The term “brand design” and “branding” became a nebulous concept and created a lot of chitchat from marketers, designers, and business gurus in the past years.
Most of the confusion comes from meaningless buzzwords used by branding “experts”, who argue that a brand is far more than just a logo, trademark, or the product/service itself.
There are far too many elements in marketing and business altogether that can and will influence product sales.
A strong brand (unique, authentic, trustworthy) is a by-product. First, you´ll want to get these three things right:
- Sell high-quality products.
- Have excellent customer service.
- Advertise how unique and better your product is compared to your competitors.
Business gurus, marketers, and modern brand managers all want the same thing—to create a well-known and desirable brand.
With this out of the way, we can now move on to the next step – understanding what makes a successful brand.
Does a brand have a soul?
If yes, brand essence may be it.
What do you want your customers to feel when they buy your product? What’s the ambition behind this brand? Is it unique?
A brand is a promise, and everything around that brand, from strategy to brand design, promotes and upholds that promise—this is your brand essence.
As a designer, it is our job to create brands that are ultimately perceived in the minds of consumers as brands who can deliver that promise.
- Nike is athletic performance.
- Apple is simple elegance.
- Visa is everywhere.
- Volvo is safe.
- Harley Davidson is freedom.
- Walt Disney is magical.
- Coca-Cola is happiness.
Why Does Brand Design Matter?
The role of brand design is to simplify unnecessary complexity. It’s to create desire, so a choice can be made easy and effortless.
The aim is to be authentic and connect with consumers. Every aspect of the business must be aligned with the brand design—from the website to the office decoration.
More Than Just a Pretty Logo
A logo is a code. But a well-run brand has more than just its logo. It has many codes made up of many things; colours, images, graphics, sounds, typography, interactions, etc.
Codes are powerful, engaging and invisible. Yes, you can see the brand’s logo, but the code — the strategy and its association with the product — is laid out in the background.
A few examples:
- Coke’s red; you don’t look for Coca Cola’s logo in a supermarket. You’re searching for the colour red.
- Burberry check; one of the most recognizable patterns in the world.
- Nike’s athletes: authentic performance through association with the best athletes in the world. Think Jordan.
Brands spend years, decades and sometimes a lifetime building and reinforcing the same code, over and over again. Brands that become successful overnight will rarely achieve long term distinctiveness in the market.
“If I paint a wild horse, you might not see the horse … but surely you will see the wildness!” –Pablo Picasso
One way to create powerful codes is with brand design.
You can connect and engage customers with beautiful images, bold typography and passionate colours. But also, by sharing a brand story and a compelling journey.
Stories make people care about your brand and create memorable moments. It’s important to define something your customer desires, so they can get what they are looking for.
What we think we are saying to our customers and what our customers actually hear are two different things. Sometimes it is easier to just talk about facts and add a price to it. However, a brand that cares about the story is not only interested in facts, prices, and figures.
Crafting a brand story takes more than that.
It’s about the words you choose, the pictures you use, the colours you portray, and the style you have. It’s the type of experience users have on your website or how the product is packaged.
A few examples of a brand’s story:
GoPro: helps people capture and share their lives with others—to celebrate them together.
Patagonia: builds the best product, causes no unnecessary harm, uses business to inspire, and implements solutions to the environmental crisis.
A strong character and unique personality will make your brand interesting for people. So create one!
Brand design allows you to create and deliver a unique, distinguishable, and desirable brand that connects the business with its consumers.
To craft a set of distinguishing features and promote a product or service that stands out and is easily recognisable on the market, you’ll need to create the brand’s visual elements and styles. This is called visual identity:
Visual identity usually consists of:
- Brand logo
- Brand colours
- Imagery (photography)
- Graphics (illustration, iconography, animation)
- Brand assets (templates, presentations, stationery, store layout, uniforms etc.)
Let’s explore each topic.
1. Brand Logo
Brand design starts with a good logo, and to successfully design one right from the start, you’ll need to ask yourself a couple of questions first:
- What do you want to communicate with the logo?
- How will it stand the test of time?
- Is it memorable enough?
Almost forgot. It should always look good.
What Constitutes a Logo?
Usually, logos consist of three elements:
- 1. Typography It represents more than just the name and the words of the brand. A suitable typeface has magical power—it associates the brand with a specific tone and atmosphere; classy, playful, aggressive etc. That means using the wrong font in the wrong place can lead to silly results.
