Visual Research

Visual Research

30 September 2015

Estimated reading time: 6 ½ minutes

As a child I had a school project about my town’s allotments, which my Dad and I spent hours in the local library researching; we found a story, maybe a folktale of an elephant escaping from the local circus. It’s one of my favourite memories with my Dad and was possibly one of my first experiences with a computer; the project had a massive clip art image of a man digging on the front cover and I’m pretty sure it’s still somewhere at my parents house.

More years than I care to admit have passed and I still love research. I still have lots of ripped up pieces of paper in my design books from various research sessions at university and now I have a Kirby site in Dropbox that stores all of my visual research (I need to write about that and put the code in Github…)

However, I find researching for my own brand different from researching for client’s projects. I can be a bit of a magpie; I get distracted by anything shiny or what I class as cool and go off on various tangents. I also get a feeling, maybe the impostor syndrome when I look at portfolios from the world’s leading agencies; it’s impossible not to compare and end up feeling negative about my work and skills. I really do find it really difficult to focus myself on what I want to achieve so I wrote some questions to try and help…

  1. Colour schemes - can red / black / white be soft?
  2. Patterns - can patterns be the right kind of friendly and feminine?
  3. Branding - how can you pull together patterns, colours and fonts into a brand?
  4. Portfolio - how can you display websites?

It’s hard to shake the feeling of wanting to get this rebrand spot-on first time and also the best thing I’ve ever created which appeals to me, potential clients and my peers. With initial goals like that, it’s almost like I’m setting myself up to fail as I’m trying to achieve the impossible, but I was keen to research and at least have a starting point to inspire some creativity.


Colour moodboard image My colour moodboard

The issue I have with using red and black is they can be harsh and stark and as I’ve previously written I’m trying to create a softer image for my business. I toyed with introducing a navy instead of black so there was a dark colour to off-set the lighter greys but I don’t think navy or blue feels like “me.” Another idea I had was using creams and brown’s instead of the greys and although they feel more approachable, again I think it’s not the balance between my brand colours and soft that I’m looking for.

My research helped me start to question whether by taking black out of my colour palette and choosing a softer red, maybe with more orange tones than blue, I could create friendlier colours that were brand “KC” but still incorporated the colours that I’ve become known for.


Patterns and Brand moodboard image My patterns and brand moodboard

I do lean towards having a heavy hand when it comes to designing; I’m a huge admirer of Modernism, Russian Constructivism and the Bauhaus but they don’t lend themselves to inviting, personable and friendly places to inspire creativity from and I’m constantly trying to reign myself back. Whenever I use patterns, my instinct is to go all out and use stark colours, bold shapes and “form and function” type designs but that’s the opposite of what I’m trying to achieve with my rebrand.

I wanted to see if there was another way of using patterns that were soft, had impact but didn’t cross into the country-cottage, Cath Kidtson and Laura Ashley style of patterns. Although I want friendly and feminine patterns, I don’t want to go into girly and young territory, as this might come across as unprofessional. I certainly don’t want to alienate any potential male clients; I’m not particularly aiming to attract female soloentrepreneurs.

My research shows the colour palette had an impact on the boldness of patterns but also the size of the pattern; I found the smaller the pattern, the lighter it felt, especially if paired with a pale colour. I also found a strong, blocky grid helped create impact even with a soft colour scheme or pattern, which seemed like a nice compromise. I also began to feel intrigued by the use of gradient colours in a pattern, so rather than choosing three different greys maybe choosing more than ten greys was an option.


I’m a firm believer that a brand is more than a logo; it’s everything from the type choices, colour palettes, patterns, tone of voice and everything that creates an impression of a company. I was curious to see how others tie together similar brand colours and patterns into a website design. I have a feeling even if I come up with a new brand I like, turning that into a website design will be another challenge.

All my research showed blocks and grids; it’s a definite trend at the moment but I do adore the modernism influences of overlaying text and breaking the grid. Maybe this is the direction for me, I like the idea of uniformity but with the element of surprise here and there.


Portfolio moodboard image My portfolio moodboard

As far as I’m concerned there are three ways of displaying a website in a portfolio:

  1. Using photographs of a laptop or phone in a situation like at a coffee shop to fake a “real life” situation.
  2. Using a photograph or mock up of an device, maybe in a collection of a laptop, phone and tablet. Note I did this back in 2012
  3. Using a Chrome mockup of a browser and showing the entire page.

There’s a newer trend, not as overused that is a screencast of the website, maybe scrolling up and down the page or clicking through multiple pages. I’ve seen this more on Dribbble than in portfolios and I’ve experimented with this idea on this blog but I’m not sure mine’s all that successful, it almost seems blurry after it’s been embedded - not the way I want to show my work off!

I do know one thing for sure… I have no interest in reinventing the wheel when I launch my website, I’m more concerned about showing my work off to the best of it’s ability. I’m wondering whether it’s an option to decide on a project by project basis how the best way to display the work would be.

In terms of an actual portfolio page, most of my research showed a grid of images. I like a system, like where all the images are black and white, or have the same colour background. This particular part of this process feels me with dread. I really do struggle working out which bits of a design to Dribbble and I find it hard to only show a portion of a project. I do wonder if my work is best viewed as a whole? Is that even an option when displaying work? Can I show the whole concept instead of a thumbnail?

When you delve further into projects, my research unsurprisingly showed how important a story was. There needs to be an introduction to the project, like what the brief was, the approach to the project and the concepts that helped to develop the final product and more importantly than ever is to show the results; we’ve moved past the era of developing websites, clients want to know what goals were met, what the ROI was like and whether leads were converted to sales.


Making yourself a website is no easy task, no wonder I’ve avoided it for so long…