Are you leaving money on the table with logo design? Do you know how to present your logo designs? Are you positioning yourself to clients so you are seen as an expert and get more respect? Jacob Cass of Just Creative talks about his design journey, his logo design and presentation process, how to add more value with brand strategy and some amazing marketing tips. Plus, find out why he calls himself “the pink cow.”
Jacob Cass is a prolific graphic designer and branding expert who runs the popular design blog, JUST Creative, which doubles as his award-winning branding and design firm. Jacob helps brands grow by crafting distinctive logos and brand identities that are backed by strategy.
He recently rebranded San Francisco and Puerto Rico, and also branded New York’s Digital District. Other clients have included the likes of Disney, Nintendo and Jerry Seinfeld. Jacob has spoken at TEDx, been featured in Forbes and Entrepreneur and has been awarded LinkedIn’s “Best of” for branding.
For him, design is a lifelong journey of continuously honing his craft, as well as educating other fellow designers to build on theirs, which has allowed him to build a large and loyal following, including his website, which has been been viewed over 50 million times. Jacob is an avid traveler and has traveled to 87 countries.
Colleen Gratzer: Welcome to the podcast, Jacob. It’s great to talk to you.
Jacob Cass: Likewise. Thank you so much for having me. I’m very excited to talk to everyone here.
Colleen: Thanks. So 87 countries. Wow! Do you speak any other languages?
Jacob: I wish I did. I speak Australian, so that’s kind of a language.
Colleen: I actually can’t travel by plane. I have issues with flying, but I have a foreign language degree, so I can speak some Spanish and some French, but I can’t get to the places to speak them.
Jacob: Yeah, Spanish would be handy. I wish I knew that. If there was one language I wish I knew, it would be that. I’ve picked up a few words here and there, but, yeah, it’s challenging.
Colleen: So how did you get started as a graphic designer?
Jacob: Good question. It was a natural progression for me in terms of what I was attracted to. I think this is a similar story for a lot of designers out there. They’re always attracted to art versus science, and I went down that path and my career advisor actually told me about just graphic design as a career. This was when I was in year 10, so two years before graduating high school, or whatever that equals to in the U.S. or U.K., I’m not sure.
But about that time I was exposed to that idea or that path and I knew it was for me. So I explored what the options were in terms of going to university, and there were not as many courses online back then. There’s a lot more information available and resources available these days. But after finding out about university, I decided to do that, and I went and studied at university at the University of Newcastle in Australia for three years, and then after that I moved to the States.
Colleen: And you focus on branding now, is that right?
Jacob: Yeah. I’ve always had this attraction to branding, identity design and logo design. I don’t know why I do. It was just one of those things that really attracted me in the beginning, especially logo design, because it just encapsulated a whole company’s essence into one mark.
I just loved that challenge and idea, and that’s what really drew me into the whole idea of branding. These days, I’m getting deeper into strategy as well. So that’s where I’m at.
Yeah, it was just a natural thing. I think people gravitate towards areas that they like eventually and you start to learn more about it and then go down different paths. That’s where I’m at now.
Colleen: Sure. So what do you think focusing on branding has helped you accomplish? Are you seen as more of a specialist?
Jacob: Well, branding is a huge topic. I’ll talk about personal branding and how that has helped me build the foundation of my business and really has allowed me to grow my business and connect with my clientele and also gain a following on social media and all of that.
The underlying principles of branding, that apply to all areas, but in terms of personal branding… I built a name for myself. I didn’t purposely do it, but it was just this path that I went down in terms of providing resources for other people for free and just educating other people. Because of that, I naturally grew a following. This was a while back. Now it’s pretty common to do all that, but it opened me to the world of branding.
So by doing that, I established myself as a resource, and everything I was putting out was creating credibility and positioning me as an expert in my niche, which was branding and logos at the time. And it’s just sharing what you know to just show your expertise.
I think a lot of people are at different stages in their journey when they’re doing that, and they’re afraid of, I guess, putting out information. They’re afraid that it may not be right or it’s not good enough or whatever. It’s important to remember that we all started somewhere.
Jacob: Where I started was I was studying at university and I was putting out what I was learning at university. All these blog posts and content I was putting out is still on my blog today. It’s terrible, but it still gets traffic and it still is the remnants of how I grew my brand, and I’m still using that same technique today of just sharing where I’m at with my learning journey.
