The Complete Brand Design Guide for Business Owners
A foolproof framework for creating and developing the best brand designs.
In this article, brand designs refer to visual imagery such as logos. photos, and graphics.
There is a definite relationship between your brand designs and the impression people get of your business. It’s much like selecting the right suit for a job interview or choosing what to wear on the first date with a new romantic interest.
Frankly, a business cannot afford to cut corners on brand design. Stock images and generic logos created from templates damage a brand’s visual identity and do nothing to help it stand apart from competitors. Yet, many business owners don’t see how spending money on logos and website images will help them generate more leads or revenue.
But isn’t true that what you see is what you get? Well, if your prospective customers don’t see the quality, professionalism, and expertise you offer—directly reflected by your brand design—you won’t get them to buy anything.
This post will teach you how to create quality brand designs that build more value for your business, whether you do it yourself or hire a professional.
Choosing the Right Brand Design Process
When it comes to brand design, it seems there are three choices. The first is a low-cost option, such as a stock template or a $100 logo from a freelancer website. Since most of these designs are created from a template, they are often overused and look generic.
Another option is to hire a professional designer. While this offers its advantages, many business owners are afraid to end up with a concept the designer likes instead of what they want. This result usually occurs when the business owner cannot provide adequate direction.
Designers are creative people who take great pride in their work. But their desire to deliver a high-quality design can cost more than what many business owners want to pay.
The third and final option is to do it yourself using design tools. There is a steep learning curve in most cases, and to create a professional brand design requires some proficiency. There isn’t a tool on the market that can completely compensate for lack of design skill.
To work with a designer, you must be qualified to provide precise specifications. Otherwise, it will be difficult for them to do their job, and you could end up frustrated with the entire process.
How do you know if the quality of your designs is up to par?
Take a look at your competitors. How do your brand designs compare?
Be honest. If you feel your visual brand is weak, then it’s time to do something about it. The question then becomes whether you are qualified to create a brand design that puts you on a level playing field with competitors.
If not, it may be time to get help.
Brand Design Best Practices
We will start with a few basic concepts that apply to every brand design project.
Before you do anything, you must first be clear on your brand’s style. Style elements work together to create the brand identity.
Many business owners just want a design that “looks good”. But this is a vague goal. Before creating a great design, you must have a definite vision for the brand’s identity.
What emotions do you want your brand to elicit?
What impression do you want it to make?
The answers to these questions will come from your brand values and attributes. These themes are at the core of the brand’s identity. 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 are tangible and are easier to communicate. “Long-lasting” and “cost-efficient” are examples.
Emotional attributes are intangible, which makes them more challenging to articulate. Examples of emotional qualities are luxurious, friendly, or sophisticated. These attributes are usually linked to the emotional benefits customers receive from the brand’s products and services.
The combination of values and attributes gives depth to your brand identity. Designers use them to create concepts that align with your style.
There’s 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 could be friendly and organic.
Brigitte’s Ristorante could list elegance, beauty, and classic as brand values, while their attributes might be modern 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 might own?
Before you decide, there’s 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. First, they look for visual features that resonate with their audiences, such as shapes, colors, words, and other elements. Then, they create designs that align with these preferences.
Access to this kind of research isn’t always realistic for small businesses. So, we will 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 one stands out, what makes it unique?
Be sure to study relevant competitors that target the exact audiences 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 blue so often. More than 25% of people surveyed picked blue as their favorite color. Green placed a distant second.
Since the color blue is used in so many brand designs, it won’t be easy to create differentiation if you use it too. So, instead of following the herd, it may be better to show a little boldness.
There aren’t many brands bolder than Harley Davidson. They selected orange as a primary color, even though only about 5% of the people surveyed in the study above listed orange as a favorite.
But it makes sense. 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 significant design element. For example, looking again at the restaurant images above, you can see how the font makes each 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 as well.
