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Brand Design: What It Is + Steps for Success in 2020

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by Katie Oberthaler

5 May 2020

Behind every successful company is a stand-out brand design.

A brand design not only makes a company recognizable, but it can also become its silent ambassador and tell a story. Branding can play a part in a consumer's buying decisions, too.

In Nielsen’s Global New Product Innovation Survey, 59% of people said they would prefer to buy new products from a brand they recognize, and 21% of respondents said if a brand they like produces a product, they're more "ready" to buy it.

So, what's behind the makings of a great brand design?

It goes beyond a color palette or a logo (although those are crucial elements, of course). A successful brand involves exploring a company's ambitions and target market to build a lasting impression and create a competitive advantage.

This article covers the essence of branding as well as the role of design in it. Also, we’ll define the key stages of effective brand creation.

Let's get branding.

What is a Brand, Anyway? (3 Core Components)

The term “brand” is tossed around a lot when we talk about marketing and development.

While it is sometimes used (incorrectly) as another description for a company, branding is, in fact, a very specific part of an organization's overall image. A brand has one mission: to make a company instantly recognizable, invoke an emotional connection and remind a consumer that their brand is trustworthy and intangible.

A brand has three core components.

1. Brand identity

The identity of a brand comprises its visual elements; the color palette, storyboard, design, logo and typefaces. A brand's identity is what a customer will see, and what will stick in their minds each time they see a company's branding.

An identity is created by:

📛—Name

🎨—Color palette

🔲—Shapes

🗛—Typography

Once these elements have been decided upon, the designing can begin.

2. Brand Design

How a company markets itself comes to life when its brand design is defined.

Brand design embodies a company's image, such as their name, logo, and symbols that will identify them to consumers. Once these components of a company's overall brand design are perfected, they can then be used widely across platforms such as websites, social media channels, packaging and advertisements.

Let's take Coca-Cola as an example. Here is part of their typography which makes up their brand identity:

Using the typography and color palette, Coca-Cola can then build on this to create brand designs to promote their products:

3. Brand Promise

The final piece to the branding puzzle is promise.

The promise of a brand is how a company's target audience will perceive their products and aims to follow through on the promise of what a customer expects. The easiest way to gauge the perception of your brand and how effective its promise is is to ask your current customer what they think when they see your brand.

Understanding how influential your brand promise can help to build on the overall effectiveness of your business strategy. If customers see your brand and think it's trustworthy or it provides good value for money, this can help you to create more effective marketing material to reflect your strengths.

What Does a Brand Designer do?

Of course, brands don't create themselves—brand designers do.

A brand designer will work with a company to gain an understanding of what it does, what its goals are, and who its target market is. The designer will use this information to build out a detailed image of what the company wants to project to the world and create designs to reflect that. The designer will then use those materials to produce branding items for the company, such as:

  • Logos
  • Corporate identity
  • Websites
  • Product/packaging labels
  • Social media images
  • Custom typography

Once the designer has finished with a project, a company should be left with a complete suite of designs to use to project their brand in the future. The branding will allow the company to forge a distinct identity that clearly shows customers who they are and what their mission is.

9 Key Steps in the Brand Design Process

1. Client onboarding

The first part of creating a brand is to get to know the company.

This step is all about gauging the company's personality and trying to figure out what kind of image they want to project to the world. Are they smart and serious? Fun and funky? Technical and geeky?

It's important to figure this out as it will play a big part in the overall design of the company's brand.

It's important to look into the company before you meet them. Get a feel of what their current image is on their website and social media accounts (if they have them), and look at the company's leaders and see what kind of image they're projecting to the public, too. Then, create a list of questions for the representatives of the company when you meet them:

  • What kind of company are you?
  • What image do you want to portray?
  • What are the company's goals?

Even broad answers to these questions will help you to get a better idea about what the company is all about.

The other important question you need to tackle in the onboarding meeting is budget. You need to make sure that the company is a good fit for your design team and that their budget fits into your projected costs for the project.

2. Design Briefs/Questionnaires

Once the first portion of the onboarding is done, it's important to get down into the nitty-gritty of what the company wants out of its branding.

The best way to do this is by having them answer a series of questionnaires on different topics. The first questionnaire could be to look at the company's target market:

  • What is their age/gender?
  • What industry do they work in?
  • How much do they make a year?
  • Are they married or single?
  • College educated or high-school graduates?
  • What do they do for fun? What are their hobbies?
  • What is the company's mission/purpose?
  • What emotions does the company want its brand to portray?
  • What color scheme do they want to use to project that image?
  • What typography are they drawn to, or do they want custom typography created for their branding?

This questionnaire will help shape who their branding is targeting. Next, get some in-depth information about the company and its goals. This should ask questions about the company's purpose, as well as the emotions it wants to portray in its branding:

  • What is the company's mission/purpose?
  • What emotions does the company want its brand to portray?
  • What color scheme do they want to use to project that image?
  • What typography are they drawn to, or do they want custom typography created for their branding?

