The Complete Guide to Brand Design for Business Owners
A practical framework for creating engaging brand designs.
I talk with a lot of people about design. Graphics, websites, logos, social media profiles, and an assortment of other imagery. There is a definite relationship between your brand designs and the impression people get of your business.
For that reason, they must look great.
Hiring a professional designer can get expensive. But the quality of do-it-yourself design often leaves a lot to be desired.
In this article, you will learn how to get the perfect brand design whether you do it yourself or hire help.
But first, I want to share a short story.
He Said What?
Earlier this year, my wife and I decided to get a new sofa because the one we had was looking a little worn.
We began our search at local re-sale furniture stores. After visiting a few, we noticed the sofas looked generic everywhere we went. It was as if they all came from the same supplier.
They weren’t bad, they just didn’t look great. We wanted something unique and soon realized we might need to spend a little more to get it. We also knew that if we weren’t careful, we could end up spending a fortune.
Where could we find something unique without having to take on a second mortgage?
We decided to visit one of the name-brand furniture stores down the street. A nice fellow greeted us at the door and told us he would be happy to help us find the perfect sofa.
He asked if we had a photo of our living room. As it happens, my wife had a few on her iPhone. He looked over them, flipping through each one slowly, taking in every detail.
Finally, he handed the phone back to my wife, squinted his eyes and looked at us. (We couldn’t see his expression, we all had masks on.)
Then he asked, “Would you be willing to repaint your house, inside and out?”
I cleared my throat. “I’m sorry, did you ask if we’d be willing to repaint our house?”
“Yes,” he said. “You see, we have some beautiful sofas. But to make them really pop, you need to start with the outside and work your way in. The colors you have now are all wrong for our product lines. Oh and of course, you’ll also need to change the rug, add curtains, and perhaps even get a few new chairs.”
Fortunately for him, he couldn’t see my expression. We told him we would think about it and got out of there as fast as we could.
What Does This Have to Do with Brand Design?
My experience shopping for a sofa is much like what business owners go through with brand design.
It seems there are two choices. The first is low-cost design options, such as stock templates or a $20 logo from a “cyber-lancer” website. Like those sofas from a re-sale furniture store, most are generic and uninspiring.
Besides, a cheap design can have an adverse effect on your brand.
The other option is to hire a professional designer. While this offers its advantages, it isn’t for everyone.
Many business owners are afraid to end up with a concept the designer likes instead of what they want. This usually happens when you don’t provide enough direction.
This is why the interior designer advised my wife and I to repaint our house. We weren’t clear enough about our goals or budget, so he got carried away and tried to sell us an entire makeover.
Most designers are creative people who take great pride in their work. But their desire to deliver a high-quality design can cost more than most business owners want to pay.
The key to getting great brand design is to know enough about it make the right decision. If you choose to do it yourself, you should have enough skill to do it reasonably well. Poor design will have a negative impact on your business’s image.
Should you hire a designer, you must know how to collaborate with them to get the results you want. Not providing clear specifications makes it difficult for them to do their job. In turn, you could end up frustrated with the entire process and wasting money on a design you don’t like.
Brand Design Best Practices
First, let’s start with some basic concepts to ensure your designs will be the best they can be.
As you read on, you will notice that some points I make carry over into other sections. That’s because information in one area of design may relate to another.
Before you do anything, you must first be clear on your brand’s style. Your style is the foundation for the kind of brand you want to build.
Many business owners just want a design that “looks good”. But this is a vague goal. Before you can create a great design, you must have a definite vision for your brand.
What kind of emotions do you want your brand to elicit?
What impression do you want to make?
The answers to these questions will come from your brand values and attributes. These are themes that support the brand identity you want to create. They are the essence of what sets you apart from competitors.
Brand values are single words or short sentences and guide your actions — the way you do things.
Examples of brand values are compassionate, confident, flexible, innovative, integrity, and responsible.
Brand attributes are the functional and emotional characteristics of your business. They are usually related to the specific benefits you offer customers.
Examples of functional attributes may be comforting, healthy, long-lasting, or cost-efficient.
Emotional attributes could be luxurious, friendly, or sophisticated.
The combination of values and attributes gives depth to your brand identity. Designers use values and attributes to create concepts that align with your style.
There is a bit of psychology that comes into play here. As a simple illustration of how this works, let’s say you own a restaurant. Now, take a look at the two images below. What impression do you get of each?
For Vero Buonissimo, some brand values that come to mind are vintage, quality, and warmth. Their brand attributes may be friendly and organic.
Brigitte’s Ristorante could list elegance, create beauty, and classic as brand values. Their attributes might be modernity and luxurious.
Even with these distinct differences, both could be fine dining restaurants.
As you look at them, which image best resonates with the kind of restaurant brand you would want to own?
Before you decide, there is another factor to consider.
It doesn’t matter how much you like a design if it falls flat with your audience.
Most corporations do a lot of market research before soliciting design concepts. This helps them determine what features resonate with their audience. Examples could be images, colors, words, and other elements. Designs are then created to align with these preferences.
This isn’t always realistic for small businesses. So, we’ll use a practical approach.
Start by looking at your competitors. Take note of any trends you see in their designs. Are they similar? Does one stand out over the others? If you find one that looks unique, what makes it that way?
Be sure to study relevant competitors the same audience you do. Avoid comparisons with companies that don’t fit your size or market. The goal is to be unique so incorporate design components no one else uses.
