Hey there, design reader!
Welcome to Week 14 of UX Academy! What a whirlwind! As you may remember, I rewarded myself for reaching the UX Academy halfway mark by taking a much-needed (and largely tech-free) vacation, which reminded me just how valuable downtime is in feeding both body and mind. Now, as I jump back into the coursework and start gearing up for the final phase, the very hefty task of personal branding is at the forefront—of both the curriculum and my brain space.
There’s no time to waste—whole careers are in the making (no pressure)!
A brand new world
We live in a world of branding. Everyone—from stay-at-home mom blogger, to teenage Instagram star—has some sort of personal brand they’re using to represent themselves to the digital masses. The only question now is whether that branding succeeds in the new digital world where we all live and work.
As you might have suspected, the first part of Phase 2 of UX Academy—before launching into the “capstone” projects—is centered around developing individual portfolios and—gulp—a personal brand, aka my waking nightmare.
Why does the idea of building my personal brand give me such anxiety—especially when it is commonly accepted as a “non-negotiable” of the modern age? Well, because on the surface I suppose it seems egotistical, or even disingenuous. Like how the word “networking” makes the action of connecting with your peers for potential, mutually beneficial gain seem unpalatable. It sounds ugly, and self-serving.
“Hey, there! Look at meee! I do all of these things, better than anyone! So much so that you should give me all the monies!”
I know, I know. This has the air of Imposter Syndrome about it: how can I represent myself as some successful [insert desired occupation here] when I’m only [insert self-doubt here]? But, much like the classic affliction, personal branding turns out to be way less scary than it seems at first.
In reality, in the age of everything as brand fodder, we as individuals have a unique opportunity to break free from the confines of the traditional workplace dynamic between employee and employer. With a personal brand, we have the chance to create a new narrative in which we are the primary asset to our own success—a free agent, able to move about the world and our careers with both more space and flexibility.
While I may understand why a strong personal brand is necessary, however, that doesn’t make it an easy thing to build—and maintain—despite all the guides and how-tos out there. But like all things in UX design, it starts by defining the problem. What exactly do I want my personal brand to do? What do I really want to do with my career? And how can I present myself to make it happen?
Before UX Academy, I was never too good at this.
A longtime freelancer with a variety of work-related skills I needed to showcase, I’ve had many iterations of an online presence over the years, by way of a series of relatively basic portfolio focused websites, almost all of which I built myself on Wordpress.
On my first attempt I had no idea what sort of platform and image of myself I was trying to build, and the result was a wishy-washy mash-up of past work without any real and distinguishable thread of personality or qualifications running through it.
In short, my first attempt back in 2011 was a webpage, but it wasn't a brand.
This is what that first attempt looked like. I know, please don’t judge me too harshly. I was young, hungry, and not at all in the designer camp… yet.