Branding is to a business what a personality is to a human being. Just as there are many aspects to a persons personality; mannerisms, likes & dislikes, facial expressions, posture, etc., there are likewise many qualities that define a brand. It is a commonly held belief that a “brand” is just a logo. Likewise, there are many DIY services and designers out there willing to reinforce this notion. People who are all too happy to design a cool looking mark and call it a brand. Unfortunately, these efforts rarely last, and are more often than not completely forgettable.
The brands that truly stand the test of time typically share a set of qualities which we have identified and used to shape our custom branding process.
With our time-tested process, there is a lot of work that happens before a pencil ever hits the paper.
The first step with any branding project, whether it is for a new company or an existing company, is to get a solid understanding of the businesses personality. What are the people like who work there? What services or products does the business offer? What is the quality of those services or products? What makes the business unique? What are the core values of the business? What are their unique quirks? Like people, every business has a unique personality, and that is ultimately what a logo aims to reflect.
It is only when we feel that we have a good understanding of the business, will we begin to sketch ideas for concepts.
A typical branding project will usually consist of three major aspects: the logo mark, the color scheme, and the typography. And with every branding project that we take on, we address each of these three aspects with a different set of guidelines.
Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT a logo's job to tell a story. Many people attempt to force complex ideas or stories into their logo, but the reality is, very few people will ever think about it that deeply. A logo's job is simply to identify - not to describe. In this regard, a logo is really no different than a persons signature. A signature is a unique mark to represent a person. But, looking at someones signature, we cannot reliably know for certain anything about that persons. We can't determine a whole lot about their personality, interests, profession, or appearance. A signature conveys none of those things. Sure, we might attempt to deduce what somebody does based on their signature. A sloppy, barely legible signature might lead us to think a person is a doctor, for example. However, these assumptions are flimsy at best, and have no factual grounding.
When it comes to designing a logo, there are really three criteria that we can repeatedly use to evaluate the quality of the mark.
Let’s unpack these three qualities a little further.
For logos that are overly complex, scalability becomes a real issue. When you try to pack too much detail into a logo, many of those details become lost the smaller you make it. Unfortunately, we can’t always know just how big or small our logos will need to be. Prior to the year 2000, most businesses didn’t think they would need to have their logo represented in a 32px favicon. Versatility is the name of the game here - and having the ability to scale or shrink your logo to be recognizable at any size is versatility 101.
Speaking of versatility, another reason a lot of logos become difficult to work with is that they are reliant on color. When a logo is composed of too many colors, you start to lose flexibility in terms of how you can display it. If your logo is comprised of multiple “lighter” colors and you attempt to place it over a lighter background, it becomes difficult to see. To achieve maximum versatility with a logo, it really needs the ability to be displayed in a single color. When this is the case, you gain the ability to change its color to ensure you have enough contrast to see it, regardless of the background you place it on.
Finally - there is the question of whether the logo is appropriate for the brand that it represents. Of the three core criteria, this one is the most subjective and also the most broad.
We first need to consider what is being portrayed. If you are using the image of a clown to represent a funeral home, that probably isn’t the right imagery for your business. We also have to be aware of potentially offensive symbolism, as well as unintended innuendos or imagery. It can be very easy for us to have blinders on when it comes to our own logos. The last thing we want is to have a logo that teenagers are making fun of, because of an unintended phallic likeness.
Once the logo mark has been designed, we will turn our attention to the typography.
Typography is often an underrated and under-appreciated aspect of a brand, which is a shame, because of how much of a brand rests on the shoulders of typography. From the time when we first learn to read (and maybe even before that), we begin to notice the different personalities of different fonts.
Through type alone, we are able to convey strength, gracefulness, playfulness, and a myriad of other emotions and characteristics. It is through properly harnessing the characteristics of strategically chosen fonts that we reinforce a brand in peoples eyes.
Once we have established a primary font, we also make sure we have one or two supporting fonts that pair well with the primary font and can be used to stand in contrast to it. For legibility purposes, you will typically pair a serif font with a sans-serif font. That is not necessarily a hard rule, and it is certainly a rule that has been successfully broken many times. However, having both a serif and sans-serif option is invaluable when it comes to versatility.
In addition to choosing fonts that accurately capture the personality of the business, we also need to be mindful of choosing fonts that have a variety of weights, are readily available as web-fonts, and can be easily shared throughout an organization.
With every branding project we take on, we always start designing in black and white. When color is taken out of the equation, it allows us to focus purely on the integrity of the mark. With the mark firmly in place, only then will we turn our attention to the color scheme.
It would be shortsighted to say “there are no right or wrong colors” when it comes to choosing colors for a business. It is true that you will be able to find businesses that use virtually ever color across the spectrum. However, that does not change the fact that certain colors are going to be more appropriate for one business than for others, depending on a number of factors.
Every culture attaches meaning to different colors. In America for example, we often associate the color red with danger, heat, aggression, anger, passion, and excitement. Context is key here, and you want to ensure that you are selecting colors that are appropriate in the culture where it will be most prominently displayed.
Additionally, given our natural tendency to associate different colors with different feelings and emotions, it is important to select colors that match peoples associations.
Going back to versatility however, it is also important for a brand to have a variety of colors available to utilize for different things. With our branding process, we typically strive to have three available colors to use for the brand: a primary color, and two secondary colors. With those selected, we will also choose a lighter & darker shade of each. Finally, we will round out the palette with a range of neutral tones that pair well with the chosen colors.
Once a full palette has been established, we also match those colors across different mediums. What many people don't realize is that the same colors will usually look different depending on what you are viewing them on. Colors on a computer screen will appear different from colors that are printed on an ink jet printer. And those colors will be different still from something painted on the wall.
This is because different processes are used to produce the colors. On a computer screen, colors are produced by mixing different intensities of light. With most inkjet printers, colors are produced by mixing different amounts of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks (CMYK). And with paints, they typically use a color process known as Pantone to identify their paint mixtures. Knowing this, we make sure to provide our clients with the correct colors so that whether the colors are shown on a screen, in print, or on a painted wall, they look consistent.
It is our goal with this article to shed some light on our branding process and the amount of thought & attention that goes in to building a brand. There are a lot of designers, agencies, and services out there who will charge you to design a cool looking mark, or write your business name in a fancy looking way. But these are not a complete brand, and will usually begin to show their limitations pretty quickly.
With every branding project that we take on, it is our goal to produce a fully-explored branding strategy that properly captures the essense of your business, while providing the versatility to adapt and grow along with your business. You don't want to be rebranding your business every couple of years. Branding is something that should be done once in a generation. There is a good reason why Coca-Cola, Nike, Levi's and Apple have not changed their logo in decades. The more time people have to become familiar with your brand, the more ubiquitous it becomes.
If you're ready to get started with a branding project of your own, be sure to download our starter packet. For any questions, or if you're ready to bring us on board, send us an email, or give us a call.