If you’re just starting out with the whole concept of branding, the idea of a “visual brand” might still be a little bit confusing to you. Today we’ll go through the elements of a strong visual brand, and we’ll talk about why they’re important to you and your business.
The simplest explanation of a visual brand is this: When people see something that represents your business, that thing should scream “you.” It should look like you. It should be instantly recognizable as yours. Think about the McDonald’s arches — the distinctive shape, the distinctive colors. When you see a McDonald’s from a mile away on the interstate, you know what it is. And that’s the case for most major companies, if you think about it. You see one tiny glimpse of their branding, and you just know it’s theirs.
So how can you achieve this sort of instant visual recognition for your own business? Here are the elements you’ll want to work on:
A logo is the starting point for your visual brand. Your logo should be distinctive, it should communicate what your business is about, and it should be attractive. Although this is hardly an extensive list, there are a few good (meaning sorta-kinda critical) rules to consider:
- You should have both horizontal and vertical versions of your logo, if at all possible. You’ll find a number of uses for your logo down the road that you never even imagined. Some will require one version and some will work a lot better with the other.
- If you like — and this is a great way to achieve the goal above — you can create a “secondary logo mark” that can be used in place of your logo, when the full logo just doesn’t feel right. (Or, frankly, when it just doesn’t fit.) This mark can be image-based, it can be one letter… it’s basically some abbreviated version of your whole logo. We’re currently on our second iteration of the company logo for Undeniable. While we don’t currently have a secondary logo mark, we’ll probably work on creating one with the next version. (Preferably in a square shape that works for social media.)
- Your logo should look good in black and white. If it can’t pass that test, it’s not strong enough as a standalone piece.
- You should try your logo out in a number of sizes. It should look good at the size that it might be on, say, your company checks (which is also about how big it’ll be on some parts of your website) — and it should also look great and be highly readable on, oh, the side of a building. Ever see one of those logos where you’re driving by at 60 mph and squinting to try and see what the heck it says? You don’t want one of those logos.
- You should also create logo usage guidelines — how can your logo be used? Can it ever be smaller than X pixels? Can anything ever touch it? How far away must other elements be? Can it rest on any color background? Can the colors be swapped out at will, or is there a set number of color combos that are acceptable? These guidelines will ensure that your logo is used consistently, not just by you but by anyone else who works with your logo. And consistency is a huge part of a strong visual brand.
Your color palette should include several different colors — and don’t think that black, white and grey don’t count. They do. For Undeniable, our primary branding colors are orange and pink (and what are, I hope, fairly distinctive shades of orange and pink). Our secondary colors are basically black, white and charcoal grey. We considered adding other colors along the way — maybe turquoise, maybe yellow. We ended up leaving it simple. For us, it works. You should do what feels right to you.
Your font palette should, ideally, include two fonts that complement one another: one for headers and one for body copy. The other natural variations of those fonts — header sizing, italics, boldfacing — will add plenty of visual interest. Your font palette should not (probably) include three fonts. It should definitely not include four or five fonts. Two really does the job, end of day.
You by no means need to have a font custom designed for your business — but if you want to, you can. If you’re looking for optimal ease of use, there are a ton of fonts that are available on every computer (think classics like Arial or Times). Or if you want to up your game, you can use something like Typekit or Google Fonts, which can be integrated into your site fairly easily using code snippets.
When we create brand palettes for our clients, we typically include all of the above elements as well as some appropriate textures and patterns. We create what is, basically, a big vision board. One of our current clients, Junk Love Boutique, has a great love for the rustic farm feel — so we incorporated cowskin, corrugated metal and weathered wood into the site palette. A more girlie brand might include metallics, glitter, chevrons, or subtle and feminine patterns. (These are all fairly major recent trends. Don’t hate me if you happen to hate glitter!)
PHOTOS AND VIDEO
One last thing to consider in terms of your visual brand is how you want your photos and videos to look. By thinking about this ahead of time, you can communicate meaningful ideas to your photographer or videographer, and you’re more likely to end up with something that just feels so on-brand when you’re done. This, of course, requires a little bit of thought about your brand. I’ll use Undeniable as an example again. When we do our branding shoots later this summer, we want things to feel fun, colorful and active. Pretty much the opposite of “business casual,” because that’s just how we roll. I want to make sure that our brand colors are prominent in the work — ensuring that pink and orange are in the pics means they’ll look great on the site. And to get a little more out there with it, we (okay, I) love vintage… well, everything… so I’ve thought about using vintage phones, vintage luggage (after all, I spend about half my life on the road), vintage globes, vintage scooters. You get the idea. I’ve already incorporated this feel into the site with my photography choices for the homepage. I also think it’s important that we shoot in parts of St. Louis that I love — it would seem crazy to me not to take some pictures in Citygarden, because I walk my beloved chow chow there twice a day (and, as a result, do a lot of my work there). And I definitely want to get some shots of our office once it’s done — it is, after all, where we make the magic happen.
So that’s a primer on visual branding — it’s actually a horrible term for something that’s pretty fun. Just think about communicating your message to the world, and think about the things that you love. Be true to your vision, and be true to yourself. There’s nothing worse than a brand that’s a copy of somebody else’s style — it tells the world nothing about you except that you’re not very original. Communicate the values and ideas that are important to you, and you can’t go wrong.