Obviously my design work has improved and my knowledge has increased, but I’m still sharing what I’m learning. For example, yes, I have done logos and everything in the past, but now I’m going deep into brand strategy and providing a deeper service for my clients.
I’m sharing this journey with people on Instagram and my blog as well, and even talking about it on podcasts and YouTube. So it’s just a matter of sharing your process, behind the scenes and where you’re at in your particular journey.
Colleen: Do you feel that the clients are willing to spend more for the strategy rather than just the logo design?
Jacob: Yes, because there is more value in it if you can properly sell it and talk about it and actually know what you’re doing—
Jacob: …because there’s more value in it, for sure. If you think about it, the logo is just the tip of the iceberg or of the brand, and it’s the identity, but—
Jacob: It’s like the paint job of a car. There’s no mechanics behind it, and there’s no nuts and bolts, and that’s really what the strategy does.
It’s a blueprint for the brand to grow, or the roadmap for them to follow, and that is infinitely more valuable for a brand, especially if you can communicate and educate the client on the value of that. So, absolutely.
Colleen: So true. Well, now, do you feel like you get more respect from your clients too, when you sell them the strategy?
Colleen: That you’re setting yourself apart from other designers?
Jacob: Yeah, in the past year or so, I’ve had a little shift in how I talk about branding and strategy. So I always used to do strategy as part of my identity and branding projects, and I would talk about it as one big project.
As of recently I’ve separated them, and now I talk about strategy as one phase and then identity as a second phase, and then touch points as the third phase, so broken down into three areas versus a project. That has gone pretty well that way, and it’s a subtle change but it does give a different mindset to the client as well. So, that has proved successful.
Colleen: You were talking about positioning earlier, so when they come to you they know that this is not going to cost $50. It’s going to be very different from going to Fiverr. So by the time they come to you, it sounds like you’ve already positioned yourself well that they are looking at this as an investment rather than some business expense?
Jacob: Yeah, a lot of that comes down to how you’re marketing yourself on your website.
Jacob: Because the website’s really the portal to you and how you are positioned in the market. So before you even have a call or before they’ve contacted you, they’ve done some groundwork to see if they’d actually want to work with you. You may not even realize it if you’re not getting these calls that they’ve already made a decision, they don’t want to work with you.
So yes, to answer your question, they’ve made up some decision, but I don’t have prices on my website because every project’s different.
Jacob: and I want to talk to the client to understand what their wants are so I can understand what their needs are and identify some solutions or suggest some solutions for them.
Let’s put it this way. They often say, “I need a logo.” Then you can say, “Why do you need a logo?” And then you’ll open this bigger question of they actually need to build their business and they need an identity and they need growth, and all of that. Then like, “Oh, well, I have the perfect solution for you. It’s brand strategy.”
So it’s a very natural flow. After you’ve had these conversations a few times, you’ll know how to talk about it. This has taken some time for me to learn, but I’m used to it now. I think the mindset change between using it as one package versus the three, as I mentioned before has helped definitely.
Colleen: Now a moment ago, you mentioned the steps: you have the strategy and then the logo design and then the touch points. What is your process when it comes to logo design? Do you show a certain number of concepts? Some designers are like, “I want to show three to five,” and then other designers are like, “I’m just going to show one.” So do you have a certain number that you go by or does it vary by client?
Jacob: Originally at the start of my career, I’d say, “I’ll give you five logos,” for example. These days, I don’t specify any numbers or anything. I’m going to give you the solution.
If I need to give them 20 logos to get to that solution, I’ll do it. But I’m at a point now where I can suggest five and have a story behind why these work and how it fits in with the brand story and how it fits with positioning in the market.
It’s because we’ve done that more thorough research, that you have all this information and goals and metrics to compare against. Then the sell-through is much easier because you haven’t done that research.
Jacob: If you’re just going in blind with, say, 10 logos and like, “Choose one,” it’s the client doing the work and you’re just actually giving them guesswork and you’re not actually solving any real problems, you’re just doing some nice, pretty pictures.
Colleen: Right, exactly. It’s throwing it at the wall and seeing what sticks.
Jacob: Yeah, exactly, exactly. It’s doing the groundwork that helps you really solve their problem and sell through the solution to them.
