Brand identity design

What is brand identity? And how to develop a great one.

Estimated reading time: 15 minutes

Just like your personal identity makes you uniquely you, your brand identity is the special sauce for your business that sets you apart from every other Tom, Dick and Harry, Inc. on the block. And your brand identity design? It’s what shapes your company.

But what exactly is brand identity? What does it have to do with design? And how do you shape a strong brand identity that takes your business to the next level?

To dive deeper into what is brand identity—read on! To learn how you can create a great brand identity for your business, take a peek at the video below.

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What is brand identity?

Brand identity is the collection of all elements that a company creates to portray the right image to its consumers. Brand identity is different from “brand image” and “branding,” even though these terms are sometimes treated as interchangeable.

The term branding refers to the marketing practice of actively shaping a distinctive brand. Brand is the perception of the company in the eyes of the world.

Brand identity design by sheva via 99designs by Vista.

Brand identity design by Yokaona via 99designs by Vista.

Your brand identity is what makes you instantly recognizable to your customers. Your audience will associate your brand identity with your product or service, and that identity is what forges the connection between you and your customers, builds customer loyalty and determines how your customers will perceive your brand.

Ultimately, your branding impacts your financial success and there’s data to prove it. In a survey that 99designs by Vista (one of VistaPrint’s design services) conducted, the majority of small business owners (86%) reported that visual branding is important to their overall business success, with 78% saying it significantly contributes to their revenue growth1.

How to develop a strong brand identity

Know who you are

Before you know what tangible elements you want to make up your brand identity, you need to know who you are as a brand.

beautiful playful brand identity design for taco shop

A colorful, playful & fun brand identity design by pecas via 99designs by Vista.

Who you are as a brand is made up of a few key elements:

  • Your mission (what’s your “why?”)
  • Your values (what beliefs drive your company?)
  • Your brand personality (if your brand was a person, what kind of personality would they have?)
  • Your unique positioning (how do you differentiate yourself from the competition?)
  • Your brand voice (if your brand was a person, how would it communicate?)

These elements are what define your brand, and before you start building your brand identity, it’s important you have a clear understanding of each.

If you’re having trouble figuring out who exactly you are, don’t sweat it. Sometimes, all you need is a simple brainstorm to help you get clarity on who you are as a brand.

Ask yourself:

  • Why did we start this business?
  • What are the beliefs and values that are important to us as a company?
  • What do we do better than anyone else?
  • What makes us special?
  • If we could describe our brand in three words, what would they be?
  • What are the three words we would want our customers to use to describe us?

You can also check out this awesome branding workbook from consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. While this workbook is geared towards personal branding, the strategies will work for any type of business model.

Once you’ve locked in who you are as a brand, it’s time to build the identity that will bring your brand to life and show who you are to the people who matter most: your customers.

Design: the foundation of your brand identity

Your design is what will build the brand identity of your company.

Your corporate design assets are the tangible elements that will determine how your brand is perceived. Things like your logo, packaging, web design, social media graphics, business cards and the uniforms your employees wear.

In other words, nailing your design equals nailing your brand identity, which equals building a successful business that’s an accurate representation of who you are as a brand.

So, how exactly do you nail your design and build a brand identity that will take your business to the next level?

Developing your brand design

Before you start creating your design assets, you need to start from the ground up and lock in the basics of your design structure: the building blocks of your brand identity.

The building blocks you’ll want to determine before you create your design assets include:

Typography

Typography refers to—you guessed it—the font (or type) you choose for your branding materials. It’s particularly important to choose logo fonts and brand fonts wisely. There are four major types of typography:

  • Serif fonts (like Times New Roman or Garamond) have what looks like an anchor (or to some people, little feet) on the end of each letter. This classic typography is great if you want your brand to appear trustworthy, traditional and just a little old school.
  • Sans serif fonts (like Helvetica or Franklin Gothic) are letters that have smooth edges and lack the anchor or “feet” of their serif counterparts. Sans serif fonts give a more sleek, modern feel to brands.
  • Script typography emulates cursive handwriting. These fonts (like Allura or Pacifico) can be a great way to add a luxurious feel to your brand.
  • Display fonts are kind of in a league of their own. Each display font has a specialized element, whether it’s an unusual shape to the letters, outlines, shadowing or a more artistic/hand-drawn edge (think Metallica’s lightning bolt font). Want to make a bold statement and create a brand identity people won’t soon forget? A display font is a great way to do it.

The typography you choose will say a lot about your brand, so choose your fonts wisely.

Color palette

Next up is color. People—your potential customers included—have psychological ties to different colors, and using branding colors and logo colors strategically can have a serious impact on how your brand is perceived by your audience.

brand identity style guide with green and grey brand colors

A brand guide with brand colors by ludibes via 99designs by Vista.

