Ellen Bruss: Communication Without Clutter

Creative Director & Head Wrangler at Ellen Bruss Design

by Elizabeth Lavis


18 Dec 2023

Gold Winner in Branding for Alcoholic Beverages - Other 2022
"The more thorough our process, the better accidents we get and the closer we can get to the soul of the project"

As the Owner, Creative Director, and Head Wrangler at Ellen Bruss Design, Ellen Bruss strives to hit the sweet spot of user experience and visual engagement in her designs. "Over the years, I've seen what works and what communicates," she says. "The idea of communication without clutter has shaped my design philosophy more than anything because keeping it simple is the hardest task. Clients always want to add for fear of leaving things out, but they aren't letting the consumer think."

Bruss, from a small town north of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the United States, has understood and appreciated design and crafts her entire life. "I was always endlessly curious about fashion, fabrics, and all sorts of craftwork," she said. "I sewed, did macrame, painted, and made jewelry and pottery. I loved art museums. I was 100 percent creative."

Through transforming her childhood passion for art and creativity into a successful career in design, Bruss has some tips for aspiring designers. "Listen, learn, stay humble, and always grow," she says. Bruss also encourages up-and-comers to embrace daunting tasks. "If it ain't scary, it ain't good," she says. "The biggest challenges are always a bit intimidating." 

Bruss' project onboarding process involves asking many questions and getting to the real crux of what the client is trying to accomplish. "The more thorough our process, the better accidents we get, and the closer we can get to the soul of the project," she says. "We also have clients fill out 'homework.' This document helps them dig deeper than they initially might to understand the 'why' behind what they're doing. We also have multiple people fill it out independently, which helps us see how aligned their team is." 

"Branch and Barrel", Ellen Bruss Design

Bruss uses the client's 'homework' to properly position the project, begin competitive research, and start the branding campaign. "Our creative approach uses all of the research and knowledge we obtain to hit the right target," she says.

Ensuring you're starting on the right foot is imperative for a successful end product. Bruss and her team establish rapport and trust fairly quickly by listening throughout the process and fully understanding the client's pain points and opportunities. The client is also heavily involved in the final execution phase, a collaborative effort and the culmination of the discovery and design phases.  

Although Bruss and her team are meticulous and professional in their approach, they occasionally have to deal with harsh client criticism. Bruss finds that this type of criticism can be less of a referendum on the work and more of a manifestation of a client's bad mood. "Sometimes clients are having a bad day," she says. "It's best to reach out when something goes wrong so you can see if it really was you or just bad timing. Most of the time, it's the latter."

For Bruss, a design is successful if it's smart, new, thoughtful, and inventive. She relies on digital tools of the trade to help bring her creations to life and stays apprised of the latest design trends by watching and reading everything she can. When she needs a creative boost, she heads outdoors. "I get inspiration in nature," Bruss says. "It's the most complicated system with the most simple delivery."

Bruss will continue to impress and inspire with her streamlined and lovely designs by striving to get to the next level personally and professionally. "I'll keep being honest with myself and working towards betterment at all times."

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