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Designing a Brand Identity

Creative Market May 25, 2021 · 9 min read

One of the most interesting projects that a graphic designer can take on is designing a logo. It can be daunting (and stressful) to come up with logo options based on market research, and stumble upon some “design magic” through the exploratory process. Narrowing it down to a final approved logo and then seeing it out in the world can be a very rewarding experience for a designer.
However, most of the time, a logo is not enough. Large organizations with layers of management require a thorough brand identity system that provides a unified vision and tools that help everyone build the brand. But before we dig in, let’s define the difference (and relationship) between a brand, an identity and a logo.

Brand vs. Identity vs. Logo

3up-relationship

  • A Brand (or Branding) refers to the perceived image and subsequent emotional response to a company, its products and services. It also represents the conversation that customers are having with each other about the company, and how that spreads. My favorite definition about brand is the one Seth Godin gave: A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.
  • An Identity describes the visual devices used to represent the company. Identity systems are a visual components package that is paired with style guidelines and used as a framework to ensure the corporate image is cohesive and consistent. Some of the visual devices that leverage the brand elements and style guidelines are as follows: stationery, marketing collateral, packaging, signage, messaging, and digital projects, among others.
  • A Logo is the central, identifiable visual element that helps customers discover, share and remember a company’s brand. Usually it’s in the form of an icon (mark or symbol), logotype, or combination of the two. The main purpose of a logo is summed up nicely as the five principles of effective logo design in this Smashing Magazine article.

smashingmag-5principles

Phase 1: Research, Vision & Design Brief

phase1
This phase should be as thorough as needed — depending on the depth of research and size of the company. It’s the most crucial part of the overall process, and should result in a design brief that guides the rest of the project.
Below is a list of foundational questions and key dynamics to explore and document through qualitative and quantitative methodologies. (Note: This is only a quick overview of the most complex part of this process.)

  • How is the brand perceived against competitors in the market for products and services you’re looking to provide?
  • What is the positioning statement of your brand? Answer the what, how, to whom, where, why and when questions.
  • What is the heritage of your product type, and the origin(s) of it’s ingredients and fabrication process?
  • Who is your audience? Are they digitally savvy? Where will your products/services have contact with them? How do you want that contact experience to make them feel, take action and think about your brand?
  • What values & beliefs should the brand have about the business and it’s mission in the world? If the brand was a person, what would it’s personality be? How would it look, act and talk?
  • What benefits do you want customers to associate with your brand? What is the vision of the brand that you want to create?
  • Other brand image concerns: market awareness, emotional associations, value to the consumer, brand perception vs. consumer behavior, changes desired in the brand-consumer relationship over time.

As you can tell, it’s complicated. Two agencies who I think do a good job with their brand research are Landor and Fi. It shows in the way that they describe their completed work as challenge-and-solution projects.

The Design Brief

It’s important to have a design (or creative) brief if the brand identity project is bigger than one designer doing work for a small local business. A design brief should contain summaries from the research phase, such as: target audience(s), messaging objectives, values and mission of the brand, and the brand’s products/services offering. It should also include budget, project schedule, file formats for delivery, and other practical needs.
If you’re looking for tools and help on how to write a design brief for a brand identity project, explore the following: Freelance Switch Brief Tips, Link List and Logo Design Brief, 99designs, Just Creative, and FreePDF Templates.

Phase 2: Logo, Identity, & Guidelines

phase2
After the research phase is complete and a design brief has been created, it’s time to start designing the logo and identity system.

The Logo

There are many ways to start designing a logo, but most often times you’ll see designers begin by sketching out dozens if not hundreds of iterations on paper. The process of getting concepts down on paper and then iterating on those ideas can unlock new directions to explore and final solutions that you wouldn’t have normally arrived at when starting on the computer. After selecting your best sketched concepts, you should start iterating on them digitally.
Here’s a peak behind the curtain of a few logo concept sketches as they became final digital solutions:
Firefox Logo by Martijn Rijven of Bolt Graphic, art direction by Wolff Olins
example-firefoxlogo
ITV logo by Matt Rudd of Rudd Studio
example-itv
Greenpeace Airplot Logo by Airside
example-airplot

The Identity System

The identity system usually starts after the logo is complete. The purpose of the identity system is to form a systematic visual language around the logo — one that compliments the design thinking of the logo and offers a family of useful, flexible elements that will help to design marketing and business collateral. Here are some examples:
Fortaleza 2020 by Guivillar
identitysystem-1-fortaleza
Handsome Coffee Roasters by Ptarmak
identitysystem-1-handsomecoffee
Patina Restaurant Group by Mucca Design
identitysystem-3-patina

