If you’re trying to convey an immediate sense of who you are to the people around you, you’re probably not going to be able to do it with words. Most people form snap judgments based on appearances, not on careful study of your self-description. And, as the saying goes, pictures are worth a thousand words.
In the modern world, corporations have figured this out. They have brandmarks – powerful icons or images that can communicate in a flash everything that company wants to stand for.
This works. You recognize the McDonald’s Golden Arches. You respond favorably to the Quaker Oats man. And as a result, these companies now have powerful design elements they can slap onto everything they touch, so you know who they are and what they have done.
Why can’t individuals do the same? Once upon a time (and for certain classes of people) they did. Enter coats of arms:
Coat of arms, n. “the distinctive heraldic bearings or shield of a person, family, corporation, or country.”
Here’s one from Australia, for instance:
This coat of arms represents some of the natural elements of Australia, along with symbols for each state.
There are plenty of historical coats of arms out there, but let’s look at my favorite example from fiction: Jon Snow, from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and HBO’s Game of Thrones. Like the other members of the Stark family, Jon is rocking a direwolf sigil (similar to a coat of arms, but more magic-y).
The wolf reflects Jon’s family and culture, but it also reflects who he is: a fierce, untamed, pack-oriented dude. Anyone who sees that wolf will know. And the image of the wolf does more to condense and clarify Jon’s reputation and image to the outside world
Now imagine how convenient it would be to be Jon Snow in the modern world. Designing a resume or personal pitch deck? You won’t have to worry about a dry or bare presentation with a good brand mark. Want to design a business card? Don’t make it boring. Add your wolf, make it awesome, and gain instant recognition.
Now I doubt this post will inspire a cultural shift toward reviving and retooling coats of arms. But maybe we should think about what we’ll do to make personal branding at least as effective as corporate branding. What concrete images – animals, plants, places, things – would we use to express our sense of our work and ourselves?