Did you ever walk down the street, smell French fries, and immediately know there is a McDonald's nearby? Or maybe you see an ad on TV and you know it’s a Coca-Cola commercial long before they even show the logo? That’s branding done right. These are the companies who know their brand well and have ingrained their imagery in your mind.
To build a brand identity is an intimate process that entails understanding your company's values and outward image. You can learn how to create a strong brand identity that will stick in consumers' minds by understanding how top brands did it and with our tips and tricks. To get you started on this brand identity journey, this post will cover the following;
Even the best designers look left and right for inspiration. Let’s take a look at some of the brands that nailed it, and what we can learn from them.
Airbnb has not only changed the way we travel but also the way brand design is done. Starting with the ‘Belong Anywhere’ creative proposal, every brand element and brand asset was transformed to match the new identity. The design agency's process started with trying the Airbnb service. 18 hosts, 13 cities, 90 days spent at the HQ, and 120 employee interviews later, the branding agency had gathered enough insight to build a creative strategy. The new identity logo design became a symbol of Airbnb’s values and community – one that people share proudly.
The next step was to bring the new branded identity to life online and on the go. They went above and beyond and built a platform where community members could create their own version of the logo.
2. Give London
Give London is a charity fundraising initiative that targets overlooked local charities and aims to help people support different issues like child poverty, isolation, or education. Their brand building process started from the idea of "local giving" and telling the stories of many unknown charities.
The logo, even if it is abstract, creates a strong emotional connection. The imagery was carefully chosen, and the color palette and typography keep things clean and simple, drawing your attention to the message.
Misfit is a company that repurposes vegetables and fruit that would go to waste because they are not aesthetically attractive and uses them to create cold-pressed juice. In 2017, they challenged beauty standards and color chemes with a new identity consistent with their values and mission.
They told the story through illustration, web design, and photography, redesigning the brand into a fun and approachable one. They created a new logo that is a deliberate misfit and works perfectly with the abstract illustrations. It is a terrific example of a brand growing and evolving.
Barre and Soul is a yoga and fitness company that managed to create a cohesive visual identity. They started with a mood board picturing the brand as energetic, retro, and edgy. To support this description, they chose bold, feminine colors and created a playful, free-spirited logo. They carefully chose images that can be used as logo background without obstructing it. They emphasized the retro and bold characteristics with the font choice and used blue, yellow, and orange to convey the brand’s energy.
The merge between the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts, Sibelius Academy, and the Theater Academy Helsinki led to the creation of the University of the Arts Helsinki which then needed a completely new brand. The goal was to create a distinctive set of logos and design an anchor symbol that connected the three institutions.
They chose the X symbol, which, just like art, is full of meaning. It is a destination, a meeting or starting point, a location, a question, a warning, and the list goes on. It is both creative and thought-provoking at once.
Casper is more than a mattress company, and they made sure their brand identity conveys the right message. In an industry that was overpopulated by companies with complicated jargon, they saw an opportunity and created an effortlessly simple brand. The visual identity design process consisted of creating a clear identity, a brand system, a packaging design that was consistent with their brand values, and a clear set of brand guidelines.
Headspace is the most popular meditation brand that brought mindfulness to the digital world. The company became such a strong online presence by creating an efficient and consistent brand identity. Their website works in conjunction with the app, offering customers a seamless user experience. Their success comes from being data-driven and going above and beyond to understand their customers' needs and wants.
The award-winning Sonos Wireless HiFi System lets users play their own digital music selection and gives access to millions of songs and radio stations. As the leading manufacturer of wireless music systems, Sonos decided they wanted to make the company even more relevant, so they sought to signal their leadership and dedication to the music experience. Their new image expresses the modern music experience with lots of color, shapes, and patterns created from the reinterpretation of the palindrome structure of the name.