In terms of my process… So just to give some insights here, I have a call to action on my website that just says, “Call me.” We have a discovery session, a quick one, to figure out what their goals are and what they actually need. Sometimes these go for 15 minutes, sometimes 45. It just depends on the client and all of that.
Then eventually, I’ll have a proposal. I’ll call them when I send the proposal to go through it with them, so I can present it. I don’t do it by e-mail. I used to do that: just send it off and wait for a response. I found that talking through the proposal, it’s easier to explain everything, especially when it comes to grand strategy.
Clients generally don’t understand everything involved.
Jacob: It’s our job to explain it to them. So you’ve explained the proposal, you can leave it with them. They’ll often ask, “When do we get started,” or it’s either too expensive or whatever.
My proposals often have a couple of different options in them so it can be tailored to their budget. So you’re not losing them because you’re too high. You can also have a one above or one below. So my three packages have those options. Then they decide which one they want and we can customize it.
Then we get into the strategy. We have a call, we discuss all the goals, and we figure out the positioning and the customers, and I do research into competitors, and we do that process for awhile. Then we have a strategy to come, more of a written strategy, something that we have to refer back to, and then we can get into the fun stuff, which is the design and creativity and all of that, which is dictated by the strategy.
I’ll send them logos. I’d say my average is about five. Sometimes I present one if I’m really confident on it and sometimes I’ve presented eight to 10, if it’s a larger project. So for example—
Colleen: Up front? Or maybe you start with a few, and then end up with that many?
Jacob: Well, it depends. So sometimes I’m subcontracted out by agencies and I would be a short list of, say, 10 logos, and then we’ll talk about what’s right and we’ll cut it down to, say, three that they may present to the client or we will revise because that’s what we’re feeling’s right. It depends on the client, and how good the work is.
In the first round, I keep things pretty open and I like exploring a lot of different routes too, because it’s just how I prefer to work. I do sketches and I’m very quick on iterating on the computer and just exploring different typefaces and colors.
If anyone’s seen my process videos, you’ll see that my art boards are just ridiculous in terms of how many options there are. It just gets overboard. I’m not sure how many other people work like that, but that’s just how I do it.
Then I’ll often come down to, say, five to eight concepts, and then dwindle down to three really built out ones. I can put the logo or identity together on, say, a website or marketing material, just to show the brand and context.
Then I present that; talk through it on a Skype call or Zoom or whatever it is, and go through the presentation with a screen share so I can control the whole process and talk about each of the ideas.
Then I’ll send the PDF to them after the call, and then they have everything to review, and then we can have another chat. They get back to me on e-mail. Sometimes they decide on the phone, “I want to go this direction,” sometimes it’s like, “Oh, I want to Frankenstein things,” or whatever it is.
We’ll revise the process until it’s the right look and feel for the brand. And then we’ll keep doing that process until we finalize the brand, and then we’ll move into other collateral once everything’s perfected in terms of type and colors and style and everything. Then we can build out the rest of the touch points.
But most of the time, we’ll start on the logo identity, and maybe one or two things in context. I find websites are pretty … like just the header of the website up here, or area, is a good way to get a feel for the brand, because you’re implementing photography, type, color, call to actions. So there’s a lot of different nuances that you can see—or a print poster, or something like that, but they’re less used these days. They’re not as useful.
After that, I send them all the files and we build out the other touch points as well, and that side of it’s done. I’m always there for support afterwards as well.
Colleen: Your art boards sound like my art boards.
Jacob: Yeah? Good, good. I’ve got a couple on YouTube that I’ve shared, and yeah, they get crazy.
Colleen: So when you’re presenting the logos … I mean, you’re saying you’re presenting them with some mockups. So that leads me to believe that you’re showing things with color. Early in my career, I showed logos in color and then I stopped doing that because it was swaying the client’s eye.
So I started doing just black only. I mean, we all know that logos have to work in one color anyway. But if I showed a logo design in, say, blue and orange and then I had another one that was purple and green, it was like they were being led to the design based on the color, not the design. Showing them in black only was keeping their eye specifically on the design.
What are your thoughts on that? What’s been your experience?
Jacob: I always show black and white and full color at the end of the presentation. So there’ll be two versions of the logo. I’ll have all the logos on one page in color and then another page with them all in black and white.
