Brands are more than just their logos. Today, branding is about creating a personality, a voice, and a character that shows audiences what to expect. The visual identity of a brand should be reflected in every element of business, including logos, color palettes, photographs, and product packaging.
This is the essence of branding design.
Branding design is extremely personal and very direct, bringing corporate values to life in a tangible way. Branding design boosts revenue and top-line growth, and has the potential to make or break a company’s long term profitability.
However, creating a visual identity that “sticks” isn’t as easy as it sounds.
If you have limited experience with art, publishing, or marketing, building a coherent brand design may feel out of your league. But brand design is more accessible than most realize, especially with the advent of free software, tools, and tutorials.
Let’s explore branding design from the ground up, learning major terms, evaluating case studies, and creating brand designs on any sized budget. We’ll also take a look at key tools and resources that can help build your brand’s image.
Defining major terms in branding design
Contrary to popular belief, branding design is not the same thing as a brand or a brand guide. Instead, it’s the combination of two separate elements: brand and brand identity.
A brand is a set of feelings, thoughts, and emotions associated with a specific company, as experienced by the audience or outside world. This imbues a company with a sense of meaning or values, such as Nike’s Just Do It or De Beers’ A Diamond Is Forever. High level brand concepts must be implemented into the brand identity for best results.
Brand identity describes the nuts and bolts of branding design. Logos, font choices, colors, and branding guidelines are expressed by a company-wide brand identity. Some organizations choose to keep their identity assets in-house, while others make them accessible to anyone curious enough to look. In either case, the brand identity is built on the foundation provided by the brand.
Branding design incorporates brand values with the visual elements of brand identity. It explains the process of condensing brand personalities into more tangible elements. Rather than using monochromatic words to get a point across, brand designs use colors, fonts, pictures, and logos to reflect core values, beliefs, and characteristics. Put simply, branding design is the physical look and emotional feel of a business.
Examples of successful branding design
It’s not enough to understand textbook ideas of branding design. In a world where a brand’s identity can make or break a business, having a solid grasp of exemplified best practices is more important than ever. Before you move to the development process, let’s look at some successful brand designs and how they stand out in the marketplace.
Overnight rental and vacation company AirBnB boasts one of the most recognizable logos in the hospitality industry. Photographs are bright, light, and airy, with a people-centric focus that can be seen across channels. A text- and image-based website sets expectations immediately, reflecting core values of people, places, and love.
Combining fine wine with a box subscription program, Winc offers exploratory flavors with each bottle of the month. Pastel colors and hard lines across its sales channels exude values of luxury, exclusiveness, and minimalism. Even its logo was built with simplicity in mind, speaking directly to its elegant, refined target audience.
An immersive art company like Meow Wolf specializes in doing things differently. As such, its branding design is visually interesting and extremely dynamic. A quick visit to its website shows off an impressive slew of bright primary colors, bold font choices, and moving assets. A creative and easily recognizable brand identity helps Meow Wolf reflect its values and ideals—no words necessary.
There are hundreds of other branding designs to explore, including some of your favorite businesses. Outstanding brands like Coca-Cola and Kellogg’s leveraged the power of design to see success for more than 100 years, while younger businesses like Netflix and Mailchimp all but solidified their place in the market with their visual identities.
Be sure to take a page out of the mega-brand book while crafting your first design.
Building great branding designs on any budget
The best branding designs require extensive research, care, and hard work to be successful. Start strong by completing your initial research and brand building as early as possible.
- Create your storybrand. What does your brand represent? How do others perceive it in the marketplace? Be sure to record this in a brand bible or comprehensive folder.
- Perform market research. Understand what users are looking for in your visual identity and what other brands are already doing.
- Come up with a winning slogan. In seven words or less, sum up what your brand does better than anyone else.
With the groundwork completed, it will be time to step into the design phase.
- Work on choosing a color palette. Try to stick to complementary or contrasting colors, if possible. The Paletton tool is helpful for picking similar accents and tones, and provides vision simulation to accommodate color blindness.
- Consider your font options. Some brands choose to create fonts of their own, while others pick from a pre-existing pool.
- Create a logo. This could be text based (Silk), image based (Target), or a combination of both (Burger King).
The first iteration of your brand’s design will not and should not be its forever identity. Regularly monitor and update branded materials over time, and complete a rebranding process if necessary.
- Check for evolution. Evaluate any changes in your brand’s values, perceptions, or target audience. Use this opportunity to update any brand guidelines, if necessary.
- Think about design. Reconsider the colors, logos, and visual identity of the brand. Does anything need to be updated? Why or why not?
- Roll-out your changes. Develop a rebranding strategy that will ease your audience into any new designs. It’s critical to monitor feedback at this stage and pivot accordingly.
Branding design can be tedious in the second stage of development, particularly with the creation of logos, the choosing of colors, or the procurement of complementary fonts. Although you could rely on an in-house artist or graphic designer to get the job done, it’s perfectly possible to DIY your own custom look.
A branding design doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars or take hundreds of hours to complete. In fact, an effective and on-budget design starts with just a few tools and resources.
Below are three categories of vital branding design tools, including graphics software, logo creators, and online learning resources.
Branding design software
There are hundreds of branding design programs available online, designed to match different budgets and experience levels.
- Canva is a free online program with paid and free access.
- Fontjoy compares complementary fonts to create a pleasing theme for branding designs.
- Adobe Creative Cloud is best for knowledgeable design professionals, starting at $9.99 per month for the Express plan.
Branded logo generation
Designing a logo can be challenging, particularly if you don’t have experience with art or design. Logo generators can help to provide a basis for your ideas—or a starting point if nothing else.
- Tailor Brands supplies AI-generated logos starting at $9.99 per month.
- Shopify’s Hatchful provides hundreds of different templates for virtually any industry.
- Free Logo Design offers exactly what the name suggests, with upgradable options for additional services.
Tutorials and resources
Learning from online blogs, articles, and videos is a great way to build your branding design expertise. There are several options to choose from:
If you still don’t feel comfortable working on brand design alone, remember that there are professional branding design experts available to help in multiple capacities. Agencies, freelancers, and boutiques may be a great choice for brands with larger marketing budgets. However, a DIY approach has the potential to be just as good or better than the corporate development process.
It pays to understand your needs and limitations before hiring additional help.
Getting started with your branding design
The world’s most recognizable branding designs were not created overnight. As you begin the process of developing assets, choosing colors, and comparing font choices, be sure to take a step back and keep an eye on your progress. The result may not be perfect, but it certainly is a step in the right direction.
Allow your brand’s expression to evolve naturally over time, and be willing to adapt as individual elements start to change. Look for ways to improve, ask for honest feedback, and keep an ear to the ground for what your audience has to say.
Your branding design deserves the respect that its parent brand commands. Empower your business to take control of its visual identity with simple tools, expert tips, and advice derived from industry experts. With a little creativity and elbow grease, you’ll be well on your way to creating an identity that stands out to customers for years to come.