

Tell your initial contacts that have been with you thus far that if you’re NOT able to deliver on your solution, you’ll give them their money back.

Get a lawyer before you say this, I don’t need your butt after me because you talked out of your butt due to a Quora answer you scrolled through.

Now, that we have that out of the way…seriously, put yourself in THEIR shoes, why should THEY give YOU money?

They want the results you’re offering, but they want to reduce risk as much as possible because you have NO track record.

Get that money!

That’s it. That’s how you get others to tell you their problems and convert that feedback into a business idea.

buildfire interface

Now that you know understand the approach, what about the implementation?

There are several ways to approach digital products, specifically apps.

I’d love to recommend you this awesome app pricing calculator from buildfire.

You can go ahead and check out their pricing model afterwards, but they offer a thorough questionnaire that can give you a realistic manpower, capital investment, and features estimate to build on your next best idea.

How to extract your next bizz idea & sell it before it exists.

The supreme guide to launch a brand that matters.


In this long-ass guide, I’m going to take you through the steps of understanding what a brand is and it isn’t so that you can strategize with clarity.

We’ll cover your brand purpose, your ‘why’, which in turn will inform your ‘how’.

These steps will help you launch and nurture a brand that people will believe in. But before they buy what you offer, they have to buy what you believe in.

Be warned! This guide is long for two specific reasons:

  1. There is too much garbage out there that talk about branding as if all you have to do is slap a logo on a website and call it a day;
  2. I want to simplify your path towards a coherent and actionable strategy that builds on itself to help you sort your train-of-thought and add clarity to your brand voice.

☝🏽 i. WTF is branding?

Those that speak of the “brand” do not understand the brand.

What I mean is that we must clear semantic verbiage to understand what it is that we attempt to identify when we speak to any audience. Whether they’re stakeholders, executives, employees, or consumers. This is important people!

Before I dive into what makes a brand, I want to clear up what it isn’t along with other key definitions.

Identity VS Marketing VS Telemarketing VS Public Relations VS Advertising Branding

A brand is not a logo, but a logo is part of the brand.

  • Logo (Logotype) – a trademark made from a custom-lettered word.
  • Trademark – a logo, symbol, emblem, monogram or other graphic devices. It isn’t the brand itself, but a symbol for it.

A brand isn’t the what, but how. Branding isn’t what you tell people, but how you tell it and how they perceive it. It’s their gut feeling when they encounter it.

Branding is how they speak about you when you’re not in the room.

Let’s use courtship as a fun example:

  • Marketing – you say, “I’m a great lover.”
  • Telemarketing – you say via the telephone, “I’m a great lover.”
  • Public Relations – somebody for you says, “trust me, he’s a great lover.”
  • Advertising – you keep saying over and over, “trust me, I’m a great lover².”
  • Branding – the person of interest tells you, “I understand you’re a great lover.”

[bctt tweet=”

Branding is not what you say it is, but what they say it is.


The Brand as a Tangible & Sentiment

A brand isn’t your logo slapped on a business card or the header portion of your website. A brand is a collection of all points of contact a person or organization has with an audience.

It is how the audience perceives that contact that shapes a brand. The combination of emotional stimuli with actual benefits or attributes of a product or service is the culmination of a brand experience.


Customer Experience Graphics Staff
Products Services Logo
Tagline Messaging Packaging
Signage Website Language


While the recipe varies from brand to brand, key components are who you are, what you do, how you do it, visual language & standards, virtual presence & physical interaction.

Who Creates It?

If you’re a business that exchanges value for revenue, you have a brand. While you’re definitely the creator, you don’t have to be the one to actively define it, because we’ve established that it’s shaped by audience sentiment.

That sentiment is expressed by your value & service.

Branding is the voice that speaks about your company, its culture, unique value, and contribution to the greater good. But what makes for great branding?

Before I dove into this awesome profession, I worked my ass off in the high-end restaurant & hospitality chain industry to pay my way through college.