9. January Moon
January Moon is a contemporary teething jewelry company created by American artist Jenny Luckett. Her collections consist of women's jewelry that is safe for children to chew on without forcing moms to compromise on style or fashion. Their visual identity is rich in colors, patterns, and hand-cut shapes, creating a blend of modern elements and functionality. They keep consistency between packaging, tags, stationery, business cards, and their website, and you can see the same intersection of modern and abstract elements with loose and irregular shapes throughout the structural design.
Glossier is a modern company that offers uncomplicated beauty products, inspired by real life, and perfect for everyday care. In a time when women are focusing on self-care first, Emily Weiss created a brand that embodies this belief, disrupting the beauty industry.
The logo, packaging, color palette, and website design are consistent with the modern, non-complicated image the company wants to communicate. They focus on quality over quantity, and that applies to their videos, photos, and graphic design. They’re optimizing their content for each channel, but keeping their identity cohesive.
International Game Days has a comprehensive identity system that started from the topic "play." The branding agency used a niche-specific element—the traditional Chinese puzzle—and created a uniform layout, a distinctive hallmark, and different illustrations from it. The concept behind the Chinese puzzle is seven shapes that you can combine into multiple representations, and that’s exactly how they played with the logo, creating different icons and designs.
Frock is a luxury fashion resource for shopping. The company’s goal is to offer customers a fast and simplistic way of finding what they want by looking through different online stores, lookbooks, and other resources. The clean and minimalist logo, fonts, color palette, and design have been carefully selected and combined to emphasize the company’s values, mission, and scope.
CULT is a monthly event for the best Cambodian ethical brands that focus on a sustainable lifestyle. The visual identity communicates it clearly, as it is modern and easily identifiable. Their visuals are dynamic and attractive because social media plays a central role in their marketing strategy and they know what people react to on social networks.
Some elements have been inspired by the Khmer culture, as a reminder of local handicrafts, but by adding the right colors, fonts, and shapes, CULT re-branded its image to fit today’s trendy lifestyle standards.
14. No. Six Depot
No. Six Depot is a family-owned coffee roastery and cafe located in an historic train station on 6 Depot Street. They serve tea and coffee from small farms and roast them on the spot. Their identity is a blend of modern and rural elements, which relates to the company’s background, mission, and values. They keep things simple and authentic, and that’s the message they communicate through their logo, color palette, packaging design, and fonts.
Grubhub is a tech company that connects millions of diners with thousands of restaurants, transforming the way people order food in the US. They wanted to strengthen their image and identity and elevate takeout as an option. They identified emerging needs, realigned their vision, and reshaped the brand experience, focusing on human dining moments that matter and creating a sense of playful celebration. The result was a vibrant and comprehensive identity system with lively visuals, playful language, and room for brand evolution and growth.
Now that you’ve seen what an inspired corporate identity looks like, let’s dig a little deeper into the subject to get a better sense of what brand identity is and how you can start creating your own.
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There are no two people alike, right? What sets them apart is their unique personality. It’s the same with brands—each one has a unique identity that differentiates it from competitors.
To put things simpler: your brand identity is a sum total of all the brand elements that tell people who your company is. It’s how your brand looks, sounds, speaks, and feels to people. It is what will get your brand instantly recognizable over another brand.
Once you have a clear definition of the core elements of your brand identity, you can start putting the puzzle pieces together. These concrete design elements will help you broadcast your brand’s identity to the world.
This will be the visual stamp of your brand, so it needs to convey your brand’s message, be easily recognizable, and have an impact on its own. One way to have a go at this is by first designing the company logo in black and white because it needs to be powerful regardless of what colors you use. Create different variations of your company logo, to work for different sizes, colors, and spaces. Avoid following trends or fads because you want it to become iconic.
Oh, and make sure your logo is unique and can't be mixed up with someone elses. No one wants to be called a copycat like Sears was when their updated 2019 rebrand looked a heck of a lot like Airbnb's house inspired swirl.
Color plays a big role in brand design. More specifically, brand colors should be so strong that when represented alone, they can be directly associated to the company itself. Think of Coca-Cola or National Geographic — you can likely picture that iconic red or bright yellow in your head.
