Identity and Visualize: Design Brand Identity System

by | Jul 16, 2018


This article continues examining, in depth, the parts of the branding process that I introduced in my e-book, 17 Mistakes that Can Harm Your Brand. In the book, I outline five phases of the branding process:

Part three of the branding process Phase 4, Identity and Visualization, is often the area most brands rush into too quickly. They tend to run into it haphazardly, without thinking about all the components and factors related to properly setting up their brand identity properly. For many there is an urge to produce a logo to represent their brand, so strong that they immediately seek out a designer or use an online service without going through all the preparatory steps. Often, they argue that a designer can work in parallel with the earlier stages of the branding process. Doing this, however, sets the design process on a path of failure. The failure is one that can (and often does) lead to the brand’s failure. As you to establish your brand, do your brand a service and wait until you have completed the preceding stages of the branding process before starting on your logo design.

When you have completed all the preceding stages you should feel confident in beginning the logo design process. As you do so, there are some things you need to keep in mind that we will go through and discuss here.

A Few Warnings

Before we get into the parts that you need to focus on when designing your brand identity system, I feel a need to pass along some warnings and insights that you might find helpful. These are more to make sure that you are aware of certain items, rather than scare you away.

The Truth Behind Your Logo

As stated earlier, your brand identity is much, much, more than just a logo. Your logo is only a part of what you’re setting out to establish in this stage of the branding process. Your logo is the visual representation of your brand, and is present in most elements of your brand identity. As you set out to establish the identity for your brand there are many parts you need to keep in mind. All of these areas affect your identity, and as a result you need to realize that they each play an important part.

Your Taste in Design is Not Valid

Your taste is not valid. OK; that sounds harsher than I mean it, but I wanted you to seriously think about this: Chances are you are not a designer, and as much as you don’t want to admit it, you don’t know design. Throughout my career and through the years, I have worked with many branders, across different industries and backgrounds from startups and fortune 500 companies to sole proprietors. Even though they have varying backgrounds and serve vastly different industries, they all have one thing in common. At some point as they go through the design process they will be shown a design concept and they will put personal feelings into the aesthetic. Often, they voice their displeasure with one of the following responses:

  • I don’t like the color __________
  • I showed my spouse/significant other, they don’t understand why it _______________
  • I showed my dog and he/she started howling
  • I like these guys’ brand; we need to look like them

While it’s OK to not like a design approach or direction, there is one underlying issue with all of these responses—they are not valid. They are based solely on personal opinion. You need to keep personal judgement/perception out of the process. Base your decision on your research. Your research will tell you if you’re on the right path. Remember you are NOT your customer. Think of your customer and whether they will embrace the concept and direction your taking the brand. If you did your job correctly in all of the previous branding stages, your Creative Brief and Brand Briefshould include all the information a good designer or agency would need to start crafting your visual identity.

Hiring a Freelancer or Agency

If you’re serious about properly establishing your brand, find a professional to help in creating your visual identity. You trust the fixing of your car to a good mechanic or engage a competent lawyer for all of your legal needs. Then why not enlist a professional for your brand? Remember that they are a professional, and just like you wouldn’t typically doubt a mechanic, lawyer, or doctor, you need to trust the professional. Now the question is what type of professional?

Freelance Designer—Typically they are a one-person outfit, doing business as themselves, rather than with other people. It is not uncommon for many freelancers to work for another company, and then fill their “off hours” with work. Freelancers typically only take on workloads they can handle, this is usually a small number of projects that they might work on at the same time.

Benefits:Lower cost, more specialized expertise, often more flexible hours, faster

Cons:Can be unreliable or disappear, personal life interrupts professional life. If working during “off hours” there is a possibility of limited hours of availability. One-person outfit means less complex solutions.

Agency – Typically a team of employees, theoretically working for the benefit of your brand. Realistically they are working on multiple clients’ work, trying to give each the proper amount of attention. Agencies with a larger workforce will place their more experienced—and therefor more talented—workers on the projects that will result in more money for the agency. Their higher overhead translates into a much higher price.

Benefits:Team of workers offers more complex solutions, more capabilities, reliability, availability

Cons:Cost, flexibility (agencies tend to only be available only during working hours), communication (you tend to only deal with an account rep/manager who acts as a middle man), timeframe (projects tend to be expanded and can take longer to complete).

Have you used a freelancer or an agency?How did you find the process to work for you? Do you have any advice for others who might be looking towards hiring someone to help on their brand? Share your experiences below to help your fellow branders.

Design Identity Parts

As stated earlier, when you’re working on establishing your design identity there are many parts to keep in mind. Each part is an important contributor to the success of your brand identity. You should have done some of the initial work on many of these parts and at least touched on them during the previous stages of the branding process. Whether you’re working on your brand identity yourself or you’ve hired someone else, you need to be aware of all the elements and how they are either being solved with your brand identity or how your brand identity affects customers’ perception of your brand.

Brand BriefAs discussed in the fifth part of Phase 2, your brand brief should explain your big-picture—everything your brand is and is not. Your brand identity system should work towards completely tying in with your established brand brief. Your brand identity system should not go against or change your brand brief in any way.

Colors–As discussed elsewhereon BrandingPower, color impacts your relationship with your customers, as well as how you are perceived by them. You might love the color purple, but you might not want to use it if, for example, your primary target market is male and you want them to perceive your company as high quality.

Typography–The use of fonts can impact how serious people take your brand. Will you use a serif font or sans serif font in your logo? What font(s) will you use on collateral materials? There is a whole world out there of available fonts. These fonts can be manipulated and transitioned to fit the need you’re looking for. Keep in mind that there might be font licensing that can impact your brand’s ability to use any particular font.

Images–What type of images will your brand use? Good quality images will always cost more money. Images and image style can be easily “stolen” and used by a competitor. If you purchase stock imagery from a stock photo site, there is nothing stopping your competitor from doing the same thing. Your image usage policy should also include not “borrowing” or using images from search engines as this can lead to lawsuits and hefty fines.

TouchpointsI’ve previously talked about and provided a list of potential touchpoints. Your brand identity system should be able to handle all of these touchpoints and allow your brand to be easily recognizable when applied to them.

LogoWhat type of logo is best for your brand? Should it be just a symbol or should it include a symbol and logotype? What about a signature?

During this stage (the Design Brand Identity System stage) you need to focus on making sure that all of the work you are producing is in line with your brand brief. Be careful; try to not distract the direction by being swayed by personal opinions unless you have data to back your opinion. Also realize that your brand identity system will not be finalized until Phase 5 with the completion of your brand guidelines. You’re creating the base for your brand identity, and from this point forward you will be adding to and adjusting your brand identity as you focus on how it interacts with different parts of your brand.

Ideas To Make Your Brand Better Now:

  • Determine who you’re going to have work on your brand identity system—freelancer, an agency, or someone else.
  • Share below your wins or struggles with hiring someone to help you.
TERMS click to expand or collapse

Brand Identity: What a brand looks like including the logo, typography, colors, packaging and more.

Logo: A custom symbol or design that uniquely represents a brand.

Creative Brief: A guide typically related to a single brand marketing campaign, providing direction for ensuring brand objectives and needs are met.

Brand Brief: A guide outline what a brand is and what it is not. A reference document for understanding a what a brand is, where it’s headed and what it is capable of.

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