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Top 3 Visual Design Elements of Branding

We talk about branding a lot in our business. But as much as we know about design and marketing, most brand discussions tend to turn nebulous. Everyone has their own spin on what makes up a brand, or what a brand identity should entail, or how brand guidelines should be maintained. I’ve read blogs and articles that say there are “4 key elements”, or “8 non-negotiable elements”, or “30 must-have elements” that a company needs to execute with perfection to have a complete and successful brand.

Today, I’m going to talk about my three favorites as a designer – the ones that are my must-haves and that I believe should complement other elements you include in your brand identity. And, while another key brand element is “tone of voice”, I believe these top three design elements are so important because they work together to visually translate and relay your brand voice – without saying a word.

Number 1: Your Logo

While your logo is not the first step in creating a brand, it is a key visual element and is often the first thing consumers see on various platforms. Logo creation is inspired from all the strategic discussions about who you are, what you want to represent – and of course, what products and/or services you’re selling. Once you have established your brand personality and how you want to convey it (tone of voice), logo development will be the first visual step in creating your brand.
And, while many people think the logo is the most important representation of a brand, you must always keep in mind that it is NOT your entire brand – it is only PART of your brand identity.
That said, lots of companies – including many entrepreneurs – do in fact think of a logo as their brand. It’s hard to steer them to the bigger picture – especially when they draw their own after an “I thought of this in the shower” epiphany. As designers, it’s our job to bring them back to reality and let them know they must at least define the following three things before beginning logo exploration:
  • Their business mission and goals
  • The tone, personality and what they want to convey
  • How to differentiate themselves from other like businesses
Once these are defined, your logo exploration will be pushed in a direction that best represents your business – but definitely keep these things in mind during the design phase:
  • Strive for simplicity and scalability
  • Design in black and white first, then move to color
  • Apply and test the logo in different mediums prior to finalizing
That last one above is imperative, because ideally, your logo will live on every material your brand owns.

Number 2: Color Palette

The fun and my most favorite part! Choosing colors may seem like a simple task, but there is much more to it. The colors you choose for your brand should express your personality and your values – helping to visually represent that tone of voice you’re going for. Google is a great example of this. The color palette is very primary and playful – giving a simplistic and inviting feel to what is arguably the most complicated algorithm in the world. They want you to feel comfortable and unthreatened by the massive amount of information they’re about to serve you, and you do!

Below are color palettes to various popular brands. It’s fun to guess who is who, but it shows the importance of color and how certain brand colors have been embedded into our minds. (hint, hint: isn’t it wild how two tech giants are so similar in color palette?)

Color palette samples
Upside-down text of PayPal, Google, McDonalds, Microsoft, UPS, Mastercard, Fedex and BP

Color is SO important for some brands, they even trademark them. When you see that iconic green straw in an iced coffee, you know exactly where it came from. And, you know that brown truck driving around your neighborhood is delivering packages. Starbucks and UPS use color to tap into our emotional response and truly represent years of brand establishment. They’re part of our psyche. For more of Modern Impact’s take on how color psychology impacts brand identity, read our “Hue are You?” blog.

Number 3: Shape

Just as color can help identify your brand and bring your brand values and tone to life, the shape(s) you choose can also help express your brand personality visually. Are you cutting edge or mom & pop? Tech driven or organic? Friendly or serious? Shapes can help further define your message.

For instance, logos with softer, round shapes tend to be seen as more friendly and approachable – less intimidating and more inviting than those with sharp corners. Round shapes are great for any business that wants to be approachable or even “consumed” – like coffee, news, soft drinks or social media.

Starbucks and ABC logos
Organic products visual design mockups

Not all brands need to have a standard shape. Organic shapes are great for expressing individualism and have a more natural, earthy feel – and they’re a great way to convey a softer more caregiving message. Organically shaped illustrations can effectively capture a product’s personality, ingredients or mission. Organic shapes can be a fun way to expand a brand throughout various materials, helping deliver a more holistic vibe.

Sharp and angular shapes, on the other hand, are often used to communicate power, intelligence, maturity and technology. Squares convey solid, well-established values like Modern Impact’s logo below. Sharp, angular shapes can also convey strength and dependability. Looking at the Adidas logo you feel a sense of dependability in their product quality (one of their brand values) and feel you can tackle any physical activity that comes your way.

Modern Impact and Adidas logos

All in all, your logo, brand colors and shapes do some serious heavy lifting when it comes to visually expressing your brand values and setting the tone for your consumers. The time and investment you spend developing these assets will help you stand out against your competitors.

Dani Loomis

Author Dani Loomis

From brand identity and advertising design to custom photography and package design, Dani leverages a full complement of creative talents and expertise to bring projects to life. With a touch of sarcasm, Dani always brings a sense of youth and high energy to the MI team. She credits her love of travel for broadening her perspective and helping her earn both AdFed and ADDY awards for her work. Stay tuned for more from Dani on design and advertising.

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