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February 15, 2019 —

How to curate a visual style

Whether you are just launching a new business or developing an existing one, your visual identity is a hugely important element of getting your brand noticed. Interior stylist Nancy Straughan shares her experience and advice on how to find your own visual style.
Nancy Straughan
Lifestyle & product photographer,
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Designing a cohesive visual theme for your brand and business can often feel like a daunting task if it’s not something that comes naturally. First of all, figuring out your personal style can be a minefield in itself, and then actually establishing that look across various platforms can feel like a mammoth undertaking. We all want to have a recognisable style, and know that it is essential to building a brand and growing a business, but what are the steps to actually creating one that you love and that others will love too?

Whether you’re a maker, designer, service provider or influencer, having a recognisable style is so important for gaining a following and customer base. When I decided that I wanted to rebrand my homeware business to become an interior and prop stylist, I knew that I needed to focus on finding my style. What I discovered is that you can’t develop your visual identity through research alone, you have to get out there and practice.

Curating a visual style for instagram

First Steps

When I began designing my new logo, blog and website I jotted down words that spoke to me. For example, terms such as ‘hearth’, ‘forest’, ‘home’, ‘nurture’ – these may sound totally random but they were the key to finding my visual style. All my words had a warm and homely feeling to them and all tied together with elements of nature. When I look around my home that’s exactly what I see. A cosy space filled with treasures, dried flowers and a calming colour palette of muted peach, olive and navy blue.

Mood board for curating your style

Once I’d established these describing words for my style it became so much easier for me to think about the sort of visual style I wanted my brand to have. Your style should be a reflection of your life simply because it will represent you so much better. I want someone to look at my work – be that something I’ve designed or a photo I’ve taken – and think “yes, that is so Nancy”.

So, think about what it is you really love? What style makes you feel happy or inspired? Start flipping through design books and magazines, write down the emotions you want people to feel when looking at your work, as well as those random words that you feel drawn to. Make a vision board of images that speak to you (either on Pinterest or on a large piece of card)  and before long you’ll start to see patterns emerge.

Nancy Straughan Living Room - curating your visual style

Share your lifestyle

When it comes to Instagram, even if you are trying to promote products, people love to have an insight into your life. So I believe it is worthwhile to show people the beautiful things that surround you. That might be your home, your fashion, your work studio or places you visit around the world. Before long you’ll have a strong portfolio of images that represent you as well as your brand. Remember, it is all about editing and curation, so if you are a glamorous fashion blogger, showing photos of you hungover on the sofa with a pizza box is probably not how you want to represent you and your work! Likewise, for me, photos of designer high heels wouldn’t fit with my feed as my focus is my home and interior styling work – but what doesn’t work for one, can certainly work for another.

how to curate your instagram

Filters and captions

To keep a level of coherency, make sure you stick with one photo editing process or filter so that your images complement each other. I edit my photos to have a warm peachy vibe, but you may want to go for high contrast or desaturated images, depending on your preferred look. While we are mainly talking about visual style here, do bear in mind the words that you accompany your images with. I happen to share quite a lot on Instagram about my life, but it really is up to you to establish your tone of voice. Generally I would suggest giving some meaning to your image, while drawing people in with a question or conversation starter. Try out a few things and see what feels right for you.

Taking inspiration

I spoke to three inspirational ladies from different creative fields to find out how their discovered their visual style and why it’s so important.

Curating a visual identity for Instagram
creating a visual identity for your brand
creating a visual style

Lucy Nicholls AKA @shinythoughts

Nancy: When I look at your blog and Instagram page the main thing that jumps out at me is all the colour and fun! How do you ensure that your style shines through when there are so many other Instagram accounts based around colour as a theme?

Lucy: Even though there are lots of colour-themed accounts out there, I tend to follow fashion influencers and sadly it’s rare that they will incorporate as much colour as I’d like! Maybe it’s the need to put out in the world what I feel is lacking in my life, that helps inspire me. I think there’s something to be said by not looking directly at images that you want to emulate, or else other negative factors such as comparison and copying tend come into play. Communicating optimism is very important to me so I won’t just consider the background and outfit I’m wearing but also my pose and facial expression to ensure that I’m lifting someone’s mood rather than making them feel bad about themselves. My ultimate aim is to make my followers smile with each post!

how to curate a visual identity for Instagram
curating a visual style for online presence
creating an Instagram identity

Vaani AKA @sugarplumbakeskingston

Nancy: As a cake designer you have to work very closely with your clients, how do you strike the balance between creating something that represents your style whilst also making sure your couples are happy with the design?

Vaani: Eating cake is about the senses to me: it’s about the flavour, the smell and it’s got to look like a feast for the eyes. With these senses in mind, my designs are led by my instinct to create buttercream cakes that are sensual, that capture beauty and romance. Over time I feel I’ve developed a strong portfolio and signature style, so that when clients commission me, I think they have a good idea of the kind of cakes that I make. Collaborating with my clients is really important to me though. I really value their input as this is what helps to create a cake that’s unique to them. As I’ve taken most of the photos for my portfolio and my Instagram gallery, I think there is a consistency in the visuals. I love to create imagery that is sensual, atmospheric and sometimes a little moody which I think is what helps to unify my style, convey the essence of my designs and make it distinctive.

how to make your instagram coherant
creating a visual identity online

Teri AKA @thelovelydrawer

Nancy: As well as managing a beautiful Instagram account and blog you also design and sell prints as well as teach brush lettering courses, how do you make sure that all these elements work together visually?

Teri: As there are many different aspects to my business I’ve spent a lot of time considering how to make sure all of them are visually in keeping. I’ve always focused on creating a consistent style that runs through my blog and Instagram account, which comes down to the way I shoot photos, always using natural light and the colours I use as well as majoring on negative space as a theme. Obviously my lifestyle and interiors blog work overflows from that approach and images for my brush lettering workshops can be easily adapted to suit the mood and colour palette. I actually had a complete overhaul of my branding and shop products last year to bring them more in line with the look I champion on Instagram . Now I feel much keener to share this avenue of the business in amongst the rest. I think it’s all about being deliberate, deciding your aesthetic and sticking to it even if its tweaked and evolves a little along the way.

If you’d like to learn more about curating your visual identity, as well as using social media for business, email marketing and photography, check out 91 Magazine’s upcoming workshops. Our next one is on the 16th March in Surrey.

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