A brand identity is much more than just a logo, it is the way you communicate with your audience and how it makes them feel. A brand identity helps to reinforce the core values of your brand and maintain a consistent aesthetic whenever your audience experiences it.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF A VISUAL IDENTITY?
Successful brands are the ones that communicate the brand ethos through the use of colour, typography, written content, imagery and iconography. They apply the visual identity consistently so that regardless of a particular brand or campaign message customers or users will recognise the brand and what it stands for. They will have developed an emotional connection for how the brand looks.
Using the brand ethos as the starting point will help to inform the creative ideas, which can then be checked against the market research and personas to help keep the visual identity on track. If you have a premium product or service or a middle aged target audience for example, the designs need to reflect this. Using garish colours or overly exaggerated design elements wouldn’t be fitting.
SO WHAT GOES INTO MAKING A VISUAL IDENTITY?
In most cases the logo will be the primary visual element that a user or customer recognises. A logo needs to encompass the brand ethos. This could be as simple as being the brand name designed appropriately or it could be a visual mark that represents a quality of the brand. It is also important to consider how the logo will be used. A logo that works well on the side of a vehicle may not work particularly well on screen. Things such as viewer distance and placement of the logo need to be considered to ensure it is always visible and clear. This is why I advise against “getting a logo” over a brand identity as the different context can be taken into consideration. A designer can make sure that a logo used at small scale works alongside the same logo when used in a horizontal or vertical stack on a piece of packaging or billboard for example.
Additionally there may be other aspects of the visual identity that relate to the logo. For example a website may need icons to help users navigate or a shop may need a way finding system. A good visual identity will have a consistency across all these elements so that someone coming into contact with them becomes familiar with the look and feel.
Colour is also very important to the visual identity. There are countless articles about colour theory and the effect they can have on a viewer. Google famously tested over 40 shades of blue on advert links. Again appropriate choice and consistency are the key for a good visual identity.
Colour choices should complement the rest of the design, and work in harmony with each other. Two to three colours and their supporting shades should suffice most requirements. It is also better to avoid using different colours to identify different aspects of a brand offering unless it is blindingly obvious what the colour represents. For example using accent colours for different product ranges. If you expand the product range you will end up with a mess of colours. The chosen colours may also mean something completely different to another person. This is different for things like user feedback on a website as there are accepted standards like green for accepted or red for error.
The typographic style of a visual identity can help to reflect the brand ethos as a user reads the written content. A brand with an authentic or more traditional brand ethos might look to script fonts for inspiration for headlines for example. Font pairings should work with each other and always keep legibility in mind. A good font choice can help bring a consistency between the logo and written copy making any designed assets look more complete. A good visual identity will consider font style, size, weight, kerning and leading to build up a typographic system that can be used in multiple scenarios, from attention grabbing headlines right through to the small print.
Imagery is also a vital part of a visual identity. Depending on the look and feel you are trying to achieve you could opt for real life photography, a still life or an illustration to help depict the brand ethos. The imagery used should complement the logo and other design elements, so avoid complex imagery if you plan on using it as a background to set your logo over. Illustrations can be worked up in the same graphic style as the logo, or a pattern can be developed to make use of clear space in the design work. These trends are particularly common with start ups and service providers where their offerings can be a bit more abstract than a physical product for example. When using photography you should maintain a consistent style that works with the rest of the identity. If you choose to use stock imagery try to use shots that are composed the same way so that they look as if they have been taken as a set rather than individually. Image treatments can work well to keep consistency, even something as simple as making all images black and white for example will help
HOW DOES A VISUAL IDENTITY HELP MY BUSINESS?
The main purpose of a visual identity is to build a consistent, well designed set of brand assets that you can use to engage your customers or users. Most designers will provide you with a brand guideline document (which can vary in size and complexity depending on your requirements).
And remember that a good visual identity isn’t something that should restrict creative ideas and designs when it comes to producing further collateral. A visual identity simply provides a framework to structure the ideas around.
When investing in a visual identity for your business, it may seem like a lot of time and money but it will help you to build familiarity and ensure that your brand messaging always looks its best. A consistent visual identity is what will make your products packaging stand out on the shelfs or create the most impact when visiting a website, all helping to increase your bottom line.