For example, blue is one of the most common colors for business logos. Color theory suggests that blue communicates trust.
But there may be a better reason we see it so often. More than 25% of people surveyed picked blue as their favorite color. Green placed a distant second.
Since blue is in so many brand designs, it will be difficult to create differentiation if you use it too. That means it’s time to show a little boldness.
There aren’t many brands bolder than Harley Davidson. They selected orange as their primary brand color. In the same study mentioned above, only about 5% of the people surveyed said orange was their favorite.
This makes sense if you think about it. After all, Harley Davidson’s brand values reflect personal freedom and independence. The members of their audience are rebels at heart.
When it comes to your target audience, color is only part of the equation. Typefaces (fonts) are also a major design element. Looking again at the restaurant images above, you can see how the fonts used makes each one unique.
Vero Buonissimo uses a serif typeface. Brigitte’s uses a sans-serif. Each one conveys a different feel. The typeface you choose should align with your brand design as well.
The Real Purpose of Brand Design
Your customers will have unique preferences. It just isn’t possible to choose a design everyone in your market will like.
Instead, the goal is to create a design that makes sense and accomplishes its purpose.
First, it should pass the “eye test”. Can people look at your design and essentially get the same impression?
Can they perceive the feel you want them to have?
The best way to find out is to ask. Create drafts of your design and get feedback before making a final choice. While it’s ideal to get feedback from people who match your target customer profile, it isn’t mandatory.
Rely on common sense. Don’t use fonts that are hard to read. Stay away from harsh colors. You may think these are a great way to stand out, but bad fonts and colors will do more harm than good. The same is true for blurry or distorted images.
It’s much better to have a simple design than to create something complex or confusing. We’ll explore this in more depth in a section that follows.
Brand Design Tips
Now let’s explore some brand design tips that will help you create a great brand design.
1. Design Tools
If your budget won’t allow you to hire a professional designer, then it may be best to do it yourself. Great design is a combination of skill and creativity. It will take some practice to reach the point where you can develop a design you can be proud of.
Here are some great online tools you can use:
While most of these have paid plans, you can do a lot with their free versions.
2. Know Your File Types
You must also know what file type (extensions) to use in each circumstance.
The quality and flexibility of file types is important as well. Rastor files are built on pixels and have a defined size. Jpeg and PNG files are common rastor file types (see below). However, resizing these images to fit certain spaces sacrifices resolution quality.
But vector files do not have the same limitations of rastor images. These use proportional formulas instead of pixels. This makes them easy to resize without compromising the quality of the image.
You should have a vector file for all brand designs you create. These are used to make t-shirts, business cards, or other brand assets.
The most common image types are:
3. Design for the Long-term
Whatever you decide, be sure to create something you can use for years to come. This is important because it takes time to build a brand identity. Your design should reflect the brand you want to become, not what it is today.
“Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have.”
4. Be Unique
Identify unique or uncommon design elements that will set you apart from competitors. Pay attention to colors, fonts, names, and symbols. Some companies use logos, others have a wordmark.
For more on the types of logos, read this article.
5. Less is more
Minimal designs are not only simpler to create, they are elegant and more effective. Think about Nike’s “swoosh” or Apple’s logo. These are simple symbols that represent famous brands. Don’t overlook the value of simplicity.
6. Match Colors
Choosing colors isn’t as easy as going with “red” or “blue”. Careful thought should be given to color combinations. Canva has a useful palette selection tool.
Experiment until you find one you like. Again, be sure to consider the kind of brand you want to create.
For example, a women’s fashion brand may find that purple works well. But green or black may be more appropriate for a brand that target males.
7. Enhance Images
Sometimes an image just doesn’t “cut it”. But it may not be because the image itself is bad. A little touch up can transform a dull image into one that pops.
Here’s an example. The top image is the default, with no enhancement. But increasing the color saturation produces a vibrant image (bottom image).
8. Use the Right Image Sizes
Image sizes impact website load speed. You should factor in aspect ratio, width, resolution, and other image features.
To learn more about these features, read this article from Shutterstock.
9. Make Sure Text Is Legible
Text layered on top of images can be hard to read. This is usually because there isn’t enough contrast between the text and background.
Look at the examples below:
In the first image, you can see that the name is hard to read because the background is too light. By darkening it a little, the text is much easier to see.
Canva is a great design tool that allows you to make these adjustments.
10. Blend Elements
This is probably the one nuance of design that many people miss but makes a big difference when done well. Coordinating element colors will give your designs a polished appearance.
Again, the best way to illustrate this is with an example. Look at the logo, and then at each image.
Two images. Same setting, both professional women sitting at their desks. But there is one big difference. The colors in image #1 have been matched with the colors used in the logo.
Using a free color selector extension, you identify the hex code for the logo colors. Many image sites, such as Adobe Stock, allow you to sort and filter images according to color. Enter the hex code and voila! You have a library of color-coordinated images to choose from.
11. Don’t Crowd Elements
Another issue with amateur design is the result of crowding elements together. Providing adequate “white space” between elements allows each one to do their job without conflicting with one another.
The first example shows elements that are crowded. The second is much better.
12. Make It Easy On the Eyes
Overall, your designs should be pleasing for the viewer. Remember that all your brand designs should communicate a theme, a message, or mood. Avoid creating designs that are too abstract or complex.
Less is more!
To get a great brand design, you will probably have to spend more than you want. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune.
Until next time,
Managing Director, The Brand Auditors