How to nail your visual identity
Visual identity - that elusive "feeling" or "vibe" that you get from a brand that either leaves you wanting more or totally turns you off. Just like anything in business; it's not as simple as it appears on the surface. There are many moving parts that have to all speak to one another and work together to create what we think when we think of (for example): Go-To Skincare, Sage x Clare, Mecca, Apple, Nike, us (hehe).
I grilled our awesome new art director, Claire-Ellen, on all things brand identity (and how to really nail yours!).
[Lucy] First things first; what is a brand’s visual identity?
[Claire-Ellen] In short, a brand’s visual identity is how they choose to visually portray themselves to the world. This can consist of anything from a logo or curated colour palette, to your image direction, social presence and website.
What are some of the first steps a brand should take in establishing their visual identity?
Familiarise yourself with brands that align with yours. Gage a visual style that speaks to you. Are there specific colours that you think reflect your brand? Start collating this info together. From here, it’s really wise to take this to the pros.
Acquaint yourself with branding agencies who reflect a style that speaks to you. Going to an agency with a strong sense of what your brand represents enables the designer to see your vision and elevate it. It’s also important to stay open minded and trust the designer who may take a direction you hadn’t considered before. A great place to start is by investing in a brand bible.
In an ideal world, what are all the things that should be covered off?
When you look at a brand, you’re really looking at a recipe that’s been collated together. The recipe is there to create an illusion of how you want your brand to be perceived. You have complete control of this - you’re the chef. Understanding the power you have with this is where it starts. To successfully achieve this, all brands should invest in a brand bible. Think of this as your cookbook - it will be your reference for all things typography, colours, logo placement, image direction and so on. You’ll have access to your brand’s visual recipe. This will help you and your team gain a strong understanding of how to roll out the remaining creative design that then sprawls out into your online and print presence.
Where are some good places to look for inspo (e.g. to start a mood board?) As cliché as it sounds, a Pinterest board is never short of inspiration. A way to quicken the process is to search brands you’ve familiarised yourself with and see what the algorithm has to offer - I’m always pleasantly surprised. Start pinning these into a mood board - slowly, you will notice a pattern in what you’ve collated. You might notice they all follow a similar colour scheme, or that you’re really drawn to minimal typography - keep note of the patterns you find.
I also recommend creating an album on your Instagram and saving in there any branding that speaks to you. Once you start this process, you’ll notice that you become more in tune with design around you. Take notice of how brands choose to perceive themselves and decide what you like or don’t like about them. Introducing this way of thinking is another great place to start.
What’s the best advice you could give to a new brand about how to establish their own visual identity without being too similar to someone else's?
A strong visual identity is a reflection of a business that’s authentic, unique and has an established foundation: you know where you stand in the market, and your confidence in your brand’s success reflects in your branding.
How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors? What are you bringing to the table that gives you a competitive advantage? It’s crucial for your brand to have a strong foundation set - people need to be able to relate to your brand. Visual identity is one part, the other is what you’re actually bringing to the table.
Taking the time to analyse other brands and collating a mood board will also allow you to see what’s been done. You’ll see a lot of designs are a replica of things that have worked in the past, and where a good branding agency can help is by adding longevity to your brand that withstands ‘pretty’ trends.
My advice? have a strong understanding of your brand’s DNA and build its foundation to ensure it stands on its own two feet. The more confident you are with your brand, the less inclined you’ll feel to mimic what’s around you.
Tell us some of the strongest visual identities in your expert opinion I’m a sucker for brands that evoke authenticity, go beyond following a trend and bring to the table a unique user experience paired with an edge in the market. From a web perspective, my "go-to"s have remained to be Aesop, Zara and Mecca - all explore a seamless user experience and visual identity that are complementary to one another. Sustainable brands such as Worn for Good and Rocc Naturals also get a special mention.
Want to work with Claire-Ellen on creating a visual identity unique to you that lasts the distance?
WORDS | Lucy Francis, Claire-Ellen Dath