I recently caught up with co-owner and marketing mastermind behind Boston co-retail space For Now, Kaity Cimo. She runs the space with friend and business partner Katharine ReQua. They opened a year ago and have played home to over 80 brands in that time.
10 Tips for Creating a Visual Identity (with Examples)
“Design is the silent ambassador of your brand.” – Paul Rand
We live in the age of Instagram. Now, more than ever, how your brand looks can make or break your success. The most successful brands have given thought or invested significant resources into crafting a visual identity.
Billion dollar companies like Uber are famous for publishing their visual identity guides, but that doesn’t mean that newer and smaller businesses can’t emulate the important features of a great guide on a budget. Visual identity isn’t just for big corporates–small, direct to consumer brands can build this at low cost too. We encourage coming up with an effective visual identity even if you’re just starting out.
So whether you’re doing this exercise for the first time or in the midst of a rebrand, this guide shows you how to create a visual brand identity and tips to help you in your journey.
What is a visual identity
A visual identity is a collection of elements such as your logo, colors, and fonts which helps your audience register your brand.
It can also include other elements such as:
- Data visualization
- Interactive elements
- Video and motion
- Web design
A visual identity serves as a guide that helps team members and external parties (such as freelance designers) convey your brand.
Brand identity vs visual identity
Visual identity can be viewed as a subset of your brand identity. While a brand’s identity focuses on a wide variety of components including design, communications, products/services, and marketing, their visual identity is solely focused on design elements.
According to brand specialist and UX consultant Kate Kaplan:
“Brand is the holistic sum of customers’ experiences, composed of visual, tonal and behavioral brand components, many of which are shaped by interaction design.”
Brand identity can be seen as the broader guide for one’s brand, including the mission and vision statement, brand story, communications style, and visual identity. On the other hand, the visual identity focuses solely on the visual aspects of the brand, that carry across the website, marketing materials, and product or service.
Tips for building a strong visual identity
1. Know your audience
Define a clear segment you want to appeal to. Demographics such as gender, age group, and geographical location could be obtained based on your current social media following or website traffic. You can then dig deeper into habits, behaviors, and motivations of your audience and work backwards when planning your visual identity. Knowing your audience is also essential for storytelling: we feature some of our favorite tips for storytelling here.
Bella Buttercup, a member of the Ampjar community, is a prime example of how knowing your audience can help you focus on an effective visual identity. Founded in 2012, the brand was founded by two best friends who make quality Scandinavian-inspired baby products. Both founders come from creative backgrounds in the Fashion and Interior Design fields and have mastered the art of catering to a niche audience.
The brand appeals to parents who can appreciate thoughtfully designed baby products that are a cut above mass market alternatives. Bella Buttercup offers a wide array of products such as play gyms, change mats, and teethers. They can proudly claim their products are “designed by parents, for parents”. Product images on their website and images on their Instagram feed are styled in a minimalist way, aligned with their source of inspiration: Scandinavian aesthetics. Many of their products use light, natural unfinished wood, which further accentuates this.
Additionally, images of gorgeous baby bedrooms, alongside images of children interacting with their products, provide Pinterest-worthy inspiration to new parents. The soft baby blue shade used in their logo, website, and products further categorizes them as a trusted baby products brand.
2. Have a clear mission
A clear mission is not only important in business planning and product design, but also for your visual identity. Koala, the Australian mattress brand that has taken the world by storm, is a case in point. They have a delightfully simple mission: helping habitats thrive. The word ‘habitats’ alludes to their focus on the environment and sustainability while playing cleverly on their product–mattresses which improve a home environment.
In their efforts to help protect koalas from being endangered, the brand has partnered with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and other koala charities to provide a donation with every mattress sold. They develop their products with the aim that consumers can use one really good Koala mattress over ten average ones. The brand has also put in effort to constantly improve their environmental footprint.
The use of the koala as a thoughtful mascot helps with their brand visual identity. The koala is featured prominently in images/icons on their website, their product logo, and social media feeds. As an environmentally-friendly B Corporation, a certification that requires thorough impact assessment, nature features prominently in their visual identity as well.
A quick browse of their Instagram feed shows images of mattresses, interplaying with shots of forests, the beach, wildlife, plains, and potted plants.
Combined with powerful copy such as “No worries. This simple phrase drives everything we do”, Koala has created a successful, mission driven-brand with a powerful visual identity.
Is your visual identity consistent with your communication style and across all platforms? A recurring theme in all the examples we present here is that the visual identity is closely aligned no matter if you’re looking at the brand’s website, storefront, or Facebook page.