We’re only as good as our last plate.

Jim McVeigh, one of the most amazing GMs I ever had the privilege to work for, always told me “we’re only as good as our last plate.” Let me set the scenario and let you reflect on the following restaurant experiences:

  1. Party of two, you walk in and there’s nobody at the host stand. You made reservations ahead of time, but they can’t find you a seat. The hostess forgets to give you the updated daily menu. Initial contact from your server takes over 5 minutes. They bring your guest the wrong order, and when do get it right, it’s cold…
  2. Party of two, a friendly smile greets you and your guest. They made notes on your reservation and remembered that you preferred a booth. An amuse-bouche is quickly prepared while you and your guest wait for your drink orders within 5 minutes of having been sat. Exquisite recommendations are made that neither of you can make up your mind. The server is timely at several points of contact without being overbearing or barren in availability. Damn good evening, was it not?

The point I want to make is that you can have an amazingly designed logo, but if your service leaves a lot to be desired, it doesn’t matter what that logo really was.

That bad taste in your customers’ mouths is what’s imprinted in their emotional archives when they encounter your brand. So while you do create it but can’t define it, you can influence it.

Any brand designer or strategist that promises you to deliver a great brand for your company is full of it.

You’re not the one that controls it. You simply get to influence and guide it. And this culture has to be fostered from within a company.

But what you CAN control is your internal brand.

☝🏽 ii. Drafting your brand strategy.

While a lot of what I’m about to say applies to both new brands and rebrands, I’m going to assume you’re starting from square one to cover all bases.

Some of the things I will suggest will seem contrary to the way I’ve approached in building my own ‘Neostalgia’ brand. Stick with me until the end and you’ll see that when you’ve a solid understanding of the rules, you can start to push those edges and break others.


Why do you wake up every morning? Why do you do what you do? If money is your only motivator, please stop reading this and hop on some finance blog to learn more about stock investing (that is, if you have money to invest).

While it may seem like a daunting task to reflect and define the core of what you do, you can divide it into these main categories that often times get lumped together and people fill them out from some template as if playing a Mad Libs game.

“Our mission is to focus on our customers.” YAWN.

“We put people first.” AHYUCK (not shit, Sherlock).

“Our synergies work for a better future.” What the hell does that even mean?

If your brand purpose is the cornerstone to your overall brand strategy, what does your whole journey mean if you’ve slapped a few quotes on your website and ad slogans?

If you’re planning for the future of your brand direction, what are you doing in the present?

Mission VS Vision

Mission: what is your brand doing right now to make good on their promise?

Vision: towards what future is your brand working towards?

If you don’t set your purpose of being now, you’ll chase any shiny new “opportunity.” You’ll chase clients because the money seemed right, they seemed like nice people, they had a seemingly advantageous partner, they are experimenting with trendy business practices.

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“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” – Simon Sinek


Don’t make this step complicated. What makes you get up every morning with such enthusiasm that you wake the Devil up and make him cry “ah damn, you’re up already!”? Now take that passion and find the complementary groove that jives with market demand.


You may be a defense lawyer, nutritionist, or a furniture dealer. But what do you really do? Do you fight for justice of the wrongly accused?; a lifestyle consultant to teach people how to lead healthier & longer lives; or a total comfort home professional in how to create total relaxation environments at the end of grueling days? See where I’m going with this?

Apple didn’t sell computer hardware. They offered “1,000 songs in your pocket.” Take some time aside from your balance spreadsheets, booking schedule, and really think about what it is that you offer. What is the deep underlying itch that you know you and you alone can help your prospective clients scratch?

In summary, what are the benefits over the technical jargon of your products and/or services?


daft punk

Next, comes the first sprinkle of your secret sauce: HOW do YOU do it differently? Why should your prospects choose you over your competitors?

Channel your inner Daft Punk song “Better Faster Stronger,” from your earlier reflection of what it is that you do and be your own biggest fan.

