On Being a Brand Architect

Julia Verden-Hillebrand, Founder of DesignHaus Creative Services Helps Businesses Build Their Brand

by Susan Corbett

Building a brand involves more than creating an eye-catching logo or producing a memorable slogan. That’s where Julia Verden-Hillebrand comes in.

“A surprising number of people don’t really know what it means to develop a brand, they think it’s simply creating a logo or a flier,” said the Hampton-based designer. “But brand development is more than that. It’s a process. It encompasses many elements. Your brand must have clear messaging, it must establish your unique identity and tell a story that connects with existing and potential customers. Ultimately, I help clients find their brand voice.”

To help clients achieve success, her first step is to actively listen: “I need to discover who the person is and what their business goals are,” Verden-Hillebrand explains.

It helps that she’s a designer for all seasons with expertise in web design, video production, animation, print design, marketing, social media strategy and more. She’s even moonlighted as a ballroom dance instructor.

In 2017, after decades working for a variety of corporate and government clients, she decided to hang out her shingle, establishing DesignHaus Creative Services in the converted sunroom of her home in Hampton’s historic Old Wythe neighborhood.

It’s a long way from her birthplace in the Rhineland region, northwest of Frankfurt, Germany, where her creativity bloomed early. “We would go on an outing, like to the zoo, and the moment I came home, I would go to my father’s desk and start sketching whatever we had seen that day.”

She attended college at Hochschule Mainz (the University of Applied Science), earning an M.A. in Visual Communication. While there, she studied the Bauhaus, an influential German arts school and movement that emphasized function over ornamentation. After graduation, she traveled extensively in the U.S., ultimately landing in Hampton Roads.

Coming to the U.S., however, meant “starting from zero,” she says. Yet the wide range of positions she accepted meant that each taught her something new, including which types of assignments she enjoyed the most.

“One of the reasons I started my own business is that I like variety,” she says. “Working with clients from differing spheres of activity provides that diversity. I also love the research portion of the brand development process.”

DesignHaus has obtained both SWaM (Small, Women, or Minority-Owned Business) and WOSB (Women-Owned Small Business) certifications. Both designations are important for a company doing government contract work. Verden-Hillebrand has compiled a diverse portfolio, having worked with clients like the U.S. Army, a specialty jewelry designer, an Old Dominion University research center, and WHRO Public Media.

Most new clients find her via word of mouth. She attends networking opportunities sponsored by business groups and has paid it forward by offering workshops and webinars about brand development to fledgling businesses via The IncuHub, a co-working space in downtown Portsmouth.

She likes working at home, although she acknowledges it’s hard to leave the office when the office is home and the work is creative. “Creative work is hard to put away,” she says. “I do have office hours, but then I’ll take a walk or see something interesting, and I’ll get another idea.”

Still on her wish list: a project that involves fine art. “I’d love to do a project in concert with a museum. I love museums.”

Because she feels it’s important to keep learning, she has been experimenting with AI. “I have mixed feelings about it,” she admits. I see issues with copyright.”

While those issues work themselves out, Verden-Hillebrand acknowledges it’s a mistake to ignore it. “It’s there, and it’s not going away. We have to deal with it,” she stresses. “At one point, photography was new and people were scared it would take over painting, but instead we now have those two art forms coexisting and sometimes interacting. It’s possible that it will be the same with AI. It’s already starting to happen.”

Recently she began offering a subscription plan for either branding or graphic design services. It’s a way of working with a client or company over the long haul. “As a company grows and evolves, DesignHaus will be with them every step of the way,” she emphasizes. “I’ll guide my clients through the entire branding process and then be there for them throughout their business journey. They know they can depend on me to be responsive, even after the project is finished.”

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