Questions and Answers

Who is Phonographik, and why the name?

My name is Michael Kerwin and I am an independent Brand Strategist and Identity Designer and the owner of Phonographik. I help new and emerging businesses discover, align, and design their true identity, ideal customers, and position in the marketplace by seamlessly connecting creative business strategy and design. I first seek to understand who are you, what do you do, and why you matter, in order to create objective and sustainable results.

For just over 20 years, I’ve been collaborating with a wide range of businesses across the United States, solving problems through advertising, marketing, identity, digital and print design. My experience and abilities are competitive with most agencies, only lower in cost.

I am highly motivated by creativity, order, and helping people do good things—brand strategy and identity design perfectly align all of them. I also have a deep appreciation for music, vintage record players, and the sound quality of record albums over digital; hence the business name, Phonographik; phono=audio and graphik=visual. My family and business are firmly-rooted on the east side of beautiful Madison, Wisconsin.

Can you design a logo, website, packaging, etc., for my business? And what does it cost?

I can likely create or facilitate any creative need, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I should. The solutions I create always begin with a solid strategy and a deep understanding of your business, customers, market, and goals; never from gut feelings, personal tastes, or culture trends.

I can help if you are:
Launching a new business
Repositioning a tired or revalued brand
Introducing a new product or service
Seeking results as much as style
Seeking to know Why, as much as What
Seeking a consultant, not a vendor

Every business has their own unique needs and challenges, so I’m unable to offer specific pricing until we determine exactly what you need. But if you know your budget and it fits into the price ranges below, let’s talk.

Creative Business Strategy: $2.5k — $5k
Brand Identity: $5k — $20k
Product Packaging: $3k — $10k
WordPress Websites: $5k — $25k
Integrated Campaigns: Need more info
Print Collateral: Need more info

If you already have your solution and just need it executed, that’s great, but then I’m not the right fit for you. I’m a consultant who typically enters a project at the very beginning of a business (or during a rebrand) to create the brand foundation and provide direction, as well as design.

What is Creative Business Strategy?

Creative business strategy (also known as brand strategy) is a highly organized plan for how we’ll solve your current challenge, as well as a roadmap for making future creative business decisions. It objectively aligns your culture, values, customers, and message to create clarity, cohesiveness, memorability, and ultimately, trust. Design created without strategy is really just educated guessing that may look pretty,  but does nothing to solve your long-term goals.

The strategy process includes a series of discovery sessions that allow us to arrive at an objective and unified solution, together. The first four are core, but the framework is equally-suited for naming, messaging, websites, etc.

Business Discovery: Who are you? What do you do? Why do you matter?
Customer Discovery: Who are they? What do they need? Why do they need it?
Competitor Discovery: Who are they? What’s their value proposition?
Positioning: Your ideal position in the marketplace based on your expertise, relevance, and competition
Naming: Business, products
Messaging: Taglines, headlines, body copy
Integrated Campaigns: Print and digital platforms, events

What’s included in a brand identity package?

While there can be many pieces to a visual identity, the first five are crucial for consistency:

Logo: Digital, vector format, resizable; Learn more
Logomark: Or mark, for short, is a simplified version of the logo and used as icon, avatar, etc.
Color Palette: Primary, secondary, tertiary; Pantone, CMYK, RGB color values
Fonts: A small, appropriate set of typefaces used consistently for headlines, body copy, etc.
Style Guide: A comprehensive guide on how to use and not use visual identity elements
Collateral: Business card, letterhead, brochures, annual reports, etc.
Environmental: Exterior, interior, events, signage
Product Packaging: Food, beverage, toy, etc.
Websites: Learn more

What website capabilities do you offer?

A lot goes into a successful website. Not just the development of code and design of the layout, but also understanding your target audience so that your message, user interface, and overall experience is customized for them. Because if it doesn’t work for your most important customers, it won’t matter what the rest think.

Website projects include:
Content Types: Purely informational, blogs, eCommerce storefronts, 3rd party marketing tools
Framework: All sites are built with WordPress–a highly trusted and tested, open source content management software
Responsive: Fluid content reformatting and sizing for mobile and desktop devices
User Experience Research: Understanding the needs and wants of the primary and secondary users of the site
Sitemaps and content: Understanding the content to establish the page structure and content hierarchy
Concepts: Establishing the structural, functional, and visual layout
Hosting Setup: Guidance/setup of client-run web host/server
Testing: Compatibility testing for all currently popular web browsers and computer platforms
Warranty: 90 day guarantee on functionality and design
Training: Overview of best practices, content and software updates, etc.