At the start of the call, I always preface it with that all fonts, colors, and style can be changed and that color is very subjective, so to remove color from the picture. But I always find, selling through designs, that color can really help to bring it to life, especially when you’re using it on mockups.
It just depends on the client as well and where you are with the process and how much strategy you’ve done before. Because if the strategy is very cohesive, you’ll note that color is very important and can relate it back to it.
Jacob: If you’re not really sure on a few solutions, you could show a couple of colors on a separate page, for example, just to give an understanding of how different it is.
I actually use this technique with different typefaces as well because I want to communicate that how type is so important when it comes to identity design, and although not everyone’s trained in that area, people know what type feels like, just like if you see something written in blood, you know it’s not like … Yeah, you just know.
I show different typefaces on one page, especially when it’s a type-driven approach. So with a lot of, say, finance companies or fashion companies, there’s not often a logo mark. It’s just a type-driven approach, and I like showing the nuances between different ones and talking about it to show the expertise behind the thinking and just the different avenues you could take; the reasons why I didn’t go to this one or this direction.
So it’s a bit of education. It’s not right for every client. It can be overwhelming, but you just have to judge it, of where they’re at with everything. So, yeah, just keep that in mind and be a good judge of it.
Colleen: So you said that you work as a subcontractor to some other agencies, so I’m curious how you ended up getting opportunities to work with Nike and Disney and Nintendo and Jerry Seinfeld and then these cities, like San Francisco and in Puerto Rico. I mean, that’s amazing.
Jacob: Yeah, there’s definitely different ways of getting them, but full transparency, a lot of these clients, I was working at an agency full time, not subcontracted. Jerry Seinfeld and Disney and all of that was through an agency, so I was working with a team of a creative director and art directors, developers and all of that. I was doing the UI/UX for websites with them.
Then the other ones, Puerto Rico and San Francisco, I was subcontracted by another agency who did all the R&D for about nine months beforehand. They sent me a very comprehensive brief, and research studies and interviews and everything. So I had a lot to go off, and then I just did more of the identity and logo work. And that was how that job was landed. The agency originally found me through my website and social media profiles.
That’s just really about being out there and having your work out there to show people what you do, and that’s how the agencies find me. So I’m not really reaching out to any agencies. I find a lot of people do do that, but I’m in a different position because I have the exposure from my blog and good search rankings. That particular strategy works for me.
But, yeah, if you do want to get your work in front of agencies, it is a matter of figuring out what agency works for your work, and what agency aligns with your style and where you want to work as well. Just you need to get your work in front of them and establish a relationship to even get an avenue of work from them. If they don’t know you, then you’re not going to get the work.
Colleen: Right. Well how did you end up getting in Forbes and Entrepreneur and Wall Street Journal, and to do a TEDx talk?
Jacob: This is all through my blog, JUST Creative. Like I mentioned at the start of this, this is really about building up my personal brand and being out there and having exposure and learning search engine optimization and getting my name out there.
I’m active on all social media and I have tons of content online as well. Because of that, you get seen from other people, from writers from these magazines and from schools or from conference organizers. Because you have more exposure, you get more opportunities, I guess.
I got contacted to do a TEDx talk when I was 22 or 23, and I was like, “Hell, yeah, I’ve never had that opportunity.” I hadn’t done a talk ever in front of that many people.
Jacob: Obviously I’ve done talks in front of classes of 20 or 30 students, but not to 400-plus people and a live webcam kind of thing. I was like, “Okay. Yes, I’ll step up to the plate,” and I’m so glad I did. I haven’t done many talks after that. Actually, I haven’t done any talks after that. I’m not a big public speaking person, but I maybe should be.
But the thing is when opportunity comes knocking, you just say yes. It worked out and it’s brought me clients now, and obviously it’s a little nice thing to have on your résumé and whatnot. So that’s how I got that particular opportunity.
In terms of the Forbes, and all of that. It’s just being there and having … Well, people want to talk about you, if you share your success and share everything, your story, people want to share that story as well. And it just works for everyone, I guess.
Colleen: Yeah. I’m always telling other designers they’ve got to write and they’ve got to get content out there, so they can get seen, and then the great clients for them will be attracted to what they’re saying.