- 2. Colour You should take advantage that we are all humans and have primal feelings like happiness and curiosity. Using colour at an emotional level will tap into those feelings. Colour theory and psychology play a crucial role in making choices.
- 3. Graphics An icon, a simple illustration or even just shapes and lines can sometimes be the dominating force on a logo. Think of world-famous brands like Apple and Nike; no need for colours, or typefaces next to it—ever. Graphics have the power to stick inside the viewer’s brain long after they’ve seen the brand.
Good. Now you know what a logo is made of and you should work on it until it looks good. Consider the following criteria:
Well done. Time to think about brand colours.
2. Brand Colour
Colour systems and colour theories from antiquity to modern times can quickly become a complex subject in art, science, and indeed, brand design.
So let’s keep things simple and discuss a few essential areas that are relevant for branding.
Why do banks use the colour blue, or why do fast-food chains like red?
It’s not by accident. Colours and emotions are closely linked.
Warm colours can evoke different emotions than cool colours, and bright colours can create more mixed feelings than muted colours. It all depends on how the psychological effects of colour are being used.
Repetition of the Same Colour Can Strengthen Brand Awareness
Once your brand’s essence, story, and personality are defined, you can look at brand design through the “colour lens” and determine which one would work best for your brand. It starts by learning the emotional associations of each colour.
When was the last time you saw a can of Coke that wasn’t red or a Pepsi that wasn’t blue?
Given enough exposure, colours become a code and an essential part of a brand design. You want to keep this association consistent along the way to build awareness for your brand.
Here’s a summary of brand colour meanings and what it means for brands (and people).
Obviously, there’s no one right way to pick your branding colour scheme. Stick to what is known to work well and always use your gut feeling.
- Get to know the colour trick used by famous companies
- Investigate popular brand colours by industry from Digital Synopsis
- Learn about the history of colour systems
Typography can look daunting because of the many classifications and kinds of typefaces which all give a vastly different mood or effect to your brand, website, logo, business card, etc.
It has the potential to enhance your brand and impact your customer experience. Every text or content related to your brand will include the typography you choose, making up a large part of your brand design and identity.
In his classic “The Elements of Typographic Style”, Robert Bringhurst defines typography as:
“The craft of endowing human language with a durable visual form.” –Robert Bringhurst
Like colours, typography has meaning, and this is kind of a big deal because everything we do is based on meaning. A handwritten letter will mean something very different to you than a letter sent with a digital typeface printed on it.
Typography needs to have these three characteristics: it has to be legible, readable, and it must set the right tone.
- Legibility It’s part of the actual typeface design and how well one character is distinguished from another in a particular font.
- Readability It’s a measure of how well words, phrases and blocks are arranged on a page and whether they can be read effortlessly.
- Tone Typography gives visual tone to your brand identity. Are you a bold brand or a minimalist one? Are you a high-tech innovative company, or do you take a traditional handcraft approach? Every curve and edge adds to an overall feeling and will give you different visual tones to choose from.
Fonts and typefaces around the world have been carefully crafted by artists and typographers for centuries. It requires a level of artistry that becomes a valuable advantage to your design toolbox once you get good at it.
- How Cooper Black became pop culture’s favourite font
- A complete guide to typography –– The Typography Handbook
- Case study: Duolingo
4. Imagery (Photography)
Images are everywhere. We see them on billboards, magazines, posters, Facebook, websites, and we even carry some of them in our pockets.
More than simple visuals, images build trust and show who you are as a brand. Customers can immediately connect with a brand by just looking at one picture. It’s like looking at a photo of a person we like. Powerful stuff!
Some companies want to be portrayed as modern, while others decide on a more traditional path. Maybe you’d like to build a clean, minimalist look or an edgy and bold, aggressive image. The question is, what do your customers care about? What is important for them?
This picture is great example of a visual representation of a fashion boutique in Paris.
The designer started off with a moodboard to first get an overall feeling of the brand.
Check the branding work here.
The pictures below are from fashion magazines Vogue and Vanity Fair. Which image was used where? I’ll let you guess.
My point is that both images are trying to sell magazines. Still, the differences in style, colours, settings, and light tell a specific type of story for each magazine. The customer may think the Vogue picture is too premium and unreachable. At the same time, the Vanity Fair picture fits better to his/her taste and is more realistic.
Knowing your audience allows you to pick the design elements and style to focus on. But don’t worry if photography isn’t for you. You don’t have to choose only real images for your brand.
