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How to Craft a Knockout Visual Identity

Natasha Prinsloo
Natasha Prinsloo
11 min read
Visual identity tips

We all know or have seen those brands where, despite their best intentions, something about their visual identity feels a little off. Maybe the images they use on social media don’t match their tone, or they’re constantly using different fonts or colors. Whatever the case may be, it’s hard to know what you’re getting from or even trust these brands because it seems like they don’t know who they are.

On the flip side, brands with cohesive visual identities appear to be much more confident and trustworthy. When everything from their graphics to their imagery feels in sync and aligned with the nature of the brand and the products or services they offer, choosing to work with them (or at least learn more about them) feels like a no-brainer.

Now, if you feel like your company falls more into column A than column B, it’s not the end of the world. In this article, we’ll go over what a visual identity is, why you need one and offer some tips and examples for crafting a knockout visual identity.

What is a brand identity?

A visual identity comprises all of the imagery and graphical information that visually communicates what a brand is and what makes it unique. It’s everything that a user or customer would physically see either in-person or online, from a logo to social media assets to product packaging.

While the specific brand identity elements may differ depending on the nature of your business, most visual identities consist of:

  • A logo
  • Colors
  • Typography
  • Icons
  • Imagery (i.e., photography and video content)

Your brand’s visual identity may evolve, but ultimately it needs to have a consistent look and feel. As the design team at Slack explained, “whenever people see you in the wild, they should recognize that it’s you.” A good brand identity can even become identifiable without the logo later on. Take Apple, for instance. When you look at one of their ads or posts, you don’t need to see the logo to know that it’s an Apple ad.

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What makes a good visual identity?

Whether you’re creating a brand identity from scratch or refreshing an existing one, it can be tough to know where to start or what to consider. Fortunately for you, we’re sharing our top five tips and included a few visual identity examples to help you get started.

1. Be consistent

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: a strong visual identity needs to be consistent. Presenting a consistent image across all of your visual marketing channels can help you build trust with your customers. It can also help boost brand visibility as your brand will become more recognizable to your audience.

Now, this isn’t as simple as putting your logo on everything and calling it a day. Brand consistency means using the same colors, typography, imagery, illustrations, graphics, patterns, UI, photographic treatments and icons across all of your visual assets: your website, social media accounts, ads, print materials – the list goes on.

consistent visual branding

consistent visual identity

brand identity design

Take this brand identity for digital media company, Melanation, for instance. The brand fosters a cohesive visual identity by using the same bold color palette and font throughout their website and social channels while also using consistent image tonality (diverse, fashion-forward photography and illustrations), so everything looks and feels on-brand. It’s also the smaller details too, like retouching photography to have the same colour palette accents in clothing, scenery and other aspects.

2. Don’t stray too far from what works

Remember Gap’s now-infamous 2010 logo redesign? That’s a pretty good example of what not to do if you’re looking to revamp your brand’s visual identity. Familiarity breeds customer loyalty. iIf you already have an established and recognizable brand, straying too far from your current look could alienate and confuse your audience. So instead, make sure to approach a redesign project with your company’s core image and values top-of-mind.

logo visual identity design

Image source: Looka

For example, Adobe recently refreshed their logo and brand identity with a focus on accessibility and functionality. The new single color, all-red logo helps ensure that the mark is as functional as possible at all sizes and across all surfaces. It also reads as one component, compared to the old icon-and-text style logo. They are also updating the colors of their product logos to make it easier for their customers to find the products they need.

3. Avoid popular trends

While you should absolutely keep up with the latest branding and design trends to make sure your visual identity feels fresh and modern, going too trendy means you could end up looking like everybody else (or creating a visual identity that will look dated in about a year or so). A good rule of thumb is to use design trends to help spark ideas without leaning on them too heavily.

classic visual identities

For example, this minimalist visual identity for e-bike company Muto feels modern thanks to its use of animation and striking ‘electric blue’ signature color. Still, it avoids feeling cliche by drawing design inspiration from the bike itself.

4. Align your brand with your mission and values

Companies pivot all the time. Your product or service may evolve, but your mission and values should mostly stay the same, which is why you should craft a visual identity around these brand pillars rather than a specific offering.

brand strategy Casper

Image source: Redantler

Let’s look at DTC sleep product company Casper. When they first came on the market, they only sold mattresses. Now, the company sells pillows, bed frames, bedding – you name it. If Casper modelled their logo and visual identity around the mattress, that would have been a pretty big misstep.

In comparison, the company’s iconic blue and white color palette and logo can apply to many different products. The light and airy color pairing also align well with the company’s mission to “awaken the potential of a well-rested world.”

5. Design for scalability.

Your visual identity should grow with you and have as much room for scale as possible, which is why simplicity is key. Slack’s recent redesign is a great example of this. Their old logo was fun and playful but because it had 11 different colors, it didn’t look great on dark or colored backgrounds. Their overall visual identity also lacked cohesion, making it harder for their audience to understand who they are and what the brand stands for.

branding package example

Image source: Slack

Their new logo is much simpler, and in turn, much more scalable. The same logo can be used in a much wider variety of contexts, from laptop stickers to billboards. Their new imagery style is also a lot simpler, trading in the busy, juvenile graphics for bold illustrations and photography that feel much more sophisticated, yet still eye-catching.

Slack logo

Image source: Slack

Slack brand example

Image source: Pentagram

slack branding

Slack photography style

Image source: Slack Brand Guidelines

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Final Thoughts

Trust us: visual identity design is not an easy assignment to take on. It requires a lot of thoughtful consideration of your brand’s mission, values, goals and offerings. You also need to think carefully about how you plan to communicate these facets to the world. For example, do you want to be bold and irreverent? Or softer and more empathetic? There’s no right or wrong answer, but you should have a strong understanding of your brand’s ethos before you dive into visual branding.

However, you don’t have to go at it alone. We’ve helped countless brands update their logos, visual identities, style guides and templates based on their marketing strategy, customer feedback, competitive intelligence and more. So if you’re looking for a design partner to help you level up your brand identity design, Superside has your back.

Published: Jun 30, 2021
Natasha Prinsloo
Written by
Natasha Prinsloo
Natasha Prinsloo is a Design Director at Superside. She has 8+ years experience in both traditional and digital advertising, along with branding. From South Africa, she enjoys farm life outside of the big city and considers herself a foodie.

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