Say you’re a moneylender:

  • Are you a lender with the cheapEST rates?
  • Are you a lender with the fastEST approvals?
  • Are you a lender with the bEST customer service?
  • Are you a lender with the safEST guarantees?
  • Are you a lender that’s been in the game the longEST?
    What makes YOU special?


The reason I proposed the previous steps in that order is that it culminates in putting you (or your company) at the top. By combining the why, what, & how you arrive at a stage of character development that informs your audience the sum of those parts: you.

By aligning your motivation and character attributes to the core of your business, instead of its tangible deliverables, you allow yourself and your company the flexibility of offering future products and services that can still be aligned with your mission & purpose.

A Brand’s Triple Threat

Let’s play a game. Connect the brands to their taglines.

Nike Because you’re worth it too
McDonald’s Imagination at Work
L’Oreal Think Different
Apple I’m Lovin’ It
General Electric Just Do It


Tell me you didn’t smile as you read them. You probably even heard the announcer’s voice in your head. There are three key components that make for award-winning brands.

1 Be Memorable

Think about the immediate emotion you felt when you read the above brands. How catchy were the taglines?

Names like Yahoo, Bing, Google, & Yelp have a distinct persona that rolls off the tongue in a playful manner.

Think about how succinct and memorable your own brand can be by brainstorming how sticky your brand name can be. In how many different formats can it be used?

Successfully sticky brands are the ones that transcend their name and become verbs or substitute that product or service which they represent:

Mind passing me a Kleenex, please?

I forgot the meaning of that, can you Google that word for me?

Our client needs it now. Be sure to FedEx it on your way out.

Write the grocery list of what we will need on a Post-It.

I’m starving, should we order Domino’s?

Hey girl, want to Netflix & chill?

2 Be Duplicatable

Think of franchise brands like McDonald’s. When Ray Kroc started, he had an idea bigger than himself. So when he approached the McDonald brothers in 1954, he had the main goal in mind: scalability.

Many of his innovations to the foodservice franchise model served this focused goal.
He was able to document, scale and repeat his progress to grow one of the most widely recognized brands in the world.

He focused and tweaked his “secret sauce” to be able to rinse and repeat. Think about setting a detailed formula that anyone could walk in, review, and repeat it.

Of course, this particular step isn’t truly necessary in the strictest sense if you’re set on creating a personal brand. However, think about other aspects of your operation if you do decide to bring other people on board and build a team. How would you like them to interact with the public (brand voice)?

3 Be visible

There is no first rule of Fight Club. If you have an amazing business that sells outstanding services and products; you’re bound to have raving fans. Make it easy for them to spread your message farther than you could. Let them help you build your tribe by being accessible & shareable.

Incentivize them with special deals, perks, and early release access.

☝🏽 iii. How to identify your tribe.

Before you start thinking of who you want to approach and influence, let’s weed out those that aren’t your targeted audience.

This simple task of segmenting demographics is a simple exercise where you frame your audience persona and those that don’t meet this first iteration, are cut.

Age Gender Income
Relationship Status Dependents Profession
Income Location Education

The next step is a little more intimate.

Who do you want to be there to speak on your behalf when you’re not around?

Don’t think of your audience as people you want to sell to.

Seek people with shared values and experiences.

Here, you want to know about their likes, habits, and places they hang out to give you a glimpse of their values and dreams for their futures as much as how they live for the now.

What shapes their personality?

Hobbies Books Sports
Lifestyle Brands Social Media News
Films Shows Food

 Both your psychographics and demographics are key exercises to the foundation of your tribe.

☝🏽 iv. Understand your competitors.

An easier method to identify your tribe is to understand where they’re already at, with your competitors.

And who are your competitors? What do they offer? How do they offer it? To whom do they offer it? And where are they?

The more you learn about them, the better opportunity you have to expose their weaknesses and differentiate your brand that shows people how you aren’t making the same mistakes or flexing your strengths.