The Style Guidelines

The style guidelines contain and prescribe the logo usage rules, typeface system, color palette, layout guidelines, and more. They exist so that others can create design collateral and marketing materials that will have a cohesive look and voice.
Style guidelines have traditionally been produced as print and web-ready PDFs. They’re the core of the identity design, and usually accompany the logo, templates, fonts and other resources packaged together to make designing for the brand easier. Style guidelines are in-depth rules about logo usage, styling, and layout, and are always interesting to browse through.
brand-style-guidelines
Here are a few style guidelines of popular brands: Skype (pdf, brand page), BestBuy (Euro Guidelines), BBC, Adobe, Apple, Google, and Walmart. Looking for more? Dig into this list by Logo Design Love.
brandguidelines-bestbuy
brandguidelines-walmart
brandguidelines-google
These days, the documentation that a designer must deliver has a heavy digital skew, with an emphasis on development-ready files, such as Style Tiles, Element Collages, Style Prototypes, SASS documentation, a Logo/Brand download page, among others.
3up-digitalstylebridge
Don’t forget to check out our simple Creative Market brand page, and download the logo if you want to promote and share Creative Market.

Phase 3: Monitoring & Rebranding

Lastly, after a new brand identity has launched, it’s important to monitor and care for it, as it’s a living and breathing thing that interacts with your customers. Honestly, that’s a loaded statement as there are many ways to properly care for a brand. Regardless, over time, if your target audience shifts, the market evolves, or the brand’s products and services change, it may be time for a rebrand. The main challenge with rebranding is trying to maintain familiarity and consistency so that your customers will remember you.
There are two really awesome sites that give an inside look when prominent brands get rebranded: Rebrand and Under Consideration’s Brand New. Here is a quick sampling of their short before and after case studies:
rebrand-examples
1. Emma, 2. Bishop of London, 3. Apple Worldwide Developers Conference 2013, 4. Cancer Research UK, 5. Google SketchUp, 6. oDesk

Resources for Brand Identity Design

If you’re starting a new brand identity or rebrand project, here are some Creative Market resources that might help get you started.

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product-3 product-4

product-5 product-6

product-7 product-8

Take a Brand Identity Design Class

Want to learn the ins and outs of creating a brand identity for a business or yourself? Sign-up for this new Skillshare class by our friend, Courtney EliseoBeyond the Logo: Craft a Brand Identity. Get 20% off using the special discount code SKILLS. There’s still time to sign-up before the class begins on Mon, Aug 26th, 2013! New to Skillshare? Learn more about how it works here.
Courtney is a talented, respected designer. She formerly ran the popular design blog Design Work Life, and produces well-designed, thoughtful brand identities alongside her husband at their 2-person studio, Seamless Creative. She recently launched her latest venture, En Route Workshop, where she works with people who are going places to develop brands that get them there.
skillshare-brandidentity