Many modern companies have developed their brand design around a unique illustration style, others decided to use photography mixed with illustrations.
Choose what works for your brand and your customers.
- Learn more A good way to get started is to translate words into images with a moodboard or “stylescapes”. You can learn more about it here.
5. Graphics (Illustration, Iconography, Animation)
Designers shouldn’t just use illustrations on a logo design or on products for kids. Illustrations are versatile elements that can give your brand design an extra edge when building its image and reputation.
Think about Red Bull’s iconic animations from the early 2000s:
Created by the advertising agency Kastner, their cheeky, witty cartoon commercials have become cult classics, and the distinctive illustration style keeps them timeless to this day.
But illustrations don´t only shine in commercials. You can use them as part of your core brand design identity. As being one of the top design trends nowadays, here are a few reasons why you should use original illustrations and graphics for your brand:
- Add creativity and artistic harmony.
- Enrich a brand’s visual language.
- Set an emotional appeal.
- Support creative storytelling and marketing copy.
- Help you stand out from competitors.
- They are quickly understood by consumers.
- Grow brand awareness.
- They can be used in animations and short videos.
Important points to consider
Know the brand: Every brand can change and evolve. Make sure you understand the brand’s essence and story before considering illustration as the main element of your brand design.
Set guidelines: Do your research and restrict yourself to a set of pre-determined guidelines based on the brand’s identity. Not every brand can have shiny gradients or crayon style scribbles.
Budget: Depending on the budget, you may not be able to use custom illustrations. Sometimes stock material can be helpful but do your research, and try to adapt as much as possible to the brand’s personality.
Target audience: Design for real customers, rather than imaginary friends. The illustrations you create need to resonate and impact the brands’ customers.
Ditch the trend: Knowing about the latest hot illustration trend is part of your job as a designer, but knowing when to use a particular style is what makes you a professional. Avoid generic brand design at all costs.
Mailchimp and Headspace brand design based based on illustrations:
- Learn more
- Create, mix, and customize illustrations from artists with Blush
- Long read from Dropbox: illustrating a more human brand
- Dribble on “how to incorporate illustrations into a branding project”
6. Brand Assets & Style Guides
Creating valuable brand assets is just the first step for a designer. You’ll need to organize your work in a way that the brand’s marketing, sales, and other departments can efficiently work together. No more “where is the final logo version full colour” question from your client.
You should provide your client with all required brand design assets and have them readily available for internal use or when working with an outside partner.
You’ve nailed the brand’s essence and story. You’ve designed the logo and chose the colour palette. You’ve bought that premium typeface and snapped some creative photos. You’ve got those custom illustrations and video animations from your favourite artist…What’s next?
What Are Brand Assets?
Many elements make up a brand, and once you’ve nailed the basic ones, it’s time to take your brand design to the next level. Create a couple of real-life tangible assets like stationery, packaging, and business card mockups. This will help you and your client visualize the full potential of the brand’s vision.
Every element plays a role in your brand design and visual identity:
- Brand story
- Colour palette
- Brand fonts
- Business cards
- Logo(s) (all variations)
- Imagery & Graphics guidelines
- Brand voice and copywriting
To have all that information in one place is convenient, but you should also keep an eye on areas where you could still improve:
Watch the Behind the Scenes of Building a Real Brand
Produced by The Futur, this documentary series is an excellent example of creating a strong brand that resonates with customers and stands out in the marketplace.
It’ll give you a behind the scenes look at the branding process of a beer brand, from start to finish. You will see how a new identity system is shaped (including packaging, messaging, website design) and witness the relaunch of a brand.
I highly recommend you watch the whole series! You’ll thank me later.
- Learn more about brand design Branding tips for entrepreneurs: the ultimate guide to branding – 99designs Beginning Graphic Design: Branding and Identity
Consistency Is the Name of the Game
In short, brand design is a conglomeration of:
- Brand’s essence; voice and vision
- Brand’s story; what your customer wants
- Visual identity; iconic and memorable codes
- Marketing efforts; communication and advertising
The opportunity for brand designers lies in consistently delivering the brand’s message through visual design—from the logo to the website layout. The challenge is to create a unique brand design to keep it relevant in a world of constant change.
Let´s see how you can create your personal brand based on everything you´ve learned so far. As an influencer you have to stand out from the crowd and we hope our guide can help you achieve that.