Ever looked at the brands that are visible in a magazine? How about down the grocery aisle? Fact is, brands are extremely important to the success of a business. Brand identity shapes perceptions and perceptions determine sales. It’s a simple formula, but hard to master. Off the top of my head, I can name a few brands that immediately come to mind: McDonald’s, Apple, Nike, Coke, Honda, etc. All of these companies have extremely popular brands; consumers can instantly recognize their identity. The reason why we recognize them so well is because each one followed some guidelines in designing their brand’s identity.
“The most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart – if people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to a brand.”
Howard Schultz (Chairman and CEO, Starbucks Coffee Company)
The following are some guidelines that I believe are crucial to any identity that a company wants to market effectively:
KISS (keep it simple stupid) the logo
Don’t make the design unnecessarily complex. Logos can be seen from different distances; therefore it needs to be universally noticeable. The design should be able to maintain its detail.
It should all start with monotone
Because there are people out there that may have a disability in their color vision, it is important that logos be designed to give the same effect and meaning with or without color. Therefore, it is important when designing a logo to start with simple shades of black. Colors can then be applied afterwards to enhance the visual.
Maintain global recognition
Color is important to the brand because it unifies everything together. If the client already has a color scheme specified, the identity must follow the scheme accordingly (even if the scheme is not appropriate). On special occasions it is allowed to suggest a more appropriate color scheme.
Rely on shape – not effect – to express meaning
Keeping accessibility in mind, it is important to design the identity in which the meaning is expressed by its shape, not by its effect. So make sure that the design itself doesn’t rely on fancy patterns that could become useless in some mediums. We tend to recognize shapes first, especially from afar.
Don’t underestimate the power of type
In some cases, the brand doesn’t require an icon, therefore relying on type entirely. The type should be visually balanced, especially if a tagline is to be embedded with the identity.
Avoid extraneous details
Speaking of taglines, it is best to let the client know that taglines are meant to be used outside the logo itself. Try to make your clients aware that taglines can change much more rapidly than the brand themselves. Other details to avoid are the technical names in a company, such as LLC, Inc, etc. These are meant to be included in documentation where it is relevant and warranted. This might be a hard rule to follow – because of the client’s demands.
No more than 2 fonts are necessary
Continuing with the visual balance, it is a good idea to minimize the number of fonts used. The font family is the first priority and then the font style. If using two fonts, make sure the font families complement each other.
Always use vector!
It is necessary that all brand identities be designed using vector graphics (composed of paths) as opposed to raster graphics (composed of pixels). Adobe Illustrator is the de facto standard program to use. This is essential because it enables the identity to be scalable without the quality deteriorating.
Make it cross-media compatible
There are many different types of media, each with their own mediums. It is important that the brand identity be able to be reproduced across all of these. The three primary types are web, print, and broadcast. In particular for print media, the identity needs to be able to be reproduced through offset, flexography, screen, gravure, and digital printing.
While it can be greatly influenced, current trends should not be the primary focus of the brand identity’s design. The design should be able to withstand current and future trends.
Don’t replicate, innovate
Try to be creative and don’t rely on what others are doing in their designs. It is okay to observe for inspiration, but don’t steal from others. Focus on the purpose of the identity and determine the best course of action.
Don’t use stock art
Don’t rely on art that is available to others. Not only does this void the logo’s uniqueness, but it implies poor judgment on the designer. However, taking shortcuts by morphing stock art into something unique is okay in some cases. Again, focus on the purpose and make sure that you are taking the best approach.
Design for the client, not for the designer
The client is the one that is paying the bill, so it is best that you try to make them happy first. Just because a wild font may look awesome to you, it will not necessarily look awesome to the client. Always refer to the primary purpose of the logo before daydreaming on the design.