How to create a brand identity that works

 In Design

As designers will tell you, there’s no “one size fits all” solution for creating the perfect brand identity, but there are certainly strategies that can help things run more smoothly. For one, it’s important to establish clear lines of communication upfront with the client so that they feel like they’re a part of the process too (because they most definitely are!). We think it’s essential to understand each client’s individual needs and goals in order to design effectively for them! Also, this open line of communication will help to eliminate potential misunderstandings that could inhibit the design process later on.

The process for creating a visual identity varies depending upon the type of client. More specifically, when we’re working with political clients, we usually tend to produce less experimental identity systems. For example, we often (but not always) incorporate some form of red, white, and/or blue into color palettes for political clients because it’s expected, understood and accepted by US voters. 

To streamline the process and simplify things for our design team, we have created a style sheet that we use with all of our clients who have requested a brand identity. Early on in the process, we send clients a few options of logo designs, and number them so that it makes it easy for them to identity which ones they like. For example, see the logo options we gave the Say Yes to MCC team for their ballot measure:

We then move forward with the process by refining the designs the client likes best, and we typically go through a few rounds of edits to arrive at the final solution. We end up with a simple one or two page sheet (see below) that clearly lays out the identity, with a place for the color palette, logo variations and typefaces.

Branding for Political Clients

Depending upon what the political client is looking for (which we usually find out in an initial conversation with them) and/or what campaign goals they have and who they are trying to reach, we will decide upon a few typefaces to incorporate into logo options. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but if a client is hoping to come off to target voters as trustworthy, experienced, and rooted in tradition, we may recommend using a serif typeface.

In contrast, if the candidate would prefer to appear modern and fresh to voters, we may recommend implementing some sans serif options (check out our post on typography here to brush up on the difference between sans serif and serif!). Because our recent client Carol Siemon had more of a progressive approach to her campaign for Ingham County Prosecutor, we went with a sans serif option for her logo, pictured below (notice we also incorporated some white and blue to keep things patriotic!).

However, it’s also possible to combine these options, like in President Obama’s 2008 campaign (see below). National campaigns with bigger budgets of, course, have more flexibility; for example, President Obama’s campaign in 2012 incorporated a custom typeface, which we have included an image of below as well.

Obama’s 2008 campaign logo, incorporating both sans serif and serif typefaces.

Obama’s 2012 campaign logo, incorporating a custom typeface.

Branding for Non-Political Clients

If, however, the client we’re working with is a business instead, our process differs. They may not always have a clear idea of what they want, especially for a new business just forming their identity, so it’s up to us to help steer them in the right direction. We want to make sure that they feel like we are working together at every step of the way, so we try to keep them updated and demystify some of the creative process, by telling them why we recommend certain creative strategies over others. To us, the methodology is just as important as the result, and creative collaboration is an important piece of the puzzle.

We worked with Susan J. Demas–illustrious columnist, speaker, write, analyst, and editor–to create a visual identity for her work and services. We were working with a quicker timeline with Susan, so we were able to identify from the start that she wanted something bold with a feminine kick, and worked from there. Because of this key desire, we struck a balance between playful and professional, offering her several different options, ranging from bold sans serif typefaces to serifs to more of a handwritten look, all with a pop of color. After developing a color palette and type choices for her, we applied the brand we created to a website for her work.

Initial logo options

Final type, color and logo for Susan!

Susan’s website!

Our process will also change slightly depending upon the time constraints of the project. If it’s more of a quick turnaround, we usually will not be able to offer as many logo options, which is something we will communicate initially so that everyone’s on the same page. Whenever we have a longer timeline, we can offer clients more rounds of edits to refine a design of their choice.

Another factor that can affect how we approach a visual identity project is how many hands are involved. Things can get tricky when design(s) have to be approved by a whole team of people who may not have been as involved as the key stakeholders we worked with from the beginning of the project. We welcome everyone’s impact on the team, recognizing that different opinions may emerge, and it’s all a part of the process. However, it definitely makes things easier for everyone when there are only a few individuals making the final decisions on the design.

Interested in a fresh, new brand identity? Get in touch with us today to work with our design team and create the best brand for you!

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Carly Fox is Change Media Group’s Visual Composer. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, Carly will graduate from the University of Michigan next year with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Minor in Business. She is excited about combining functions of the left and right sides of the brain by studying the interplay between business and creative practices. Other areas of interest include fashion, writing, painting, and yoga.

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