However, don’t square off against bigger players in the same arena if they don’t serve the same core clients or customers you want to reach. If you’re starting off as a small online store, Amazon will likely bury you if you go up against them, toe-to-toe.

Grab a user from the earlier exercise and think about how they would approach the following questions:

What choices do I have?

Why is this the best choice for me?

Which options are out of the question?

If tomorrow was an excellent day, what could take place today that will make that a possibility?

☝🏽 v. Name a brand people will remember.

Right now is your first big actionable step: naming your company.

Trademark – a logo, symbol, emblem, monogram or other graphic devices. It isn’t the brand itself, but a symbol for it.

Your company’s portfolio will build an archive of your company’s name, tagline, descriptor, products, and services. One of the most common initial pitfalls is trying to trademark common use names.

They simply can’t be legally protected and result in expensive Google ad marketing bids, poor SEO, and even painful legal trouble.

Uncovering Strong Trademark Potential

Though not an obsession, an ideal goal is to discover a trademark with so much equity potential that its benefit is parallel to its name. Companies such as Netflix & FedEx enjoy this equity because people immediately identify with its core benefits and the company enjoys trademark protection.

Weak attempts, and nearly impossible to protect are generic, descriptive, ubiquitous, and already recognized words of its service, function or market competitor.


The worst decision you can make is to pick a descriptive name by the simple fact that in seemingly saturated markets with high barriers of entry, they’re easy to forget and difficult to find online.

Say you’re in the roofing business. “Awesome Roofing Inc” or “Skilled Roofing LLC” is shit. Do you even realize the type of competition you may be running up against? You’ll be lost in the sea of contractors bidding for the same keyword that I doubt you’ll even make it to the front page.

Even if your prospect is able to remember the name of your business, you’ll be fighting a losing battle against established companies that have been in the game longer and with bigger budgets.

Aside from possible infringements on those bigger brands, you’re at the disadvantage of sounding like the knock-off from the real brand. You’ve seen those silly and downright embarrassing knock-offs abroad. Even worse, you may be sending your competitors’ business because people will likely associate the name with them instead of you.

fruit field


Aside from the fact that you’ll be the most boring-ass company on the block, why would you even consider something as uncreative as this?

Why do you think people are more receptive to Apple Computers than CompUSA? As we go head first in the Information Age, we’re also bombarded with information overload. As a result, we’ve gotten better at drowning out the noise.

Smarter companies recognize this obstacle. MailChimp, HostGator, YouTube, and Burger King are a few of the companies that anchor one aspect to pair it with a seemingly unrelated word that cements memorability.

MailChimp especially takes this further. Aside from informing their audience of what market they’re in, they don’t shy away from the mascot aspect of their company culture. You can even see “monkey business” elements throughout their interface, email, and social media marketing efforts.

They fully embrace this playful tone that revolves around their core effort: better email services. It should be an effortless search to make it easier for people that are looking for you. Help them associate you with seemingly unrelated terms to make your brand that much more memorable.


Don’t pick a name that is difficult to pronounce or write. I do encourage you to be creative but have a sound understanding of how this may appear to someone that knows nothing about your business. Brands like Lyft and Pinterest have been able to dominate this aspect because it’s playful enough to frame their company culture in a creative way, but not too distant that they rely on cleverness.

Sure you may introduce yourself as Ashleigh with an “h”, but how do you think that plays when users try to look up your brand and can’t remember if it’s Ashley, Ashleigh, or Ashlee. They’ll be impatient, frustrated, and maybe apathetic to even try to remember that they’ll give up typing your name and will take their business to effin’ Susan.

Approach Abbreviations with Caution

Meet Sean & Grace. Sean & Grace just gave birth to a beautiful little girl. They decided to name her after both grandmothers, Helga Agnes Goldberg.

That poor child. Aside from such traditional name trends of the past, how do you think this will make little Helga feel each time she signs her initials, HAG.