What’s the difference between Phonographik, an agency, and a Graphic Designer?

Graphic Designer

Whether freelance or inhouse, a graphic designer’s primary objective is What and How–What will I create? What will it look like? How will it be produced? They translate written creative direction into organized layouts that meet digital and/or print requirements. But they are not typically involved in strategy or marketing decisions. Although they can offer conceptual ideas and art direction.


Creative agencies come is a variety of shapes and sizes and offer a multitude of services under one roof (advertising, marketing, branding, etc.). But the cost of working with them is high due to their need for specialized talent and pricy office space.


Phonographik is the sweet spot between a Graphic Designer and an Agency. It is an independent creative studio run by myself, Michael Kerwin. My experience and abilities are competitive with most agencies, but are typically lower in cost.

I just need a logo, not a whole identity package. Can you do that?

Sorry, no. A logo created without consideration of other core visual elements (color, typefaces, signage, overall style) and a deep understanding of the business culture, customers, and market, is at best, an educated guess. At worst, it is generic and unsustainable; a paper tiger.

Also, many times when a business owner decides they need a logo, they’re really envisioning a broader brand identity system that includes not just a logo, but companion marks, color palette, fonts, etc. But their thinking goes that if they can just get the logo now, to start promoting the business, then they can come back later to figure out the rest. But that rarely works and ultimately, costs more time and money.

So while it may require more investment up front, a logo created as part of a cohesive brand identity package will help you grow your brand more effectively and efficiently because it will be based on real facts and genuine stories, not gut feelings or culture trends, which can change much too quickly.

I’ve already sketched out my logo but don’t have the software to convert it to a digital format. Can you do that for me?

Sorry, no. If you feel you’ve already solved your challenge and simply need someone to execute your concept, a freelance designer or desktop publisher may be a better fit in that situation.

I can get a logo designed online for $50. So why should I work with you?

First, if cost is your #1 concern, you should definitely seek someone other than Phonographik. But keep in mind, you get what you pay for; a $50 logo is worth about fifty bucks. If you’re instead focused on long-term goals and growing your brand sustainability, you might want to work with me. My pricing reflects the value of my experience and the results I provide.

Second, when logos are created in isolation without considering other visual elements or having a deep understanding of the businesses culture, customers, market, or goals, the logo lacks substance, context, and authenticity.

Third, price reveals a designer’s experience and understanding of their craft, as well as fair market values. So just because they say they can design a logo, doesn’t mean they should. Because if they don’t understand how your logo will fit into the larger context of your business, or appreciate the value of their work, why should you?

Can you create various marketing materials for us, using our current brand identity?

Sorry, I don’t work on isolated or currently-branded projects. I take a more holistic approach by working with new and emerging businesses who are seeking a new or repositioned brand identity.

I thought my logo, identity, and brand were all the same thing. What’s the difference?

Logos & Marks

The word, logo is Greek for “word”. In the design world, a logo is formally known as “logotype” because it uses letterforms as it’s foundation, and may or may not include other graphic shapes. Logos are considered the cornerstone of a visual identity because they typically accompany all brand touchpoints (websites, business cards, billboards, etc.). They can and should stand on their own but are not the entire identity or even the brand.

A logo is all about identification, not communication so it does not need to visually depict every aspect of the business in order to be effective. But it does need to be based on real facts about your business, be distinctly different from the competition, and set the tone and consistency for the rest of the visual elements.

A logomark (mark, for short) is a simplified version of the logo that can be used as icon or avatar in social media and in spaces too small for the normal logo to be understood easily.

Fundamentals of successful logos:

Aesthetics isn’t included here because beauty is subjective, thus biased and not an accurate indicator of quality.

Brand Identity

Also referred to as Visual Identity and Corporate Identity, is a collection of cohesive visual elements that identify and differentiate a business in the marketplace.


Brand master, Marty Neumeier explains “brand” best: “A brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.” and “A brand is person’s gut feeling about a product or service.” So a brand is only a perception, thus emotional, thus intangible. Another way to think of brand is as an invisible layer of meaning that surrounds a product or service based on individual or group perceptions.

Have a question not answered here?

Please contact me and I’ll return an answer, promptly.