Brand Identity Design 101

Brand Identity Design 101

Creating a strong brand identity design for your business

Updated:

March 23, 2022

Launching a brand, refreshing your existing brand identity, or just learning more about the brand design process, here is my designer’s guide for creating a strong brand identity.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

What is a brand?

We first need to establish just what exactly a brand is. A brand includes everything associated with identifying a company, product or individual. A brand is not a tangible asset as such, but more a combined perception of the following:

  • Brand name.
  • Brand identity.
  • Brand products or services.
  • Brand image (public perception).

Essentially, a brand lives in the minds of everyone who interacts with and experiences the brand, including customers, owners, employees and the media.

What is a brand?
A brand is essentially a combined perception of the brand name, identity, products and brand image.

The origins of branding

Brands have existed for thousands of years. The concept can be traced back to the earliest documented markets almost 6,000 years ago, when Mesopotamian scribes carried around cylinder seals to authenticate their goods.

Ancient branding, cylinder seal
An example of an ancient cylinder seal as seen in the Louvre Museum, image source.

It was in the 1500s that branding became synonymous with an actual brand mark when a burning piece of wood was used to brand cattle to prove ownership. In fact, the word “brand” comes from the old Norse word “brandr”, meaning “to burn”.

Modern branding took off in the late 1800s when companies started packaging their goods to differentiate them from their competitors. Here we see the origins of brand identity design as we know it today.

Origins of modern identity design
The origins of modern brand identity design can be seen in the earliest brand packaging examples from the late 1800s.

What is a brand identity?

A brand identity, also known as corporate identity or visual identity, is everything used to express a brand, including how it looks and speaks to its audience. In some cases, a brand identity can extend to how the brand sounds, tastes, or even feels to the touch - it all depends on the brand requirements.

A brand identity should incorporate the core visual elements like your logo design, colour palette and typography, and possibly design systems for the key communication formats. It can also include your brand persona, tone of voice and overall brand style.

Brand identity design example - Buto
An example of brand identity design by DesignChief.

Tips for the brand identity design process

As established previously, each brand identity design is unique, and the process will differ from brand to brand. Therefore, it is essential to identify what parts of the process apply to your brand. 

Here is a list of steps for your brand identity design process. I tend to tailor this list depending on the brand requirements and starting point:

1. Discovery:

  • Mission statement (The brand goals)
  • Brand persona & archetype
  • Brand architecture
  • Research (Audience and competitors)
  • Mood boards

2. Logo design:

  • Naming (Usually supplied by client)
  • Logo design concepts and revisions
  • Logo artworks with type and colour specs

3. Core brand design:

  1. Stationery
  2. Email
  3. Other agreed key touchpoints

4. Complete colour palette

5. Typographic styles

6. Graphic styles

7. Core messaging and tone-of-voice

8. Document templates

9. Style guidelines

What does a brand identity design include

At the outset, you don’t want to design more identity elements than you need. Brands develop organically, and their brand identity should evolve over time also. The best brands utilise ongoing brand design revision based on changes to their brand strategy, customer feedback, expansion etc.

I find it’s best to always keep the core identity as lightweight as possible, you will add to the core as you build out the brand, but initially, simplicity is something to strive for.

A brand identity should at least have three core design elements:

  • Logo variants
  • Colour palette
  • Typography styles

Most brand identities will include more detail than this, and it is essential to determine the extent of the brand identity required for each specific brand. After all, all brands are unique!

Depending on the requirements of the brand and how it intends to communicate, the brand identity should define how the brand looks in all key formats by creating:

  • Style Guidelines
  • Design styles
  • Graphic styles - Illustration, Iconography
  • Photographic styles
  • Design systems and templates
Brand identity structure
A brand is essentially a combined perception of the brand name, identity, products and brand image.

Why building a strong brand identity is so important

A strong brand identity design needs to work for everyone interacting with your brand, not just customers but also employees, creators, and the media. Although your brand identity may look good on paper and you now have everything you need to dominate your niche, it may still not achieve all your long-term goals. 

The key is to refine your identity as required and be cohesive in your message and application. A strong brand identity design should:

  • Be memorable and distinct to stand out from the crowd
  • Be scalable so the brand identity can grow as the business does
  • Be flexible enough to be used on all media formats (screen, print etc.)
  • Be consistent in the application of the brand so each element works with the next
  • Be intuitive and easy to use and understand

Where does brand strategy fit in

It helps when creating a brand identity to have a sense of the brand strategy. The brand strategy can inform the design process, giving focus to the brand identity goals. A brand strategy defines the rules for how your brand engages with its audience. In other words, brand strategy is the how, where, when and to whom you express your brand experience. These rules inform the brand identity design, uncover the key touchpoints important for delivering your brand message and generally help guide your marketing efforts.

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