Creating a brand is more than just the technical parts – it’s about how users feel about the brand.
When it comes to creating a design, whether it be the creation of a brand or a redesign of an existing brand, it's the experiences of the brand that the user remembers down the road.
Make it enjoyable, keep it personal
Using and applying your brand should be exciting; something designers and content managers should look forward to. As much as we’re taught to be pragmatic and methodical, personal preferences can’t be avoided. Identify and respect preferences early on to save heartache down the road. You can’t please everyone all the time, but the personal opinions of important stakeholders shouldn’t be taken lightly. Take into account the internal dynamics and personality of the team, as well as the environment and culture of the organization. It’s important to have a supportive team behind the brand. How can you expect users to be excited about the brand if you aren’t a fan of it yourself?
Focus on repetition over perfection
Most designers I know, including myself, get hung up on minutiae. To avoid this, the key is to prioritize ease of use and implementation over excruciating specifications and prescriptions. Rather than spew paragraphs of technical notes about pixel distances and how your typographic scale is based on the Pythagorean theorem, give clear and down to earth tricks so that even the least technical person you know could loosely execute a design based on your broad suggestions. The harder a design is to replicate and comprehend, the harder it will be to implement faithfully and sensibly. This leads nicely into my next point - accessibility.
Choose accessibility and clarity over rarity and complexity
In the words of the Barefoot Contessa, “This applesauce I’m using is made from heirloom apples grown on Sir Isaac Newton’s ancestral land. The cinnamon has been imported from Sri Lanka and is only picked during the first harvest moon of the new year. If you can’t get your hands on either of these ingredients, store-bought is fine.”
Unique typefaces are great but don’t get yourself into a position where you need to explain to a client that they will need to shell out $1,900 per month for the Web Font licensing. You should be thinking about how to reduce friction when creating new assets and work. Between Google Fonts and your operating system, there are hundreds (nearly a thousand at last count) of options that can be obtained easily by anyone on your team. In a classical and literal sense, a “brand” is intended to help differentiate between livestock. While appearing unique is always a key element in a successful brand, I would elect to take liberties with other vibrant and creative elements than to rely on a typeface or exclusive Getty Images.
Play easy to get
Be fluid and transparent with your brand assets at all costs. Gone are the days of printed style guides and brand books. A great brand is backed by a strong and highly visible design system at a technical level. We strongly encourage our clients to evolve from the PDFs and PowerPoints of brand guidelines in favor of living design systems accessible on the web. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it must be attainable and accessible for everyone in the organization. Include downloads of your logo in various formats, let visitors easily copy your color values, showcase your preferred typography, and provide that thoughtful and relatable advice we mentioned earlier. Having a single place to get others up to speed on the care and feeding of your brand is the best way to make sure multiple parties have all the tools they need to be successful.
Don’t paint yourself into a corner
The beauty of the web is that it is impermanent. What is the point of a highly extensible and flexible system if not to iterate, experiment, and adapt to emerging trends and best practices? Your first pass at a new brand should be a bit like buying sweatpants for a toddler. Leave a little elasticity and room to grow as you learn. I think people often put too much emphasis on finality and canon when it comes to a fresh brand. Although it might feel counterintuitive, I encourage you to be open to changes and tweaks as they present themselves.
Another critical aspect of this comes in the form of changing mandates. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and other compliance regulations must be taken seriously. I’ve seen longstanding brands struggle to adapt their visual designs to meet these requirements. By remaining flexible and evolving with the times, you’ll be in a better position to make these improvements when necessary. As our industry moves towards a more modular approach to creating, we as brand creators should try to embrace the same incremental change mentality with visual design; pushing forward and innovating along the way.
Watch your tone
Invest in memorable and thoughtful content. A brand is so much more than a few colors and a clever logo. The most important aspect of a truly complete and cohesive brand is content. Speak how you’d like to be spoken to, explore your brand archetype, and maybe fill out a character diamond or brand prism. This all helps ensure that your voice and messaging fits with your meticulously crafted exterior. Every sentence you convey to a user should remind them why you’re the best choice.
People remember feelings and outcomes
It’s true. People will remember how your brand made them feel, not Pantone values and icon stroke weights. The most important thing you can do is focus on the big picture and your audience. Nothing else matters if your user leaves confused, underwhelmed, or feeling nothing at all. Take pride in your appearance and what you stand for, and your effort will be noticed.