August 29, 2022
By: Goran Duškić
Entrepreneurs have been building and creating brands and businesses since long ago. Some were more captivating than others, but both small and large companies worked hard at creating a brand.
With the advent of the internet, we now have micro companies joining the stage. Bloggers, Youtubers, influencers, WordPress widgets, browser add-ons, mobile apps. Some of these are not so micro and have millions of users, but more often than not, they are a one-man band. My point, everyone is creating a brand. Both personal and as a business.
In the past, this burden fell mostly on the shoulders of giants, big corporations with big budgets, and employee mistakes could go under the radar and quickly be swept under the rug. But on the internet, as they say, everything is written in ink.
You can easily see what the Google website looked like last year or 20 years ago.
Ever heard the phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? The reason this phrase exists is that so many people make this mistake. We want to make split-second decisions.
As Malcolm Gladwell writes in his business book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, these snap judgments are important decision-making tools but can also lead to bad choices and all sorts of problems.
First impressions win clients. And speaking of clients and buyers these days, they are savvy. Everything is being scrutinized in seconds, and if one dot is not where it is supposed to be, you are toast.
Design can help. Colors can help. You can actually paint a picture of what your brand stands for.
As one blog shared:
"In the 1970s, no IT manager ever got fired for choosing Big Blue. During cyber security’s growth spurt, no creative ever got fired for designing a blue cyber security visual.
Blue gives us an impression of cold… The appearance of objects seen through a blue glass is gloomy and melancholy." (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1810)
My company is certainly guilty of this, as we have also opted for blue (with a touch of gold for luxury). Blue, unlike red, is a cold color. When you think blue, you can think of an ocean or sea of tranquility. When you think about cybersecurity or security in general (like no logs VPN), you want to evoke calmness.
Other than cybersecurity, the color blue is often associated with insurance (Allianz, Allstate, AIG, Geico, and many others).
It doesn’t hurt that blue is often picked as a favorite color. And in case you were wondering, blue is one of three primary colors. It comes as no surprise that other businesses have also used it in their logo, brand design, and other messaging.
Generally, the color blue has positive connotations. Let’s do a little test. Which color comes to mind if I ask you to imagine pristine, clear water? Here’s another example, similar to water (which in essence is transparent, but we think of it as blue because of the sea and lakes), we have air. Therefore, we love to say, “clear _____ skies.”
It doesn’t matter if your company is about cybersecurity, beard grooming, cars (check examples below), or any other industry. Colors always abide by the same rules, and business owners and designers can use that to their advantage.
Without going through all the colors (we already covered that here), I will just mention that as a part of creating a brand, you need to choose your color. Which color conveys your brand values? What emotions are associated with “your color”?
The same goes with shapes, animals, names, and symbols used in creating your brand. Ferrari and Mustang highlight a horse impossible to tame, and Lamborghini shows a raging bull. Imagine if they used a green donkey; it even hurts to visualize that.
Speaking of visualization, what is brand design? Let’s get back to the basics.
Designing a brand starts with a simple visualization. Who are you as a founder, and what do your company and products or services stand for? Who are your clients? Think about the feelings you want to evoke. Is it excitement? Fun and quirkiness? Or do you want to incite calmness and professionalism? Is it a hero attitude?
Brand design is a set of steps that ultimately create a message with colors, logos, illustrations, typography, and other elements. This message creates an emotion in our target audience. Essentially, it says, this is who we are. This is what we (both the company and the clients) stand for. If there is a disconnect between the two, the audience will not rally behind the brand.
For some, it's hard to differentiate the brand identity and visual identity. Let’s start with a visual identity as it is easier to understand due to its visual nature.
With visual identity, it’s obvious that it’s everything that you see, and it’s physical. Some examples are business cards, logos, websites, Facebook pages, YouTube channels, invoices, and more. Brand identity is softer, and it has to do with the voice, personality, and mission.
When you think of McDonald's, Taco Bell, Subway, or KFC, they are all fighting for the same piece of the pie, but have different voices, personalities, and missions. And yes, their visual identity is also very different.
When designing a brand, there are some elements that you must include. We already wrote about brand collateral and also wrote about the difference between brand image and brand identity, but this is a bit different.
If you have heard of brand style guides (branding manuals), that’s a great tool to help you design a brand. Here’s the thing: as soon as you start using your logo, you may run into problems.
Let’s say your logo contains a long name and an illustration. It has the shape of a rectangle. You want to create a favicon for your company’s website. Your web developer asks you to send them a square (16x16 px) image. What now? A good brand style guide can solve this problem.
So what does a brand style guide contain?