It’s already been proven that different colors have different psychological effects on potential customers, so you want to choose them wisely. The colors you opt for need to match your brand’s personality, the niche you’re in, and the impact you want to leave on your audience. It’s best if you don’t choose more than four colors for your brand identity. Go for dark, light, and neutral, and stick to a combination of these without straying too far from the hues in the logo.
It is also important to keep track of the Pantone name and number of the color, the print color code (CMYK) and the digital color code (RGB and HEX), so you create a cohesive brand image.
Font selection is essential. Content fonts should be different than the logo font, so each stands out independently. There are four major types to choose from:
4. Design System. Just picking a logo or a color palette is not enough for a strong visual identity though. Your brand design ID is an intricate system made of multiple elements. Everything has to be consistent and cohesive so people experience a pleasurable encounter when being introduced to the brand.
5. Photography. Consistency is also important when it comes to imagery. Images tell the story of your brand and communicate your values, so choose them carefully, and stick to clear guidelines when it comes to size, filters, and editing.
Illustrations are meant to complete your brand identity, but used in excess can do more harm than good. Stay consistent and fend off conflicting styles. Keep it clean and simple.
7. Iconography. Iconography can improve communication both internally and externally and enhance understanding of what your company is about. Icons need to have a correlation with your company’s niche.
8. Data visualization. Data is only powerful if you manage to communicate it. It’s important to make the most of data visualization to create a message that’s clear, comprehensive, and visually appealing. Avoid 3-D charts and follow best practices.
9. Video and motion. You can incorporate animated video through a wide range of content types, be it social media, tutorials, commercials, explainer videos, etc. It is an area where you can be innovative and creative, but it’s important to remember the purpose of the video and the story line behind the visuals.
10. Web design & interactive elements. Have your users’ needs in mind and create an accessible, seamless experience. Remember that people are using mobile devices more and more, so make sure your design is suitable for mobile too.
"So, where do I start?" you will probably ask. The process can seem daunting at first, but after shaping our brand and helping so many customers define theirs, we’re ready to share the insights we've gained with this step-by-step process:
1. Know your brand. Before you start thinking of shaping your brand identity design, you first need to know your brand really well. You might think this is superfluous since you’re the one who came up with the business idea in the first place, but you will need to go in-depth and start asking yourself questions like “Why did I start this business," “What makes our brand special," and “What do we do differently/better than the rest”?
By answering these questions, you will get to the core elements of your brand:
2. Know your audience and create your persona. This step will help you accurately identify your target audience. Think of how your product or service can help people, who would use it, and why they would give you their loyalty.
Then, put your customer’s shoes on and think what kind of person would resonate with your brand. Start creating personas that represent segments of your audience. Think demographics, background, motivations, challenges, and how your product or service can help.
3. Give your brand a personality: Now that you know your brand’s purpose, values, and your buyers' personas, how do you communicate your brand? Is it fun and quirky? Sophisticated and formal? Make a list of adjectives that best describe your company’s personality and a list of what your brand isn’t. This process will help you shape your personality and tone of voice.
4. Analyze the competition. Get to know the other players on the market - the brands you want to be like and brands that you compete with now. Analyze what they do, how they do it, and how your brand is different, what new elements you bring to the market. Try to think as a client who has to choose between your brand and another one on the market. The entire process will be an eye-opening endeavor. It will help you define your company and create foundational elements that will shape your brand's promises.
Facebook, Airbnb and Pinterest all have DesignOps teams to efficiently manage the creative process, but it’s not a one-size fits all solution. Learn about this emerging role in our eBook!
Designing a brand identity is not an easy thing to do. It takes time, work, and a lot of brainstorming. Keep these do's and don’ts in mind.
Are you still struggling with the identity design process and don’t know how to grasp it? Let’s chat so our visual identity experts can help you find the right solution for your brand and business. Our designers are ready to put their creative minds to work for you.
Here is a video you should check out before you set out to create your own brand identity:
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