What is a branding design and how to do it right? Here’s a simple overview of everything you should know about designing for your brand.
Does being a small business owner necessarily mean that you have a brand? Yes and no. Arguably, slapping any type of logo on a product or place where you do your business creates some kind of a brand. But in this case, you can’t really expect customer loyalty. Without a strong brand identity, they are going to leave the minute something cheaper/better/newer comes up.
So, if you want to understand how you can build a brand identity and make sure that your small business isn’t just the sum of its services or products, read on as we’ll answer everything you need to know about this topic.
Brand, brand identity and brand image
These terms get thrown around so much that when you really think about it, it’s kind of difficult to pinpoint what “brand” means exactly. In the case of Coca-Cola, is it the memorable logo, or the top-secret recipe; or the actual factories where the drink is produced; or the people who run it; or their heartwarming, and slightly cheesy, Christmas ads?
As you might expect, it’s all of this. A company brand is the sum of the brand identity and brand image.
So let’s dive into each of these aspects and discover what they mean.
The answer to the question of what is a brand identity is as complex as if someone were to ask: “Who are you?”. You can talk about your gender (or absence of it), your nationality, or your place of residence; your deepest beliefs or what you do for a living.
In order to build a brand identity, these are some of the key questions you need to answer:
- Why does this brand exist: money should never be the why of your brand. It’s understood that you want to earn money from your business, but to build a brand that is going to last you need a bigger driving idea. Ideally, you’ll think of real-life problems that you want to solve with your products or services.
- What is the brand: what is your exact service/product, is it a fizzy drink or a web application.
- Who is your audience: naturally, with products of everyday use you might be tempted to just say your consumers are “everyone”, but this doesn’t really help good branding. For example, although your grandma definitely knows about Coca Cola, how often does she actually drink it? Even a giant brand like that has its specific target audience, kids and young people, and all of their branding and marketing efforts are geared towards this demographic.
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Brand image is the way people perceive your brand. Ideally, a brand identity and brand image will be perfectly aligned, but a brand image can be influenced by a number of factors (e.g. Amazon’s brand image has been called into question in recent years, due to the company’s treatment of workers and issues with tax payment).
Choosing visual elements for your brand
Once you have the theoretical framework in place, you can start putting together the different elements of your brand design. There are two ways to go about this. You can design a logo first, and build the look of your brand based on it, using similar, or complementing colors, typefaces, shapes, images, etc. Or, you can decide on the core design elements first and then use them to create a logo, and subsequently every other branding asset you might need.
Here are the key components of a brand’s visual identity.
Studies have shown that color can increase brand recognition by 80%, so choosing the main color(s) for your brand is one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make.
The three key factors that you need to take into account here are:
- Color theory: the study of colors that identifies primary, secondary and tertiary colors; contrasting, complementary and analogous colors; cold and warm colors and so on.
- Color psychology: the study of how people perceive colors emotionally. For example, red is often associated with excitement, hunger or passion, prompting action, while blue is considered to have a calming effect. It’s important to remember, however, that some of these findings are still contested and depend heavily on the context.
- Context and trends: while you don’t want to be the same as everybody else, certain trends or conventions are there for a reason. For example, you wouldn’t expect to find a pink logo on a mortician; or a very basic, corporate-looking one on a kindergarten. Knowing what the industry standards are will allow you to assess which rules can be broken, and which shouldn’t.
Of course, it goes without saying that a professional brand guide should include exact color codes, so that anyone creating designs for your company can achieve the exact brand look you’re after.
Consistency in font usage is an important step in creating a cohesive and strong brand identity. There are thousands of fonts available online with new ones created almost every day. So while you definitely don’t have to worry about having plenty to choose from, the choice of typography can be tricky.
Each typeface will bring a different quality to your designs, so when choosing something that’s going to be brand-wide, such as a logo font or types to include in your brand guidelines, you should probably stick to something that’s versatile and represents your core values.
For example, although an elegant script font would certainly help a bank’s branding stand out, it might not be the best choice to represent trustworthiness and professionalism.
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Here are the main font families you should know about:
- Serif fonts: the oldest type of fonts,
- Sans serif font: usually associated with a more minimalist, clean and professional look, and therefore most commonly used in a business context; of course, there are also plenty of modern alternatives as well.
- Script fonts: designed to mimic human handwriting, they usually lend designs qualities such as approachability, elegance, humanism
Shapes and graphics
As you work on creating the basic look of your brand, you probably don’t think you need to decide exactly how all of your marketing and promotional assets will look. Well, while you’re not wrong, creating a base of graphics, or at least settling on a style is a necessary step in any branding project.
There are really few rules here, apart from one: consistency. Making a decision about whether you will use predominantly round over square shapes, or color stock photos over monochromatic will give you direction in which to further build your brand.
Another very important visual asset you might want to consider is illustrations. From breaking down complex processes in infographics to cute motion designs that improve your website’s user experience - the possibilities for using illustrations are truly vast. However, remember that there are many different styles, and not all will make a good fit (e.g. think about minimalistic, isometric illustrations and retro watercolors).
There are many online resources where you can actually find illustrations for free (including our own gallery with thousands of illustrations in 5 different styles). However, if you decide to use something from the web, make sure that it’s available for the long term and you can consistently include these elements in your branding assets.
Designing a brand identity
Now that we know what are the basic design elements you need to think about before taking on the creation of your brand’s look, it’s time to provide a quick overview of the most essential branding assets you will need to be designed.
Logo is such an important part of branding, that the two are often mistaken for the same thing. We’ve written extensively about how a logo can impact brand image, and just how important this little piece of design can be to your business.