Here are what the colors of the rainbow (plus a few extras) can do to help your brand identity:

  • Red is the color of passion and excitement. It’s a perfect choice if your brand identity is loud, youthful and exciting.
  • Orange is another high-energy color and is great if you want to appear friendly and playful. It’s used less commonly than red, so it will also make you stand out.
  • Yellow, the color of sunshine, is all about happiness. The cheerful vibe makes it a good choice if you want to feel fun, accessible and affordable.
  • Green is an incredibly versatile color and can be used for just about any brand. Culturally, though, when people see green, they think of two things: money or nature. If your brand is tied to either of those things, green is an especially good choice.
  • Blue is the most universally appealing color in the spectrum and can help your branding appear more stable and trustworthy. So, if you’re looking to appeal to a wide demographic—and get them to trust you in the process—go with blue.
  • Purple is the color of royalty, so if you’re going for a luxurious feel in your branding, this is a safe bet.
  • Pink is a great color for brands with a soft or luxurious identity.
  • Brown is perhaps the least used color in all of branding, but that could actually work to your advantage! Any time you do something different, it helps you stand out. Brown can also help people to view your brand as rugged or natural.
  • Black is a great option if you want to be viewed as modern or sophisticated. There’s nothing as classic and effective as black.

Form/Shape

When it comes to your designs, you also want to think about form and shape. This subtle but effective element that can be used to reinforce the desired reaction from your customers: so, for example, a logo that is all circles and soft edges will inspire a very different reaction from a logo that’s sharp and square.

Here’s how different forms can shape your brand identity (pun intended):

  • Round shapes—like circles, ovals, and ellipses—are all about the warm and fuzzies. Brands that incorporate round shapes can create feelings of community, unity and love.
  • Straight-edged shapes—like squares, rectangles, and triangles—make people think of strength and efficiency. The no-nonsense lines create a feeling of stability and trustworthiness, but you need to be careful: if the shapes aren’t balanced out with something fun, like dynamic colors, they can feel impersonal and fail to connect with your customers.
  • Straight lines also have their own implications: vertical lines suggest strength while horizontal lines suggest tranquility and mellow vibes.

Designing your brand identity

Once you’ve figured out the building blocks of your design, it’s time to work with a designer to bring your brand identity to life and translate who you are as a brand into tangible design assets you can use in your marketing.

Your brand identity can be expressed in any number of elements. Depending on the nature of your business, one asset or another may be more or less important.

Gaea fashion logo

Your brand identity is made of many elements. Brand identity designed by Yokaona via 99designs by Vista.

For example, a restaurant should put a lot of thought into its menu and physical space. A digital marketing agency, however, needs to focus more on its website and social media pages.

Common elements of brand identity include:

Logo

Your logo design is the cornerstone of your brand identity. When working with your designer, you want to aim for your logo to tick off the following boxes:

  • Clearly communicates who you are and what you value as a brand;
  • Is visually appealing: simple, clean and uncluttered goes a long way;
  • Is classic, not trendy: the last thing you want is for your logo to go out of style in 6 months;
  • Plays along with your industry’s standards—and if you veer off, do so deliberately;
  • Makes a lasting impression on your audience.

You also want to make sure that your design partner delivers your logo in multiple formats (like a black and white version or multiple sizes) to ensure you always have the logo you need—and that each is in line with your brand identity.

Learn more on how to design the perfect logo.

Website

Your website is one of the most representative aspects of your brand identity. Especially if you’re running an online business or a digital product, your customers will definitely check your website out before deciding to do business with you. Your website is where your brand identity should come through in full force.

Learn the building blocks of effective web layouts.

Product packaging

Pink gin bottles

Rose Finch gin bottles designed by sikaramel via 99designs by Vista.

If your product is a physical one, then product packaging is key to attracting the right customers. Whether you’re thinking about the bottle of a cold-brew beverage or the mail you’ll send to your customers who purchased clothes from your ecommerce business, don’t underestimate the value of good design in improving the experience—and driving both loyalty and repeat purchases. Packaging is an awesome opportunity for your design to shine.

Read this ultimate guide to product packaging.

Business cards

If you’re doing any sort of business development (and who isn’t), you’ll want to stock up on business cards. A well-designed card offers the chance to reinforce a positive opinion of yourself in the eyes of potential clients or customers. When it comes to business card design, keep it simple: your company logo on one side of the card and your key personal details on the other side should suffice.

Learn how to design the perfect business card.

Email design

Email is a great way to engage your customers and drive business. But most people are at inbox overload, so if you want to grow your business via email, you need the right design strategy to set yourself apart from the clutter. Think about the purpose of the email. Are you trying to make a personal connection? Then keep it short, sweet and simple. Are you trying to educate? Then format it well so it’s easily readable and scannable and add a few images to make it pop. Are you trying to tell your customers about a new clothing line you launched? