When you think of a brand’s visual identity, you probably think about catchy colors and crisp, modern logos. And you’re right. Your brand’s visual identity is the face of your brand—it’s how your brand looks to both your audience and your employees.
But developing the look of your brand isn’t as simple as choosing a few great colors. As nice as it would be, creating the next Nike swoosh or Netflix red isn’t just a happy accident waiting to happen. It comes by building your visual identity on a foundation of intentional brand strategy and lots of creative thinking.
Branding is the perfect combo of art and strategy. The creative aspect means there’s no perfect way to get it done—in fact, there’s lots of great ways to make your branding happen. Here at Maestro, we’ve found a pretty awesome process that balances our best creativity with solid strategy.
1. Design your visual identity to support your brand equity
Brand equity research always comes before building your brand’s visual identity. Equity is the value of your brand in the mind of the target consumer. And branding involves shaping consumer perception in an intentional, specific, and positive way. Equity research is digging deep into who your target audience is, what they want, and how you can connect with them. And the outputs you’ll create are audience profiles, your brand’s core benefit, and the reasons people should believe (RTBs) in the benefit of your brand.
It’s important to do your equity research first because your look should reflect your core benefit and your RTBs. For example, if your RTBs are simple, casual, and easy to use, then your visual identity should also be simple and straightforward. You’ll probably choose to avoid complex designs and hard-to-read fonts.
This is where it’s important to find that balance between what your audience wants to see and your own unique personality as a brand. Take time to develop your visual identity and make sure to get it right. Down the road, you can tweak things with a rebrand, but for now, you want a solid look that will support you and your brand for years to come.
2. Create mood boards
Think about what you want your brand to look like. Do you imagine sharp lines? Bright colors? What about flowing hand lettering and soft neutrals? Go out and find images that evoke the feeling you want and build a collection of inspirational images that you can reference at any time (InVision is great for this).
This collection is called a mood board, and it can involve pictures of interiors, color palettes, nature images, logos, quotes—anything you want, collected from anywhere. The point of the board is to capture the feeling (or mood) that you want from your own brand. It’s taking your vision for your brand and turning it into something tangible.
But don’t limit yourself to one mood board. Branch out and try to capture several different visions for your brand. Two to three mood boards are usually can get your inspiration flowing, and it’s a great creative exercise to push your imagination in unexpected directions.
3. Design logo explorations
Once you’ve created the mood boards, choose some colors combinations and draw up some logo designs. These start as simple sketches, move to drafts, and then get conceptualized. But don’t just stop there. You’ll want to look at brand expressions, typography, and hand lettering explorations here, as well.
Put your designs in action with brand expressions. Mock up some t-shirts, banners, business cards—enough to see what your brand looks like out in the world. And get specific with the context of your brand expressions. If you’re a soda company, put your brand on soda cans. If you’re a coffee company, put your brand on coffee cups. Try them with different colors and different typefaces. Then step back, ask some questions, and get feedback. Does it look right? Does it encompass the right feelings?
Seeing your work in context with real-life applications can often bring a whole new perspective into the project. And once you’ve found the visual direction you like, it’s time to move forward.
4. Bring in a copywriter
This is where you want to bring in a copywriter, because your brand’s visual identity should be developed at the same time as your verbal identity. In fact, design and copywriting should never happen in a vacuum.
Think about it for a second. Close your eyes and listen to someone talking. Their tone of voice and the words they choose say a lot about them. It’s the same for your brand. Find a voice that complements with the look you’re working to establish. A voice that works hand-in-hand with your visual identity to tell your audience how your brand can help them out. And, of course, discovering your voice can inspire new directions in your visual identity, as well.
5. Design your other brand elements
Your logo can’t stand alone. During logo explorations, you already started dipping into different colors and typefaces. Now’s the time to make it official. Choose your primary and support palettes, and if you’re interested in using brand patterns, icons, or illustrations, now’s the time to get creative and make it happen.
Just make sure that everything you create supports your brand’s core benefit and RTBs. Your branding is meant for your audience, so to keep your brand strong, put your audience first in everything that you do.
6. Develop a style guide
Once you’ve designed your look, it’s time to work together with the copywriter to develop a style guide. Your style guide involves laying down the rules of your brand’s visual identity. This means determining the usage rules for your brand colors, logo, typography, photography style, and any icons, illustrations, or patterns. It also lays down the law for margins, voice and tone, white space, text alignment, and whatever else is important for your look and sound (such as brand expressions).
Just remember that your style guide isn’t only written instructions—it should provide full visual examples on what to do and what not to do. The complexity and length of your style guide depends on the complexity of your brand, but for most brands, you’re looking at 10 to 40 pages.
7. Stay consistent
While your audience is key in branding, your brand is not only for your customers. It’s also what inspires loyalty and enthusiasm in your employees. Unfortunately, many brands are strict about consistent representation externally, and internally the brand barely exists beyond the logo in a letterhead. This both sells your employees short and causes hitch-ups with external consistency.
That style guide you created? It’s not just for your designers. Everyone in the company needs a copy, and the brand guidelines should be followed in all areas of your business, from a simple email to training courses and paid media.
8. Get yourself some swag
Life (and your brand) isn’t just about rules and guidelines. You’ve built yourself a pretty cool look, and it’d be a shame not to celebrate it. Get your logo on some t-shirts, design some baseball caps, and put your tagline on some totes. Your employees will love the free swag, and you’ll get some advertising out of the deal.
Just remember: your visual identity is the face of your brand, so treat it with respect, stay consistent, and always celebrate who you are.
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