Cutting corners and trying to save up with DIY is (almost) permissible with every other aspect of branding design, except your logo. An unprofessional or unoriginal logo is bound to harm your business in the long run, or cost you a lot of money to rebrand and create an entirely new logo that will fit your brand identity.
Your logo design needs to communicate clearly your brand identity and appeal to a certain target audience. Don’t go for something trendy, just for the sake of it. Think about what your buyer persona will respond to well.
When it comes to logo design, there are several types of logos that you might consider.
- Logotypes or wordmarks: logos that consist of a brand name; naturally the choice of typography is absolutely critical for this type of logo, and the best ones are usually those created with a custom font (e.g. Coca Cola, Disney or Google).
- Lettermarks or monograms: as the name suggests, these logos contain the starting letter(s) of the company name, or are often acronyms (e.g. NASA, IBM or Volkswagen)
- Abstract logos: use shapes and forms in a non-literal way (i.e. they don’t represent the brand products or the brand name); famous examples include Nike and Pepsi.
- Pictograms: graphical logos that create a strong connection between the brand name and/or what the company does; famous examples include Apple, Twitter and Shell Oil.
- Mascots: considered a slightly “outdated” type of logo, mascots are still very much present in certain industries; as the name implies, these logos include a “character” that is the ambassador of the brand; famous examples include KFC, Pringles and Wendy’s.
- Emblems: the oldest type of logo, consist of a brand name placed inside a frame; they are very common with university logos, and beyond that include examples such as Harley Davidson, NFL and Starbucks, which is a great example of an emblem logo adapted to modern aesthetics.
- Combination marks: definitely one of the most common types of logos, these consist of a graphic and wordmark portion, making them probably the most demanding in terms of graphic design; famous examples are Lacoste, Mastercard and Burger King.
Websites are a must for modern businesses, and good design is no longer negotiable. Since people take just 5 milliseconds to make an impression on your website, and 75% of them will judge your company’s credibility by it, you simply can’t afford to not have good website design.
The scope of website design is quite vast, and you may need to hire several professionals for the task (including non-designers such as developers and marketers/content writers that will make your website SEO-friendly).
The good news is that there are plenty of website building platforms which allow you to create a professional looking website even if you have little to know design knowledge. It goes without saying, however, that although these websites can look great and perform perfectly from the technical side of things, it probably won’t provide a completely custom look, which might harm your brand image.
However, if you’re a brick and mortar business, or can get help in customizing existing website templates, these platforms can be great, affordable solutions for getting your company website up and running!
Business cards and stationery
It’s definitely not the first thing you think about, but the truth is that business cards are a critical part of branding design. Business cards are cheap to produce but also, easy to throw away: 88% are said to be thrown away within a week.
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However, a well-designed business card has a much higher chance of making the cut; in fact colored business cards are said to have a 10 times greater chance of being kept. So before you slap on a logo on a piece of white cardstock, consider hiring a designer with the best knowledge of business cards sizes and colors, who can help you create something impactful.
Custom stationery is by no means necessary for every business (most online businesses and startups won’t have it), but in the long run it’s a nice branding asset that can be used to build a corporate identity (how your employees perceive the company), and even as promotional materials for your customers.
If you sell physical products, the way your packaging looks is probably the second most important aspect of a branding project (the first being your logo).
Coca Cola has one of the most recognizable logos in the world, so it’s no coincidence that it was also the star of its packaging (whether you opt for the red can or the bottle that highlights it). Or think about the Swiss chocolate Toblerone. It’s made with milk that comes from cows grazing in the rich pastures of swiss mountains, so the shape chocolate itself depicts that landscape. Tiffany’s went with something incredibly simple and effective: the use of color. With one of the most minimalist packaging designs, their simple boxes immediately convey a sense of luxury and prestige.
Like every other part of branding design, packaging is supposed to enforce your brand identity and build awareness. Of course, never forget that packaging should also be utilitarian, and if possible, eco-friendly.
We’ve saved this one for last, not because it’s least important (quite the contrary), but because it’s such a vast field of design that also incorporates some of the previously mentioned elements such as packaging and web design.
Once you have a brand identity in place, you will want other people to know about it. You can’t have good marketing without good branding. There are many different types of marketing designs, so here are just a few key ones that you should think about:
- Social media: while the importance of social media trends is indisputable, you should never compromise your brand personality for the sake of being trendy.
- Print: different industries might require these to a different extent, but know that things like flyers, brochures and rack cards are still very much relevant. Unless you’re designing them for a specific occasion, stick to the style guide and create something that’s versatile and fits your brand.
- Display ads: they’re all over the internet and most of the time you ignore them; but a well-designed display ad, placed in a native environment (that’s related to the add), can help you build brand awareness, but also acquire leads and eventually boost sales.
Of course, an effective marketing strategy depends on a lot more than just design (there’s placement, perception, timing and a number of technical factors). But without a strong brand identity to stand on, the greatest marketing campaign will fail to yield results. Think of it this way: you can admire clever copywriting, or nice ad design, but if you don’t know anything about the company behind them, you’re unlikely to make a purchase of any sort.
It’s probably clear that designing a brand identity is no easy task, and definitely doesn’t end with creating a logo. From a brand guide to every single marketing asset you create, effective branding design can help you grow your business, in more ways than one:
- It sets the foundation for building a positive brand image.
- It helps you stand out from the competition.
- It helps you communicate with your customers.
- It helps you build awareness, and increase profits.
Good brand identity designers that work for either design agencies or freelance don’t come cheap, if only for the vast scope of work they have to cover. If you want professionalism, expertise at a price you can afford, be sure to check out ManyPixels’ work, or book a demo to inquire about our experience in branding design!