Branding and identity are all around us on websites and product packaging… on different types of advertising… even on personal items, like documents and business cards.
Simply put, branding is what other people think—about you, your company, your product, or your service.
Visual identity is what that brand looks like, from your logo to your color choices and so much more. Strong visuals can be very persuasive. Think of your own experiences as a consumer. Have you ever chosen a product simply because you liked the way it looked?
Understanding visual identity can help you make more thoughtful design decisions, regardless of your role, medium, or skill level. Visual identity is kind of like a preview of your brand. Each part of your design is a clue that tells the viewer what they can expect. Your tone can be classic and refined… or a little more out there. No matter what, every element works together to show exactly what your brand is about. Of course, it’s not all business. You can apply the concept of identity to almost any type of project, big or small. Whether you’re updating your resume… or looking for ways to enhance your website… there are lots of benefits to having a consistent visual style. Some companies use an actual style guide to keep their brand looking consistent. If you’re just getting started with design, it’s OK to take a more casual approach. The main components of visual identity are:
A logo is what identifies your brand using a particular mark, type design, or both. The most effective logos tend to be fairly simple—something viewers will recognize and remember. Every element of your logo contributes to your brand identity, including your font choice, colors, and other imagery. Change even one of these elements… and it can have a big impact on the way your brand is perceived. In practice, logos are everywhere. Look closely, and you’ll find them in corporate settings… as well as out and about, representing small businesses, freelancers, and other entrepreneurs. A logo is a lot like a literal brand—it’s how people come to recognize you and identify your product or service. That’s why it’s important to use it wisely. A logo that’s pixelated, distorted, or too small to read could give viewers the wrong impression. Keep a master copy that’s sharp, high quality, and big enough for any project. That way, you’re prepared for anything that might come along, whether it’s a simple print job… or something else entirely.
Colors help define your brand in a very powerful way. Not only does it make a strong impression on the viewer; it also creates a sense of unity when used across multiple projects or platforms. Most brands derive their main colors directly from the company logo. Additional colors can help you expand the main palette and further define your brand’s personality and style. There are lots of ways to use brand colors. Just be careful not to go overboard or ignore basic design standards. Avoid common pitfalls like colors that vibrate… or threaten to overwhelm your design. Make sure to include neutrals in your color palette, like black, grey, white, or off-white.
is one of the simpler aspects of identity, but it can be surprisingly expressive. All it takes is a different font… and you can subtly (or not so subtly) change the entire look of your brand. Most brands choose 2 to 3 fonts—often inspired by the logo—for basic, everyday use. Creative fonts should also be chosen with care and should be a reflection of your unique visual identity. There are certain fonts that professionals know to avoid—fonts that were once popular, but are now considered outdated and overused. When in doubt, a more timeless, understated font is less likely detract from your message. Your font choice should complement your brand, but still be current and professional.
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Images are a huge part of building a unique identity. Every photo, graphic, icon, and button is a chance to showcase your brand and shape the way that it’s perceived. In professional settings, images are usually created specifically for the brand; for instance, pictures in a catalog… or graphics in an app. Beginners can get similar results by choosing images with a subtle through-line, like a signature color… a shared subject… or a consistent graphic style. Most importantly, avoid images that feel generic or obviously staged. This is difficult if you’re relying on third party stock, but there are ways to set your brand apart. Avoid images that lack context or appear frequently in other brands’ designs. Instead, choose images that seem genuine and feature authentic people, places, and things.
Visual identity isn’t just a marketing tool. It’s a way of looking at design that removes a lot of the guesswork. With a clear vision of your brand, you know exactly what colors, fonts, and images to use. You can create consistent works that viewers will remember.
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