Sure it seems like a nice short cut because you will save on ink, space, and whatever else your cheap ass didn’t want to pay for. It’s only a matter of time before you become a household name like GE, IBM, BMW, and AT&T. But it is a matter of time, and tons of marketing money these companies have nurtured over decades. An asset I don’t think you’re quite ready for.

Don’t allow yourself the lazy approach of reducing your brand name to meaningless alphabet soup. Remember that lawsuit that the World Wildlife Fund had with the World Wrestling Federation? Are you looking for wrestlers or lions?

Don’t expose yourself to possible sieges of your initials by negative associations. Isis is a badass goddess from Egyptian religion. But doesn’t your average user immediately associate the name with the terrorist network in the Middle East?

Don’t allow yourself to be lost in the sea of online searches because the results didn’t return your home page from your brand initials.

Domain & Social Media Profiles

It becomes increasingly difficult to score a domain name that reflects the benefits behind your services and is also memorable. Since many exact match domains have either already been taken by squatters looking to sell for a hefty price or they simply started their own business a long time ago.

It’s my sneaking suspicion that it’s how Lyft chose to misspell their brand name. Simple, yet brilliant.

It’s amazing how we plan for a long-term game of sticking with a company, but spend so little time behind the research of actually naming it. We name based on personal inclinations, of what the service actually is, or even legal reasons. Facebook has bought every imaginable domain combination that might even hint an impression of taking away from its brand equity.

While I’m not a legal expert, I can offer a few suggestions on what makes a name, brand-worthy, and not the creative process.

The first step is to NOT choose a keyword name. You sell antique European furniture, “” isn’t set for brandable success because it doesn’t encompass the character, value, principles, or voice of what is at the core of your business.

I’ve seen other fly-by-night services that sell you this exact method to game Google rankings, but:

  1. You can’t game Google for long, their algorithms change too quickly and you’re left with a local brand ad selling at the shopping center; and,
  2. It’s devoid of the humanity of building something that matters.

Think of Facebook. While they’re the most powerful social media network, they didn’t go with “” They went the path of a brandable domain because it encompasses the ability to connect with the world.

With that spirit, they’ve purchased other tech companies such as WhatsApp, Instagram, and ConnectU because they maintain the driving principles that align with what Facebook is about. “Best Social Network” wouldn’t have been able to sustain this expansion.

However, if you MUST use a keyword, it won’t be the worst thing in the world; I’m just trying to tell you that it isn’t an SEO magic formula.

Similar to how you will create a well-designed logo, the following guidelines are solid benchmarks to create a brandable domain name:

  1. Relevant – does the name relate back to the core principles of your brand message?
  2. Memorable – does it have a lasting personality that people can recall?
  3. Unique – does saying the name make your tongue dance in a way that you haven’t used such a word before?
  4. Credible – the irony is that people tend to be cautious around names that preface with “best, biggest, value, exceptional…” because they’re usually indicators that they aren’t.
  5. User-friendly – easy to say, spell, no hyphens, no confusion between numbers or when multiple words are all lower-case.
  6. Succinct – Less than two words, three are pushing it. Remember that aside from the domain name, you’ll also have a list of email addresses that will add to the name length.

A quick note on email names is to also think of them as an extension to customer service. Consider your clients’ perspective.

Is it proper to use:


Same planning should be applied to your employee names format:


Brand Name & Domain Name Combo

If you’re able to apply those principles and arrive to a name that evokes the spirit of your brand without being obviously descriptive, chances are that the domain name will also be available. Remember the clever solution Lyft had for its driving services. If not, you can also use what I refer to auxiliary words (but not in the strict grammar context of auxiliary verbs). Short & direct words such as “go[name].com”, “get[name].com” or “hello[name].com” are great ways to breathe life into seemingly dying domain availability obstacles.

Domain Name & Social Media Profile Name

There is a safe assumption that your domain name is also your name on Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram. It’s extremely helpful to assure that this rings true with yours, but if you’re not able to secure the same social media handles, try to get all social media channels that you’ll use to be the same and as close as possible.