READ MORE: How to Choose the Best Business Fonts for Your Brand
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. So 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?
Don’t use fonts that are hard to read, and stay away from harsh colors. You may think these are a great way to stand out, but bad fonts and abrasive colors 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 will explore this in more depth in the section that follows.
Brand Design Tips
Now let’s explore some brand design tips that will help you create a fantastic brand design.
1. Design Tools
If your budget doesn’t allow you to hire a professional designer, it may be best to do it yourself. Great design is a combination of skill and creativity. It will take some practice to develop a polished design.
Here are some great online tools you can use:
While most of these have paid plans, you can do a lot with the 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 are essential as well. Rastor files are built on pixels and have a defined size. JPG and PNG files are common rastor file types (see below). However, resizing these images to fit specific spaces sacrifices resolution quality.
But vector files do not have the same limitations as rastor images. These use proportional formulas instead of pixels, making them easy to resize without compromising the quality of the picture.
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:
- Jpeg (or .jpg) is the smallest file type. These images take up less space but can lose some resolution quality.
- Portable Network Graphics (.png) are great for digital display but not for print.
- You’re probably familiar with GIFs (graphic interchange format). These are short animations that have become popular on social media in recent years.
- Tagged Image Files (TIFF) don’t lose quality but have long loading times. As a result, they aren’t usually suitable for digital and are better for print photography.
- Photoshop documents (PSD) are used in the most popular image editing software created.
- At some point, I’m sure you’ve seen a PDF. This file is great for sharing information and is common in emails.
3. Design for the Long-term
Whatever you decide, be sure to create something you can use for years to come. It takes time to build a brand identity. So your design should reflect the brand you want to become, not what it is today.
4. Be Unique
Identify unique or uncommon design elements that will set you apart from competitors. Pay attention to colors, fonts, names, and symbols. For example, some companies use logos, and others have a wordmark.
Read this article to learn more about the types of logos.
5. Less is more
Minimal designs are simpler to create, and sometimes, less is more. Think about Nike’s “swoosh” or Apple’s logo—simple symbols that represent famous brands. So don’t overlook the value of simplicity.
6. Match Colors
Choosing colors isn’t as simple as picking “red” or “blue”. Give careful thought to color combinations. Canva has a palette selection tool that can help you create nice brand colors.
Experiment until you find one you like. But, again, 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 targets males.
READ MORE: 17 Minimalist Color Palettes for Your Next Design
7. Enhance Images
Sometimes an image just doesn’t cut it, but it may not be because the image itself is terrible. A minor touch-up can transform a dull photo into one that pops.
Here is an example. The one on the left is the default, with no enhancement. But increasing the color saturation produces a vibrant image (right).
8. Use the Right Image Sizes
It is critical to factor in aspect ratio, width, resolution, and other image features.
Why is this important?
Image sizes impact website load speed!
9. Make Sure Text Is Legible
Text layered on top of images can be hard to read, 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 also has a design tool that allows you to make these adjustments.
10. Blend Elements
Brand elements are the nuance of design that many people miss but make a big difference. Coordinating element colors give your designs a polished appearance.
Again, the best way to illustrate this is with an example. First, look at the logo and then at each image.
Two images. In the same setting, both professional women are sitting at their desks. But there is one big difference—the colors in the first image match 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 photos from which to choose.
READ MORE: 4 Tips for Choosing Professional Brand Imagery
11. Don’t Crowd Elements
Inexperienced designers often have the tendency to crowd elements together. Providing adequate “white space” between design elements allows each to do their job without conflicting with one another.
The first example shows crowded elements (in this case, icons). 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, message, or mood. Avoid creating designs that are too abstract or complex.
Less is more!
To get a great brand design, you may have to spend more than you want, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune.
As always, we’re here to help. Reach out to me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time,
P.S. Would you like to talk with us about how to create a great design for your brand? Click here to get in touch with us and schedule a FREE consultation.
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