We also recommend collecting this client information in a format that can be easily referenced at later stages of the brand design project and stored alongside the creative assets and approval decisions created throughout in the brand development process.

For instance, you can use intake forms (like the one below) to create a formal design brief form for clients project kick-off. This form:

  • Provides an easy way for clients to send design brief information that doesn’t rely on email or multiple in-person meetings.
  • Automatically creates a proof of the design brief that clients and internal brand designers can reference throughout the design process.
  • Connects briefs to pre-set design workflows, ensuring that the next design step is initiated once client information has been submitted.
  • Stores initial project planning documents in the same place as all of the design assets eventually developed throughout the brand design project.

Read more about using intake forms to streamline the brand design kickoff process: Intake Forms: Bring Content into Your Creative Production Workflows (Without Email)

3. Market and user research

The next step is researching the market (and competitors) that the brand will be competing in.

Having a better idea about what other brands in the company's industry look like can help you compare and, more importantly, avoid a design that looks similar to others. It will also provide you with a better understanding of other companies in the space that have had a positive response to their brand from the target audience.

By highlighting what brands are winning over consumers, you can then pinpoint what they are doing right in their branding and use them to make your own brand stronger.

4. Color palette

Deciding what colors to use in your branding is a huge decision.

The color palette of a brand often starts with a mood board; a collection of color swatches, typography choices and examples of the designs used in real-life.

Here's an example of what a mood board looks like, with one from Airbnb:

Color palettes often contain 6 colors with a mix of light, medium and dark tones. The palette should have 6 different swatches regardless of whether it uses a monochromatic or complementary color scheme. Then, these 6 colors can be separated into dominant and accent combinations:

 

Creating a color palette and putting the swatches together on paper helps to create a visual of how each color can work together.

5. Visual elements

A brand design goes beyond creating a logo.

The visual elements of a brand design also include typography, shapes, symbols and characters. The purpose of visual elements is to tie each part of the brand design together, so they work in sync when they're used in materials like websites and social media materials.

These icons, shapes, textures, patterns, and lines are then used as supporting elements in the brand design. These secondary elements should be used to support text and additional dimensions that make up the overall brand design.

6. Channel concepts

Once the research has been done and the colors have been picked, it's time to prepare some brand concepts.

The design elements can be used to create test concepts for a brand's design like business cards, banners, billboards and social media graphics. The aim in this step is to create various different concepts that will start to form the basis of the final brand design. For example, these concepts for Four Square Real Estate show the variety of concepts that could be presented to a company at this stage of the process for them to choose from:

7. Design Review and Approval

Reviewing concepts with a company can be a lengthy process for designers, so it's important to streamline this to save time.

A full brand design will involve reviewing and approving several elements, like logo variations, color palettes, typography examples and early-stage concepts. To make this process easier for you and your clients, you can cut out the back-and-forth approval process over email and use a proofing software instead.

 

Ziflow makes it easier for designers to have their concepts approved by clients. A client can:

  • Access all designs and iterative versions in one place to see how concepts have developed
  • Add comments and feedbacek to design proofs with markup and annotation tools.
  • Use tracked approval decisions to make collaboration easier and speed up the review process.

Using Ziflow, clients can also access their brand design through a custom URL while the creation phase is underway instead of having to navigate files and folders.

Using a review and approval software at the start of brand design and throughout the review and approval process also helps build a system of checks and balances for brand concepting with clients.

For example, Advent, a creative firm that creates interactive displays for sports teams, uses online proofing as a way to demonstrate that all of the primary ideas from their clients were incorporated into display designs, which can includes dozens or even hundreds of design assets and files. Having a central system to manage brand design briefs, assets, and the related client comments and feedback on those assets in one place creates direct transparency for everyone involved.

“Once that initial discussion happens, the person that's responsible for updating all the design now has a way to say, ‘"Did we actually implement all the things we discussed?’” explained Mandi Cannon, Advent’s Operations Manager.

Read the full case study on how Advent uses online proofing for client management during brand design projects: How Creative Firm Advent Streamlined Client Approval for Large-Scale Sports Facilities Design

8. Finalize style guide

Once the approval process has been completed, the design team needs to finalize the company's style guide.

The style guide is essential because it's what the company will use to navigate its brand design after the final files have been handed over and keep their branding consistent in the future.

The style guide will encompass all of the design features that have been created into one document. The guide also makes it easier for the company to keep its brand design consistent if they hire a different designer or company so they will have access to color palettes and mood boards.

Ideally, a finalized style guide will include:

  • Logo choices (different options, color combinations, etc.)
  • Customized textures, colors and typography
  • Proposed font/shape combinations
  • Detailed guidance on size of how each element of the brand should be used in marketing materials

9. Transfer approved design files

The final step in the process is to transfer all of the brand design files over to the company.

The easiest way to do this is to create a master folder, and organise all of the files into that folder so that they are easily accessible to the client. Each of the different elements (like logos and typography) should be put into different subfolders, so it's organised for the client.