The point of creating a visual identity is that a strict guideline for design helps convey your intended brand and messaging. To achieve consistency, provide your visual identity guide to external help such as freelance graphic designers, photographers, illustrators, and website designers. Always reference it when planning and reviewing work with freelancers.
A common way of ensuring visuals consistency across photographs or videos shared is through editing apps. Read more about the top edit apps for Instagram posts and stories here.
4. Identify emotions you want to evoke
Products or services can appear sterile if you focus too much on functionality or utility. Emotions are important to make your brand more memorable and trustworthy. The first step, of course, is to identify emotions you want to evoke with your visual style. Color charts are an example of how emotions and visuals interact.
Soylent is a great example of how something as functional and mundane as meal replacements can evoke emotions and ideals. Unlike previous meal replacement options that focused on dieting, the ill, or athletes, Soylent is a product for people on-the-go. Soylent has come to represent efficiency and calmness, salvation for those who are busy yet who are health conscious.
Whether you’re a student, creative, fitness buff, backpacker, or a busy employee, Soylent’s visuals have covered every use case. Think: portable, tasty foods that are rich in nutrients. Their Instagram feed evokes comfort and conveys their brand as a convenient solution for go-getters.
5. Use mood boards
Craft your visual identity by getting inspiration from other creatives. Pinterest is a great way to start. You can use a pre-built mood board or build your own by ‘pinning’ ideas. These are a few examples for a start.
Search for keywords like “Design”, “Branding”, “Visual Identity”, or “Color scheme” to start your own discovery process.
One of Steve Jobs’ famous sayings goes like this:
“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
As the co-founder of Apple and a pioneer in technology and design, his words of wisdom are applicable for crafting a brand’s visual identity. Rather than trying to squeeze as many colors, fonts, illustration, or photography styles into your brand, keep it simple. Choose the ones that will make the most impact.
Olieve and Olie is a case in point. The brand offers organic skincare products that are chemical free. They have opted for a muted color scheme consisting mainly of black, white, and grey on both their website and social media feed. This carries through for their product photography as well: accents of green and brown are common, evoking an earthy, natural feel. Their website design is minimalist, and draws attention to their stunning product photos.
7. Fit your product or service
Does your selected color palette, font, styles, etc match your product or service? This is an important question to ask yourself while crafting your brand’s visual identity. If you run a dental practice, common colors may include white, grey, or blue, using hot pink may not be the most appropriate. If you run a modern, eCommerce fashion store, using a serif font like Times New Roman–usually reserved for documents, books, or newspapers–may not be the most appropriate.
This logic applies to your product photography, visual merchandising, or even your store (if you have one!)
A swimwear brand started by Ava Frati when she was just 16, Pō SWIM makes unique swimwear catered for a younger crowd. The Instagram-first brand has amassed a strong Insta following of more than 12k followers and is part of the Ampjar community. Given the focus on stylish bikini and one piece swimsuit designs, the visual style on their Insta feed is summery, fresh, and trendy. Their swimwear is made in a wide variety of colors ranging from nude to earthy to summery tones, which fits their brand image.
8. Stand out
Crafting a great visual identity can help your brand become more distinctive. One question to ask yourself is: is my brand immediately recognizable?
If potential customers see a photo on the Explore section of Instagram, will they be able to recognize it as coming from your brand without clicking on the image itself?
Who gives a crap, a toilet paper brand with a focus on sustainability, does just that. Their entire brand matches the funky, tongue-in-cheek name. With the use of distinctive, popping colors and patterns in their toilet paper packaging and website, their world of products is fun and multi-colored. Every single post on Instagram fits the criteria of being instantaneously recognizable, just take a look:
9. Test it out
Get professional opinions from experienced brand managers and designers. If you’re on a budget, get the opinion of your potential customers (for some, that means friends and family). After briefing them on your mission/vision, offerings, and target audience, show them some mockups of designs created based on your visual identity guidelines. Some questions you can ask include:
- How does this design make you feel?
- On a scale of 1 to 5, how does this fit our mission?
- On a scale of 1 to 5, how similar is design x to design y?
- What does this design remind you of?
- Rank how much you like or dislike the design from 1 to 5.
As with anything in business, you often don’t get things right the first time. While it might not be wise to switch up your visual identity once every three months, hold regular review sessions for small tweaks every few months.
If you are planning a rebrand, that would also require relooking at your visual identity. This blog post documents our brand design journey as we transitioned from Postie to Ampjar.
We hope you found this guide useful in your visual identity creation process!
Ampjar can help you create emails that are aligned with your visual identity. Check out 20 of our favorite email campaigns by our community here.
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