Q&A With Akula Kreative

As you know from previous blog posts, Nikki Mihalik of Akula Kreative created all of the new branding for Tripp Films. Akula Kreative has been in business for 10 years and creates branding for small businesses that “tells your story, resonates with your target market, and helps drive sales.“ Nikki has perfected her signature process to lead businesses through creating a brand identity. Let me tell you, she was a dream to work with and I am utterly in love with everything she’s done for my brand. This week, I’m super excited to share an interview with Nikki to learn more about her and her work!

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Photograph by Kimberly Chau Photography

1. What is your favorite part of designing a brand?

Oohhh, so many things! I love everything about branding, but my favorite part of the process is when I revisit initial logo concepts. I begin with rough sketches... writing out the business name, playing with initials, seeing how the letters themselves can interact with each other... then I doodle objects and shapes that are associated with the brand. I then start to put things together to come up with 4-6 solid concepts which I then digitize and clean up in Illustrator. Then, I take a break. (Fresh eyes are a crucial part of the process!) It's usually when I come back to the designs that I have that ah-ha moment... a moment when I'm reassured that this IS what I'm meant to do.

2. Tell us about your creative/design process.

Hmm... it's a long process, for sure! I will say that the most important part of the process is getting to know my clients. When I tell you I want to know everything, I mean it. I want to know why you do what you do, how and when you started, what you love about your job, and even what you love outside of your job. Sure, I need to understand what you offer and what your style is, but, more importantly, I need to know what makes you, YOU, and what differentiates you from everyone else. Sometimes people don't even know until I ask them! It's digging into these personal details that allows me to find inspiration for authentic and unique brands.

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Akula Kreative’s beautiful packaging for the final design files. In LOVE with that Texas stamp!

3. What is inspiring you lately?

Textures and paper... anything tactile and non-digital! I LOVE paper and I'm obsessed with designing fine print products. Websites are crucial to your business, yes. But handing a potential client a gorgeous business card or handwritten thank you note is SO special these days. There are many talented creatives out there, so how will you make people remember you? There's something about the experience of feeling nice paper and reading an actual note (not an email), that makes us smile. I hired my first assistant because she sent me a thank you note in the mail that she letterpress printed herself. It wasn't the design that sold me; it was the fact that she took the time to make something for me...and mail it! I honestly can't remember what was in her portfolio, but I DO remember that note. Best part is, we're still friends 8 years later.

4. What are your favorite resources for small businesses?

That's a tough question! I guess it depends on the industry. My boring answer is: good accounting software and someone to help you set it up. Haha. In all seriousness, if you're just starting out, I highly recommend The Blueprint Model. It's a 3-month online course by Shanna Skidmore that walks you through the nuts and bolts of running a creative business. (It forces you to ask tough questions like, "How, exactly, do you plan on making a profit?" Every creative's least favorite question.) I wish I had done something like this to get my game plan in order before forming my business.

Other than that, my favorite resources are all people. Copywriters, printers, calligraphers, photographers... all the people who help my business be the best it can be.

 
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5. What is a common challenge that you see many business owners face when designing their brand? And what is your advice for them?

Best question ever! One of the biggest mistakes I see business owners make is RUSHING into their branding. It's easy to get excited about it, but it is not something you want to rush. If you're just starting out, my advice is to keep it simple. Don't overthink your logo and don't spend all of your money on branded collateral that you may or may not use. Focus instead on the product or service you're selling and make it the best it can be. As you build your portfolio and client list, start to think about your needs. Wait until you truly understand your business and have the funds to invest in great branding that will work hard for you for a long time. Plan ahead, build slowly, and save up to do it right. I'm a huge proponent of "less is more" and I think that over-designing your look will leave you itching to rebrand sooner rather than later. Simple, THOUGHTFUL design will not only last longer, but it will be flexible as your business evolves.

6. What is the best part of owning your own business?

The freedom to say no. :)

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Photograph by Kimberly Chau Photography

7. Owning a creative business can be challenging, is there anything non-creative that you do to help you relax and unwind?

Haha, this is funny because my idea of relaxing is doing something creative. My office is overflowing with paints, brushes, pens, scissors, fabric, thread, yarn, and every craft supply imaginable. Doing creative things outside of my graphic design actually allows me to think outside the box.

8. What are your favorite types of brands to work with and why?

I truly don't have a favorite because I like the variety that comes with my job. If I worked with the same brands all the time, I'd get bored. HOWEVER... all of the brands I work with have this in common: they're passionate about their professions and they appreciate simple, clean, creative design!

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Nikki hand-drew my badge logo and hand-dipped all of my business cards - talk about intentionality behind the design!

9. What is a dream project of yours?

I wish I could design a window display for Anthropologie. I have no idea what it would be, but I would loooooooooooove that.

My other dream project would be designing the ranch sign for Big & Little... because if I'm designing it, it means it's happening. (I want to build a small rescue ranch for animals called The Big & Little. It's already branded, of course - I just have to find a way to fund it, lol.)

10. Where do you see yourself and Akula Kreative in 10 years?

After having a baby last year, each and every week since has been a learning experience. Juggling parenting and running your own business is no joke. (As I type this, I'm glancing at a baby monitor while my kid naps.) My hope is that, in 10 years, I've learned how to better balance the two. (In fact, this is a huge part of Shanna's course!) It's all about defining success in your own terms. For me, that will probably mean taking fewer, bigger projects in the future.

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Photograph by Kimberly Chau Photography

LIGHTNING ROUND

1. Fave Food? Any kind of noodles!

2. Fave TV Show? Ah! I can't think of anything. But Downton Abbey came to mind as a classic. I could watch it over and over.

3. Dream Vacation Spot? Hawaii is my favorite place to vacation.

4. What's on your Spotify Playlist right now? I don't have a Spotify account! Is that blasphemy? I tend to play shows on Netflix that don't require a lot of focus in the background while I'm working. We play Israel Kamakawiwoʻole at our house ALL the time to feel like we're on vacation.

5. What did you want to be when you grew up? A vet...until I learned I'd have to put animals down.

6. Who would play you in a movie about your life? Sandra Oh (in the tone of Cristina Yang from Grey's)

You can follow along on and see more of Nikki’ work on Akula Kreative’s Instagram and if you’re interested in branding, reach out here!