Branding Process - Designing Your Identity

This is part 4 in a 6 part series on the process of designing a brand from the ground up. This is the process that 6foot4 uses. We like it but feel free to agree or disagree and tell us about it in the comments. These articles are for Designers and Clients alike. Both groups could benefit from a little more education and discussion. If you are just joining this discussion you should start at the beginning to get some context.

Designing Identity

There is a lot of confusion about what the word branding means. What is branding and what is not? Can you even create a brand? I'm not going to attempt to answer all those questions in this post (look for something in the future though). What I will say now is that there is a difference between, a logo, a brand identity, and a brand. I'm going to put a stake in the ground and say that you never "Just need a logo." If you need a logo you need a brand identity. I may write more on the later but for now you can check out this post by my friends at Carew Co. I'm just going to refer to this as "identity" and try to remove the connection between Brand and Identity, because your identity doesn't create your brand.

With that out of the way lets talk Design with a capital "D." Design is an iterative process. Reducing your big picture down to a visual representation takes skill, time, and discipline. Even when the Design is finished it still needs to be tested. Your logo mark will be potentially seen millions of times and last for a decade or more. Businesses that don't invest in a Designer for their brand identity are basically saying they don't think their business is worth it and they won't be around long enough to invest that amount of money.

Logotype

A logotype is a word (or words) in a determined font, which may be standard, modified, or created just for the client. Logotypes need to be durable, sustainable and readable. Something may look really great as signage for the side of your building, but how does it hold up at 8pt on your business cards? There are 1000's of fonts to choose from and a designer needs to explore a lot of them. Start with the basics. Should the logotype be set in ALL CAPS or all lowercase? Does a modern or classic typeface best meet the communication goals. How does each letter form look by itself, with those adjacent to it and in the entirety of the logotype? This is why often logo types are tweaked or completely redrawn because not all letter forms look great next to each other.

Color

A school bus that is of any other color is no longer a school bus. Color is first to be read by the brain, followed by shape and then content. Color is your opportunity for a great first impression, so be sure to put some thought into it. Color is used to express emotion, personality, and foster brand association. Color can be as simple as unifying your identity but can be as complex as unifying and differentiating a large catalogue of products or services.

Typography

Typography is at the core of an effective identity. The typefaces have personality, and are very distinctive. With proper selection and use they can bring great distinction to your identity. Typefaces should be chosen for their support of your positioning strategy. They should be sustainable and not be part of a current fad. Identities can last for decades and are a substantial financial investment. Therefore designing around current fads will make your identity seem dated in a few years and your investment will not have been worth it. Choosing the correct font requires a knowledge of font history and correct/intended usage. This is not something that should be chosen by a "That looks cool" attitude. Companies like Apple, Citi and Mercedes-Benz are immediately recognizable because of years of smart and consistent uses of their typographic style.

Sound and Motion

As we move into the future more and more technologies speak to us and consumers interact with technology and brands in more audible ways. It's is becoming more often that we need to animate logos or typography for commercials or web advertisements. The style and form this animation takes is important and should be Designed and chosen in a similar way to that of the logo itself.

Trial Applications

The majority of the work presented in this post is completed by the Designer working from the creative brief and in conversation with the client. When all of the aspects of the identity are solidifying, the designer should prepare some mockups of trial applications. How might a billboard, website, keychain, shopping bag, or signage look? Put the identity on trial and see if it passes the test.

Identity Presentation

A Designer can't expect the work to speak for itself and a client can't expect to fully understand everything that went into the Identity Design to be obvious, so a presentation is necessary. I can tell you from experience that the few times I haven't given a formal presentation to a client, it has been a longer and messier project than it should have been. The presentation helps the client understand and embrace their new identity.