Different Paths to the Same Destination

Stick to common domain name extensions like .com, .net, .co, and .org. Unless you do business in other countries, you can opt for the other suffixes.

However, here is an excellent opportunity to talk about the domain name that published this journal entry for you. ‘.design’ is indicative of what I do that also baked into function of how to reach me. However, my email is ’’ because most email service providers are still stuck in 1995 and are oftentimes wary of uncommon email extensions that I don’t want to risk losing a followup audience because I keep getting blocked or just end up in their spam folder.

People will assume that these common names are more established or the OGs (‘Original Gangsta’ for the uninitiated) in the market as opposed to the fancy new extensions that are getting ridiculous. Try to get two or three of the most common ones and have them point to one domain extension.

Don’t make the idiotic mistake of buying multiple extensions of the same name and create duplicate websites with the same content. Google will hilariously penalize you for this and your rankings will crash and burn.

☝🏽 vi. Design a winning logo.

One of my biggest pet peeves is overly clever logos. Omfg, do they annoy the shit out of me. A lot of the integrity of what makes a winning logo is sacrificed because the logo design was simply trying too hard.

And you’ve seen that in the wild, with people. That guy at a party that’s simply being too extra. Like “chill, dude. Grab a chip.”

For a logo to be successful, it can’t just be creative. It has to be strong, long-lasting, and approachable in its simplicity. How do you know when you’ve arrived at this dynamic winning combination?

While I drafted a 10-point checklist to create a winning logo, there will be special and peculiar instances where one checkpoint may nullify another. However, what I want you to take home is that in order to want to break the rules, you should first be aware of them.

1 Intended Audience Reach

Will this design appeal to them and the ones after them? It’s a difficult first step because what you like may not be what they like. You’ve defined your target audience. Use that data to discern their hopes and dreams and you’ve a better chance of not having your logo create confusion in the marketplace.

2 Relevance

Does the logo infer the mission of your company? Does it describe your services or products? Does it promise a better day to your audience’s problems? Like avoiding direct keywords in your brand name, the logo doesn’t have to be a literal interpretation of what you offer. It does, however, have to answer to the appeal of the value you offer.

3 Distinction

Do a logo search on Google images and then squint your eyes at the results page. Which ones stand out? This is the main goal of your logo to withstand the brutal competition in many saturated industries. I repeatedly confuse Pandora and PayPal on my mobile’s app icons screen. At a glance, they’re too similar. You don’t want this.

I also acknowledge that there’s hardly anything new under the sun anymore. You don’t have to be a complete game-changer in your 180° design approach. But do strive for a meaningful design percentage change to contrast yourself against your closest competitors.

Make no mistake that it is both ignorant & arrogant to think you (or anyone) can come up with a logo never before seen.

4 Memorable

A quick test to verify memorability is to parse it through the “napkin sketch” test. Successful logos such as Adidas, Apple, Nike, McDonald’s, & Microsoft Windows pass this test with flying colors. You want to be able to impress an immediately recognizable icon that your customers could quickly sketch in their minds.

5 Simple

The last three guidelines could be accomplished with simplicity. This is the essence of logo design. How can you convey the core beliefs of your company by saying the least? Too complex and you’re back to that annoying guy at the party trying too hard.

Reduce, reduce, reduce, refine.

6 Authentic

Does the logo present authenticity? Does it look like (inter)national design quality or does it look like it was created on MS Paint or pulled from some stock templates from the late 90s? At the same time, don’t chase all of the latest trends at once. You won’t come off as credible, they’ll be suspicious if you appear to be for the moment that doesn’t seem to reflect your true nature. Just because all the cool kids are doing it, you have to ask yourself “is this a proper and accurate representation of who I am and what I do?”

You’ll know the answer to that question better than anyone.

7 Timeless

What has made Coca-Cola something that Pepsi just can’t seem to get right?

There’s a timeless quality to Coke’s brand.