Extended Reading

  • Brand Thinking and other Noble Pursuits by Debbie Millman
    This book describes itself as a series of illuminating and spirited conversations on branding with 22 top design executives, strategists, and critics. Debbie interviews an all-star cast that makes purchasing this book a must!
  • The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier
    Neumeier has been an expert practicing in the field of brand identity, and this timeless book offers a unified theory on brand-building.
  • Dynamic Identities: How to Create a Living Brand by Irene Van Nes
    This book has many examples of dynamic brand identities that are malleable, creative systems of visual identification.
  • Branding Matters by Jason VanLue
    Jason explores the core essentials to the purpose of good branding for small businesses, offering easy access to design exercises that will you shape your brand’s vision, strategy, identity, experience and interaction.
  • Logo Design Love: The Book by David Airey
    This valuable resource outlines the steps of creating an effective logo, and offers valuable insights, exploration processes and more.
  • Designig Brand Identity by Alina Wheeler
    Alina’s book is a well-rounded, deep dive into the world of designing brand identities with tons of great examples. Alina’s expertise shines as she explains the brand identity design process through the phases of ideals, elements and dynamics. Thanks to Ben Tibben for recommending this resource.
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71 Comments
  • What a wonderful, inspiring article! Great examples. Thanks so much! 9 years ago
  • @Beth Rufener - Thanks for the reading it! Hope it helped. 9 years ago
  • Very nice article! 9 years ago
  • @Vinay Mittal - Glad you liked it! 9 years ago
  • Delighted to see you talk about the whole picture. So tired of seeing "instructive" posts that use the words Brand and Logo interchangeably! I will share this with the world. 9 years ago
  • cool article...thanks ;) 9 years ago
  • Gerren you've nailed it. What an excellent piece. I also recommend 'Designing Brand Identity' by Alina Wheeler - a brilliant reference. 9 years ago
  • VERY educational, Thank you! 9 years ago
  • @Penina Finger Glad you liked it. Share at will! @Peter Olexa No problem! @BenTibben Thanks! I'll go look up Alina's book. @Ivan You're welcome! 9 years ago
  • @BenTibben I've added Alina's books to the resources above. Great find! Thanks for recommendation. 9 years ago
  • Awesome article and illustrations! Thanks! 9 years ago
  • Great job on this article. It demonstrates how much thought and effort actually goes into making a quality logo and Brand ID. The challenge is always maintaining focus on all the separate components that make up the whole. 9 years ago
  • @Bootstrap tor - Thank you! @Neo Mudaly - Totally agree. 9 years ago
  • On Point! LOVE it! Thanks 9 years ago
  • Absolutely fantastic article! Thank you for this. All stuff I think most designers know but sometimes forget. 9 years ago
  • Thanks [@Crxstvl.X](user:54234) and @fathima kathrada - hope it helped! 9 years ago
  • @Gerren Lamson happy to help / share - Congrats again. 9 years ago
  • Looooooove this, very well done. Forwarded to a half dozen people (including clients!). But I gotta pick this nit: in your 2nd bullet under "Brand vs. Identity vs. Logo", I believe you meant "stationery", not "stationary". Thanks much! 9 years ago
  • So much to read. Thank you for a great article and I will be tweeting this! 9 years ago
  • Thanks @sprocketeer [@gatonegro666](user:10583) 9 years ago
  • Useful and Interesting to read. 9 years ago
  • Excellent article!! Thanks 9 years ago
  • @Waqas Ahmed Glad you liked it. [@Sasha-Shae Shaw](user:121936) Thank you! 9 years ago
  • A very concise, and well written explanation. I've been working on a simplified version of this process for some time. I'm constantly distilling it down to just the basics. I find clients love it, but often just skim and rarely get through my longer versions. But, it's missing the details and examples you've captured so well here. http://andyedge.com/identitydesign.html Good read. 9 years ago
  • Thank you for creating and posting this article! it is very informative and I am glad someone has taken the time to explain the differences between branding, Identity, and logo. I struggled with the separation before taking classes on this subject and I would recommend taking a class to any graphic designer who hasn't. I only just revealed my portfolio website but there are quite a few nice logo design examples within. Take a look at http://www.Joelkitts.com Thank you again and I look forward to seeing more articles of this caliber. 9 years ago
  • Incredibly good and consistent information, this is exactly what I needed. Once again, thanks for the advice. 9 years ago
  • A very nice short post to help us to clarify some of the most discuses items in Identity Design. Many thanks! 8 years ago
  • Great info and really valuable for all brand identity design. This is really very wonderful post. I really appreciate it, this post is very helpful for web design. By sinowadesign.com 8 years ago
  • Great post. Thanks for sharing the in-depth information about logo designing and branding. The phases and the examples included in it are really amazing. For each phase, a detailed description is given, including the examples of popular brands. It is really interesting to know how thoughtful these designs are !! Really a nice article ! http://www.agencyfish.com/ 8 years ago
  • very useful article... 8 years ago
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  • great stuff! 8 years ago
  • Outstanding article, thank you for the value! 8 years ago
  • Interesting facts. This is one area on logo, corporate identity and branding most people get confused. Especially the Branding side.... People ask me many times can you design a great brand!! :| Brand is something not tangible, its something that you build over period of time with great communication tools. Brand is so much more. Anyway great article. Thanks. 8 years ago
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  • It is very effective and informative article.It is very useful for me and both of my friends.Thank you for revealing. Zarah from Bizbilla.com 8 years ago
  • Anonymous
    Finaly someone clarified what we do ... So they can understand that its not an over night job to design a "simple logo" 8 years ago
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    How can I find someone to create one for me? 8 years ago
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  • Awesomely described on brand identity design! Branding is the development of the customer expectation and experience behind the product or service. Managing this and ensuring consistency is key to building brand value and ultimately brand success. 7 years ago
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  • I have a question as someone new to designing a brand identity...anyone feel free to chime in here. I have someone who at this point does not have even a name for his company. However, he wants to know my price points for designing 1, a logo and 2, a branding guideline document (per my recommendation). He wants to see if he can even afford my services before we move forward (and willing to accept he may not be able to). My question is, at what point do you start billing someone for your time? Do you include the "Phase I: Vision & Research" as part of a proposal/contract, or is that just built-in time that you sort of accept as a sunk cost to starting a project? I'm really curious how others are handling this as I'm kind of stuck and not sure what to do. 6 years ago
  • Article is really very informative. Great source to refer before designing the Logo. There are lots of things which a Graphic Designer or Logo Designer need to look after before creating the logo. Client Briefing plays an important role, as one need to understand client requirement before starting the design. Each and every minute detail from client will help to make a creative logo. Regards, OH! Design Studio. 6 years ago
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