Insteads of using FTPs and shared drives, clients can also use the folder structures in Ziflow to access and download the final, approved versions of design files. This is particularly helpful when you have many different client projects and need to keep them all separate. Furthermore, Zibots can be used to automatically transfer and convert AI, TIFF, JPEG, PDF, and other file formats from their native applications into final proof versions that can be used and downloaded by your clients.

We also recommend continuing to use online proofing to maintain and share project files even after initial designs have been approved. Brand design and brand guidelines evolve over time, and many assets often need to be updated at later date as logos, colors, and other visual elements.

Advent, the creative firm we mentioned above, also uses online proofing to quickly access and update previously approved assets, files, and brand guidelines when clients need new or updated creative work. Because they have a complete record of brand project activities, any designer coming into the project can immediately access previous design files and the entire history of comments and changes about those files to:

  • Instantly find the proper art files to update or change.
  • Get a full view into the internal project history, context, and status.
  • Confirm that new designs match previous artwork.
  • More quickly complete updates and send new artwork to the client without relying on email or PDF.

“We always have a knowledge base of who our clients are and what their brand guidelines are. Now, we can can quickly get to the information that we're trying to find on previous projects.” said Cannon.

Read the full case study on how Advent uses online proofing for to refresh brand designs for its clients: How Creative Firm Advent Streamlined Client Approval for Large-Scale Sports Facilities Design

Benefits of Thoughtful Brand Design

1. Brand recognition

Arguably the most important part of brand design is creating recognition in a public space. The easier a brand is at being recognized, the more likely it will create a lasting impact in the minds of customers. A brand is the first visual a customer has with a brand, so making the color palette, typography, and logo design recognizable is crucial.

2. Lasting impression

Brands like Nike and Coca-Cola are instantly recognizable around the world, and their marketing materials leave a lasting impression because of it.

When a customer can instantly recognize a brand, it puts the company at an immediate advantage to register a message. If a company can create that impression, it can build a good recall factor in the minds of the public and ultimately cement its place in its industry.

3. Emotional connection

Companies with strong branding often create an emotional connection with society. People are connected to Apple because of its innovation with technology. Others are connected to brands like Prada because of its standing in the fashion world.

If your branding can connect with consumers, it can create an instant reaction in their mind towards your brand and trigger a positive response towards your company.

4. Competitive advantage

Lastly, having a well-created brand design puts your company at a competitive advantage.

To position your company against the competition, edgy typography, logos, textures and color palettes can do just as much to propel your business as marketing campaigns and product features.

4 Great Brand Design Examples

1. Airbnb

Do you remember when Airbnb looked like this?

 

Before San Francisco-based DesignStudio was enlisted by the company to transform its brand design, this is how the company promoted itself. During their rebrand, Airbnb modernized their logo and typography to create its now instantly recognizable "A" symbol:

The brand design moved the company to a cleaner, simpler design to make it unique while remaining universally recognizable. Airbnb also now follow a simple set of brand guidelines to control different messages between the company, hosts and marketing materials:

 

Image Source

2. Heart & Stroke Foundation

When Canada's Heart & Stroke Foundation decided to overhaul their branding, they also looked for a more simplistic approach.

The overall goal was to take their previous logo, which was very crowded and distil it into a more straightforward message. The result? Their new logo has two elements: a heart and a stroke:

The new design has also made it easier for the foundation to use its branding across multiple platforms, like publications and campaigns, using English and French versions.

This has made it easier for the foundation to maintain consistent messaging across every division, from community-based fundraisers to corporate events and even gifts sold to raise funds.

3. Deliveroo

When Deliveroo first started its food delivery service, their branding was very literal: it was a kangaroo… delivering food:

Image Source

As the company started to grow, it knew it needed something that would show it as modern and progressive. The company's new design takes a modern approach to the company's kangaroo, but simplifies it into an easily recognizable logo:

The new brand design not only showcases a bold color swatch, but the custom typography on the "V" also matches with the shape of the kangaroo's ears. The entire design works seamlessly with other parts of the company's graphic needs, and it has since been rolled out onto other elements of their business, such as uniforms and delivery bags:

 

4. ZenDesk

When Zendesk first appeared on the software service scene, their brand design consisted of a Buddha wearing a headset and bright green typography. Then, the company decided it was time to change.

The company's design team knew that, although the Buddha image worked well for them at the beginning, the service had outgrown the image. It was time to change it up and modernize it. So, they did:

The new brand design not only gave the company a more modern looking logo, but it also gave them simpler shapes to work with. Not only is it instantly recognizable, but it gave its customers a clear message: they had outgrown their startup logo, and they were only going to continue to grow the company.

Ready. Set. Design.

Getting your brand design right is incredibly important.

Choosing color palettes and picking between fonts might not seem like a major factor in determining whether or not your business will be a success, but it does make a big difference to how your future customers perceive your brand.

Approach your brand design like any other element of your company. Put in the groundwork, research the market, pick color patterns that match your company goals, and work through the rough design concepts until you're 100% happy with them.

Your reward will be an instantly recognizable brand that creates an emotional attachment to your customers—hopefully for years to come.

 

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