It’s an aesthetic that has appealed to generations. You’re working to build your brand equity. A well-designed logo should last 15+ years. That’s why I don’t want you to chase trends. You don’t know what the next year will look like. That’s why I don’t want you to design a literal description of any particular service or product.

8 Adaptable

There are several touchpoints a potential client will interact with your brand. You will have a website, business cards, social media profiles…even car wraps, embroidered uniforms, yard picket signs, billboards, packaging, etc… Your logo should be able to adapt to these print & web publications. Be wary of the shapes not just created by color and layers, but pass them through black and white tests to see how the negative space between elements may change.

A great logo should look good as a 16px favicon and on a 16ft highway billboard.

However, logo design has also seen an evolution, known as responsive logo design, where certain components of a logo are removed, depending on the size and format of its environment but remain recognizable.

9 Variation

This is one instance where it seems that the rules are being broken. To be specific, how does the logo hold up in different cultures or different languages. Again, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola do a great job of maintaining their logo message in different languages and even characters. Another aspect of variation is how it holds up as a standalone logo or in conjunction with specific services, extended product lines, or partnership mergers with other entities?

Change is constant.

10 Depth

I wanted to end the last checkpoint with what many logos continually fuck upon. Stop being too clever. While the symbolism is important to get as much out there by saying the least, don’t sacrifice other principles for this alone.

This is the difference between art and graphic design.

Art will communicate a different message to many people, but graphic design is meant to communicate the same message over and over to many people.

☝🏽 vii. Plan a website that converts visitors into super fans.

Keep it Simple, Stupid (KISS Principle)

It’s difficult enough to get visitors to your website from your online marketing efforts. Why make it more difficult for them to endlessly navigate through your content to get to the desired action?

Don’t bombard your site visitors with EVERY SINGLE DETAIL of what it is that you do and how you do it. Leave the technical jargon for more interested and warmer leads once you’re actually talking details.

It goes back to the dating example. Your website home page is just the introduction, the approachable persona ready to take you on an exciting date, not talk pregnant barefoot & pregnant.


The tone of your copy must immediately capture and maintain your visitors’ attention. Are you friendly and laid back or much more formal and professional? Pick the most appropriate voice for your audience and talk to them genuinely.

Photo by Guillaume de Germain on Unsplash

I’m sure you’ve noticed my own personality by now. My tone is how I’d talk to people over a beer and my shirt is no longer tucked in. I don’t worry about swearing too much because it puts off the type of people I don’t even want to be doing business with.

I don’t rely on intentionally being offensive, but it’s a great way to filter out uptight and stuffy personalities. Aside from doing great work together, I want us to be able to get along.

However, you’ve also noticed my serious moments when I need to stress the importance of a particular topic because, after everything, your business success is a paramount interest to my own business success.

Call to Action (CTAs)

Whether you want them to sign up, purchase, or download something, be clear, concise, and brief about it.

While negative space can be a good space to maintain a minimal interface, it doesn’t mean it has to be sparse on content. It’s having many different types of content that can easily overwhelm a visual field that you need to avoid.

If you want your call-to-action to be a signup, don’t include distracting navigation or links that will take your visitors anywhere else but your sign up form. Be sure that the language of your buttons are verbs, as what a call-to-action should be.

Make it a contrasting color that can pass the squint test I’ve mentioned in earlier lessons. Label your buttons in such a way that there is NO doubt what actions you want your site visitors to take and where they can expect to be taken to.


This part has the potential to get more difficult than it actually is. You’re essentially writing for two audiences:
1. Your target audience, and;
2. Search engine spiders
You need to be armed with a healthy amount of relevant keywords to be sprinkled throughout your content.

This common SEO standard practice informs both your audience and spider bots about the content of your pages and allows the bots to rank your pages accordingly.

Don’t make the mistake of stuffing your pages with your keywords. It’ll put off readers because it won’t appear natural and high-value in content. Google & other top search engines have picked up on this hack years ago and will actually penalize you if it seems like you’re keyword-stuffing. So don’t. 😃