Jacob: Exactly. You need a voice, and if you’re not speaking, you can’t be heard. With that said, I want to say that you do need to have a particular content strategy in mind. If you want branded work, for example, or logo design work, your content should revolve around that and actually serving the customer and helping them, versus just “Here’s my work.”
Jacob: For example, you may have on your website, “Top 5 Mistakes That Small Business Designers Make in Branding.” Of course, people will want to read that if they’re in small business.
You can capture their e-mail address and then you can send them content and e-mail and really teach them about how they can build their business and obviously have your services in the background.
But you do need to create that relationship from the beginning. Offer free value up front, nurture them with a lot of other resources. So you can have an e-mail drip campaign, for example, and give them a free resource, and then in the background have your sales pitch. It has to be friendly.
There’s this rule about three to one, so three points of value and then one call to action about your services or whatever. If you want to see this in action, you can subscribe to my e-mail list and you’ll get a drip campaign of about six different e-mails all on branding. It talks about the values of branding, the benefits and how you can get started. You can implement that as well.
Then at the bottom of the email, it’s just like, “You can book a free call with me if you need branding.”
That’s just one particular way you could do it. But, yeah, marketing is a whole other subject, and especially content marketing. We could talk all day about it.
Jacob: But just make sure you have a strategy in mind and just don’t go like a blanket approach because you’ll waste a lot of time that way, because there’s a lot of noise. I used to do that, say, five, 10 years ago, where there was not so much noise and it worked, because you could rank easily. But these days, there’re just so many other blogs and big websites and publishing firms, that it’s very difficult.
Colleen: Right. So going back to personal branding for a second, one of my listeners, Sean, he was wondering how you decided to come up with your brand color of magenta.
Jacob: Yeah, so pink or magenta, it’s definitely a unique color for a male in the graphic design world or branding world, so that makes me stand out and it makes my brand memorable. And it also ties into the name JUST Creative.
Pink is a very vibrant, vivid color that is creative and it just worked for the brand. I love that it’s very passionate and bright and vivid. And that’s really why I use it. It just works well with white and black, and I love it as well. It’s a bold color and it’s very confident, especially if you’re a male, if you can pull it off, and it stands out.
Colleen: Yeah. Yeah, it’s great. Well, I see a lot of designers just creating logo designs with colors that they like, but they don’t really have a reason behind them, and they don’t necessarily appeal to their audience either. But what you’re saying about it’s going to get you attention and it’s going to separate you from other designers, those are great reasons to go with a color like that.
Jacob: Exactly. And, yeah, if you’ve read Seth Godin’s book, Purple Cow, it’s all about standing out and being that purple cow. So I say I’m the pink cow.
Colleen: That’s great. So I was wondering if there are any challenges that you’ve faced or had any self-doubt about, and how you overcame them over your career.
Jacob: Well, the TEDx talk I did was actually a big challenge that happened to me. I lost my job in the States and I had two weeks to leave the States, because of my visa issues. My TEDx story talks about how I overcame that and how I got a new job and eventually made my way back to New York.
I had to fly home to Australia. I got kicked out. I was in Canada for awhile because I couldn’t get back in, and my wife had to bring all my belongings and everything, fly home to Australia.
Colleen: Oh, wow.
Jacob: I saw a lawyer, I got a different visa and made my way back just because I love New York and I wanted to be there. That really paid dividends, and I stayed there for five years.
That was a huge challenge, but it just shows that it’s so possible, and I got a new job within a couple of weeks just by utilizing the network that I had established and the use of social media and personal branding, and just showing how beneficial all of that is in terms of overcoming struggles and getting where you want to be and just the possibilities of it.
Self-doubt. I think we all have self-doubt and we’re all afraid of putting ourself out there, and it’s just a matter of doing it and starting that I think that we all just need to do it and get over it because there’s nothing that really bad can happen from it. If you fail, it’s not really failing, it’s just a lesson learned.
That’s really about a mindset thing. It’s just how you think about things and being positive and learning from those experiences and not worrying too much and not doubting yourself and just doing it.
I think I just used Nike’s tagline there. But, yeah, I think just start doing it and do it slowly and learn about it slowly and be a sponge with everything that’s out there, and you can share your journey and you’ll grow by doing that as well. And the more you practice, the better you’ll be and the less self-doubt you’ll have.