This will be used in all forms of communication: video, web, print, and any other new medium that comes around. Thinking about plastering stickers around? Check your guide. Want to put a sign on top of your building? Check your brand style guide. Want to decorate your car park? I think you know what I am about to say.
I’ve already mentioned colors, so let’s keep it short. You need to know which colors play well with your main color. For example, when designing a website, you may need one or two additional colors to display the text accordingly.
Fonts can be quirky, serious, futuristic, or dramatic. Fonts can push the envelope, and so will I by saying that fonts have a soul. Sometimes, all you need is a great font to deliver your message.
As described in the intro of this section, as soon as you start applying your logo design in the real world, you will run into problems. You need a black and white logo and rules on what to do with horizontal, vertical, and square situations. Do you need a transparent version of the logo? Make sure to have vector files for advanced applications and PNG or JPEG logo variations for day-to-day usage.
There are many ways a designer can impact a brand. Stylish icons mean the world to a great website. Illustrations used as a header image for a blog post or an article published on a website can make a difference. There are also seamless patterns, brushes, samples, textures, etc.
These days, companies start with a basic package. Usually, this includes a brand guide style, which we’ve just covered. Or some combination of logo design, business cards, and some other assets depending on the budget, project size, and services offered by the design company.
I’ll simplify and describe this as three steps.
Step 2: Depending on the business and where it meets with its clients, you create assets. For example, if you are a freelancer that meets with clients from around the world, you don’t run to print a thousand business cards because you will never get to share them. If you plan to build a fleet of cars (revolutionary delivery service, rideshare, etc.), then focus there.
Step 3: Find additional ways you can connect your business and your brand with new clients. These days, it’s mostly through the web, social media, newsletters, and other digital forms of communication.
Essentially, applications are limitless. Let’s mention a few more:
There’s no point in wasting time and mentioning debatable examples. In this section, we won’t reinvent the wheel, so let’s start at the top.
Apple has been at the forefront of design since the nineties. Or earlier, depending on who you ask. It took a while to get returns, but now they sit on the throne as the most valuable brand.
With its recognizable curvy logo, Coca-Cola has been winning hearts and minds ever since Asa Kandler purchased the Coca-Cola recipe in 1888. Not only is it hard to keep a company alive for 100+ years, but Coca-Cola has dominated the industry. Notable mentions in the food industry include Starbucks and McDonald's.
Nike is a brand I really like. If you are into reading books, I can recommend Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog. Their ads are some the best in the world, and this one comes to mind in particular. Nike’s brand design supports the waves they are making in the sports industry. I own a lot of Adidas goods, but I can’t compare any of their branding to Nike’s Air Jordans. That would include the Adidas Yeezy as well.
Yes, there is Patek Philippe, Zenith, and many others. But Rolex's brand design is exquisite, and I chose them to represent the watch industry. Against all the digital watches out there, a true gentleman will still wear it if he can afford it, of course.
In case you missed it, we have a recurring theme. Rolex is on rolex.com. Apple is on apple.com. Nike is on nike.com. Top brands own their .com domain names. I would go as far as to say that having a .com domain name is a part of building a brand. Let’s go through a few more examples in other industries.
I’ll be honest, I checked both American Express and Visa, but the two red and orange circles won me over. Their cards, website, logo, and typography work well and are cleverly designed. Maybe the other companies in this space are better, but MasterCard is certainly top of the line.
Let’s face it, if you see magenta, you instantly think T-Mobile. Maybe it’s because they also patented it. Even though I am a client of their competitor, and I absolutely hate the magenta color, I stand in awe of T-Mobile’s brand design. For me, it’s a perfect example of one of those “I hate to love it” situations.
I hate to admit it, but Tesla dominates the car industry. Now, mind you, I am not a fan of Elon Musk. Furthermore, this is coming from a guy who loves a good muscle car (Ford), has read about a dozen lean manufacturing books (Toyota), and thinks Mercedes-Benz possibly has the best cars.
But here I am, listing Tesla. Why? Brand design. Their logo, name (Nikola Tesla was born about an hour drive from where I live), typography, colors, I just love it.
Here we have another 90+ year-old brand still pushing the envelope. I could have mentioned Oakley or any other Luxottica eyewear brands. But I’ve been buying Ray-Ban sunglasses for the past 20 years, so you can say I am biased. Never hide.
Design is key in building a great brand, and it would be foolish to disregard it. When your clients interact with your company, you have two choices. Provide a great experience followed by a great design, or a mediocre experience followed by no design. I think the decision is easy. Where it gets hard is that we are not all designers, but there’s nothing wrong with asking for a little help along the way.