When it comes to branding, what we see is what we get. At least, that’s how potential customers feel. They’ll have no reason to give a visually unimpressive Brand the benefit of the doubt—it’s up to the brand to earn that kind of trust. In branding, “what we see” is a brand’s Visual Identity.
Visual identity is about shaping perception and creating an impression through the visible elements of your brand. Images are a powerful form of communication, specifically because they do not communicate with words. They connect with us on a primal, emotional level and are thus more persuasive. But with great power of communication comes great responsibility: we need to be extra cautious that we are not sending the wrong message.
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Visual identity is the combination of imagery and graphical information that expresses who a brand is and differentiates it from all the others. In other words, it describes everything customers can physically see, from the logo to the interior design of a store. Often, visual identity culminates in the development of a brand style guide which provides consistent instructions on how the brand should be visually represented at all times and in any situation.
The purpose of visual identity is:
- creating an emotional impression on viewers
- informing viewers about the nature of the brand and services/products offerings
- unifying the various aspects of a business through consistent visuals.
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How to design an outstanding visual identity
Defining Your Brand Identity
Your brand identity should guide the visuals, not the other way around. After all, your visuals are meant to express who we are, so it would make sense to first figure out what we are all about.
While we don’t need to figure out every aspect of the brand (as brands can and should evolve over time), but we must decide on these basics of brand strategy:
- Mission statement
- Core values
- What purpose does your brand serve
- Your buyer personas
- The communication style of your brand
These points will assist to see your brand as a character, what she would look like, and sound like if she were a real person. Seeing your brand as a person makes it much easier to recognize which visual “outfits” fit and which don’t when crafting your visual identity.
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Telling a Compelling Story
While graphic design is useful for communicating ideas visually, those ideas must come together to tell a captivating story about your brand. Visuals grab attention, but stories have the power to involve people. They root for the underdog, they scorn the villain, they swoon over the hero.
Good stories are rooted in characters and conflict. Decide who your protagonist is and give them an obstacle to overcome: whether it’s your customers and their pain points or it’s your business and the noise of other brands who are neglecting their needs.
Above all else, your visual identity must adhere to storytelling’s most cherished rule: show, don’t tell.
Aiming for Simplicity
Clearly there are a great number of messages, ideas, and stories your visual identity can communicate. So many options can be a blessing and a curse. To avoid confusion, it’s best to focus on one message at a time. Consumers will take in visual information within a matter of seconds, and unless they are actively seeking out your brand, they will move on just as quickly.
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Balancing Consistency with Contrast
Given the sheer amount of brand collateral that will accumulate over the years of business, your visual identity will inevitably involve many moving parts. The challenge is to make sure that every visual element, no matter its specific purpose or medium, looks like part of the same brand. This is where having well-documented brand style guidelines can be crucial.
The other challenge that comes with visual consistency is redundancy: a brand that is too predictable can fade to the background. One of the core principles of design that separates design elements from the background is contrast. Look for opportunities to infuse your existing visual brand with new and varied contrast.
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Know When To Step Back and When To Stand Out
You might assume that the purpose of a visual identity is to be noticed at all times. After all, it’s hard to communicate visually if no one is paying attention. But there are times when the best visual identity is one that flies under the radar.
Consider a website that users are trying to navigate or a newsletter where they are looking for information. Having a web background of vibrant yellow might align with your brand color guidelines, but imagine how distracting that would be for a user trying to read your copy. Visual communication often works on an unconscious level, and you can trust that your message is getting across even with minimal implementation.
On the other hand, sometimes it makes sense to wear your visual identity loud and proud, if you’re attempting to differentiate your product from other products on the same shelf, for example. It’s important to recognize when it’s time to stand out and when it’s time to step back.
Designing For the Medium
No visual identity exists in a vacuum: after developing any visual asset, ensure to send it off into the real, or digital, world. A visual identity for an online brand will naturally look different from a brick-and-mortar brand, where tactile experiences such as textures and die cuts will go a long way with consumers. Different media can even drastically change how your visual elements come across: colors that appear bright in the digital sphere will be darker when printed. Similarly, serifs are considered the most legible typeface style in print. But sans serif is more legible on a computer screen. Wherever your visual identity takes you, make sure you’re adequately prepared for the journey.
A visual identity is a powerful tool for telling a brand’s story and connecting with customers. Because it is so effective at communication, the wrong message can have dire consequences. Understanding your own brand identity guides on your visual journey. The best way to make sure you get a visual identity that fits is to work with a great logo and branding designer. Contact our brand identity design services for assistance related to branding and visual identity.
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