Colleen: So true. I mean, I was terrified of starting a podcast. I didn’t want to put myself out there like that. So, look how that’s changed.
Jacob: Yeah, exactly. And there’s no video. So if you’re afraid of video, then podcasts are for you. And then—
Colleen: Yeah, I’m afraid of video.
Jacob: Yeah, definitely. It’s a good stepping stone. So I’m sure that you’ll be more confidence after maybe a season or two, that you’ll get into video and you can start sharing there as well, or you could just start now and stop doing the self-doubt thing.
Colleen: Yeah. I’m getting there.
You’ve given out such great information. Is there any other advice that you have for aspiring freelance designers that are trying to get more respect, they’re trying to charge more? A lot of them want to work for bigger clients and they’re intimidated.
One of my listeners, Chris, he was asking what you would recommend to designers right out of school that are trying to build their business.
Jacob: Yes, there’s a lot that I can say about this, and in terms of designers coming straight out of school, I highly recommend you work for someone else first because you get access to greater minds around you. You’ll learn the business of design and how to do pitches and working with team members and learning from those around you.
So get your foot in the door at an agency or somewhere that you want to work, before you go working for yourself. But you can still work for yourself while you’re at an agency. I did that for a number of years. I moonlighted, I ran my blog, JUST Creative, that was a side hustle, and still took on freelance work.
Colleen: I did too.
Jacob: That would be a tip for starting designers. In terms of other advice, I think a lot of designers focus a lot on—or emerging designers or even established designer—are focusing a lot on social media. To give some insight, I have a lot of followers on social media, but only 1% of my web traffic actually comes from social media. The rest is from search engine optimization, so people typing in things into Google.
I’d recommend if you’re on social media, have a strategy and goal in place and really establish connections with people and make it about other people and providing value, versus just sharing things about you and me, me, me. It’s all about them, them, them.
Jacob: Before you actually go on social media… Don’t even be on social media unless you have a product and business in place that you can use social media to drive to. Think about social media as a little bit of a driving force, but you need a business and a real product or service that you can sell.
Really, there’s no point of being on social media if that bit isn’t there. For example, if you’re driving people through your Instagram, your link in bio, they go to your website, and your work or your marketing and messaging and positioning isn’t correct, they’re not going to hire you or contact you.
Colleen: Yeah. I did a podcast episode about showing up well and consistently online.
Jacob: Yeah, exactly. So keep that in mind and really focus on your product first and your platform versus building up other platforms first, because you’re going to own your own platform, such as your website, and you can control it. You can control your e-mail list, you can control the content, you control the search rankings, you control everything about your own platform.
Focus on your platform the most because that’s what the backbone of your business is going to be. And your brand is your platform.
Because you don’t know in five years time or … Well, even, let’s just say two years ago, you could get organic reach on Facebook so easily and you could reach like 100,000 people plus. These days, even if you have 100,000 people, you’re going to reach 1% to 2%, or 10% if it’s a viral post. The value of a follower is nothing these days on Facebook.
Instagram is pretty good right now, but you don’t know in a few years’ time how that’s going to be, or the reach. There’s going to be more noise and eventually you’re going to have full back on your platform and have your own user base. And when you say “user base,” that could be an email list or it could be your own selection of clients and relationships that you’ve built.
That is where the money’s at. So don’t focus too much on social media, but your own platform.
Colleen: Great. That’s very helpful.
Jacob: So JUST Creative is my website, JUST Creative, and you can go on there. There’s something called Branding Briefcase, which is my lead magnet, which is how I get people’s email addresses. And you can see how I actually market myself and how you can establish something similar.
But if you just want a free bundle of goodies or something, the lead magnet is called Branding Briefcase. So basically, it’s a ton of free resources that you get: logo inspiration books, design resources, the best design gear, mockups, workbooks, tools and everything. It’s all free inside there. So check that out. It’s either at my website or brandingbriefcase.com, if that’s easier.
Yeah, and if there’s anything you need, just reach out to me on my handles. They’re all JUST Creative. We have a private Facebook group as well, which you can join, but you can get all these links on my main website, JUST Creative.
Colleen: Well, this has been great. This is chock full of information.
Jacob: Thank you. Awesome.