Lost + Found In Translation: Two Tips to Jazz Your Brand + Your Business Story

 "Art in the palm of your hand" Vicki and Chickadee Central New York

“Art in the palm of your hand”
Vicki and Chickadee
Central New York

“Vicki Whicker’s work demonstrates that all of us have a profound tool for creating art literally in the palm of our hand.”

~Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell of lifestyle brand Beekman 1802


“Yeah. I was in India for a month. Riding elephants. Chasing tigers. So my gift certificate ran out. Can I still get a pair of shoes?”

The store clerk eyed me up and down. She didn’t have to say that I didn’t look like the usual suspects who wandered into this swanky Montana Avenue shop. Santa Monica, California’s verson of the ritzy Via Condotti in Rome. La Dolce Vita.

We chatted. She showed me sequined sandals. One thing led to another. From elephants to tigers, to William Blake, to shoes, to poetry…and next thing you knew, Vicki Whicker and I were fast friends. She would join my ongoing writing workshop — and come to my birthday party happening that weekend.

Even though she didn’t go to events thrown by strangers.

Vicki says because she said Yes, and embraced the true heart of customer service, she gained a life long friend, and mentor.

Vicki is crazy talented. When she’s not overseeing product design, she’s painting arresting self portraits. Or writing poetry. Or taking up iPhoneography and months later, showing in galleries. She doesn’t just have good taste. She is good taste.

So when my Writers On Fire logo needed to come to life and I hit a wall with my graphic designer — I sought out Vicki.

Even though I met Vicki when she was helping out at a fancy boutique, she herself designed shoes. Oversaw production and design for billion dollar companies like Sketchers and L.A. Gear.

She knew my voice. My story. How I taught. What I stood for. What Writers On Fire was about. Maybe she could help me translate that vision in a language my amazing graphic designer, Jen Fitch at Enth Designs, could understand. Because I was failing.

Once upon a time, I fell in love with a man. A writer — who happened to hail from a political dynasty in Greece. For two years, I traveled back and forth to Greece to be with him. When I was in his birth country, he translated for me. Everything. It was delicious. It was gratifying. It was sexy. And, it kept me in a dynamic of dependence I grew to need.

I never learned much Greek. Who knows what words were lost in translation. What meaning. What sense of self.

Back to Vicki and the logo. Instead of dependence, this was collaboration. Vicki was able to coach me how to share my vision with the graphic designer. Vicki spoke the language of image, of design — while I understood words, and story.

Both require voice. Authentic voice.

Here’s how Vicki sums it up: “Logo is voice illuminated.”

Logo is voice illuminated.

And with her help, the logo sprang to life. It is the centrifugal force of Writers On Fire. The touchstone. The omphalos. The sacred fire.

I owe that to the art and power of translation. Translation allows our stories to spread through other mediums, and beyond borders.

Logo is a distillation of the epic narrative of your business — from its inception, to its shimmering future. It should contain the essence of you — your signature story — and your business journey.

Now a challenge or two for you in the form of tips.

If you are a word person, ask a visual person to give you feedback on your logo. Let him or her TRANSLATE your story, as they see it, via your logo and branding. Does it reflect your personal story? Is there a narrative coherence between all the pieces of your business? Do you know your brand ingredients?

Vicki said I came to her with all the ingredients. I knew the colors of my brand. I knew the origin and meaning of the blazing peacock feather. I knew I wanted an iconic design, springing from complexity. I knew I wanted energy. I had the words I wanted to employ. But something was lost in translation — because I didn’t understand the design process. Vicki spent twenty years working in design. She knew the language. She created shortcuts. She created a bridge.

She fostered change.

Because trans — means crossing. From one spot, to another.

We must shift out of our comfort zones, and mediums — if we are to step into our full power.

Thank you, Vicki.

If you find some gaps in your brand, make a list of these different ingredients. Anchor them in your personal story. Find the roots. The meaning. When you do, people will notice. Your brand will pop.

Now a second exercise and another actionable tip.

Through the centuries, poets have apprenticed themselves to their craft by translating famous poets from other language into their native tongues. The task requires a nimbleness of thought, and craft. This is not pedestrian word-for-word translation. This is a capturing of the essence of poetry, and recasting it into a new language.

What about you? Have you apprenticed yourself to someone whose brand and story you admire? Try it. Choose someone. Take their compelling signature story — and translate it. Make it your own. I don’t mean copy. I mean, see how your story springboards from theirs. How it overlaps. How it leaps away. Let their story be a guide. A possible shape. A tone.

Then discard that homage. Begin again. And craft your own signature story — freshly minted from trying on another’s. You are now translating your own half-baked signature story — a Frankensteined one — into your own. With perhaps more understanding than you had before.

Finally, bring the same focus and energy to your logo and give it a refresh with your newly unleashed voice — the design, the branding. As Vicki says, what does your logo say to you? How does it speak? How do the colors speak? The images? The words? Do they tell the tale of your signature story?

Recommendation: Pick up the book Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries by Peter Sims (recommended to me by Srinivas Rao of the Unmistakable Creative podcast) and learn about how these small steps can grow big change. The whole book is infused with design thinking — our futurespeak — when everything will blend seamlessly into one grand story. A carousel of memoir.

Bonus: Learn another language! Or if you know one, play with it! For years, I was frustrated I couldn’t learn a language in school. So a couple years after graduating, I decided to move to Italy. You better believe I learned how to speak when I was on the street, hungry, and wanted directions, help. To connect. What I didn’t expect was that mundane exchanges — “Where’s a good restaurant?” “How are you?” became theatrical affairs, feats of daring. Speaking another language — translating my own birth language — allowed me to revive my love for and sense of my own language — as well as translate myself into an Italian Rachel. Raquel.

Because remember — our job as entrepreneurs, as writers — as creatives — is to keep things fresh. Reinvent. Revivify. So stretch. Have adventures. Play in other languages, mediums, worlds. Invite change in.

Let us know if these exercises, recommendations and tips open up a new language for you. New insights. More dimension to your brand, and texture to your personal story.

We’d love to hear your comments, response, and questions. Join the conversation! We’re here to support you.

Yrs in truth,

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  1. Lost + Found In Translation: Two Tips to Jazz Your Brand + Your Business Story | Writers On Fire | Dunga Brook Diary - March 12, 2014

    […] Lost + Found In Translation: Two Tips to Jazz Your Brand + Your Business Story | Writers On Fire. […]

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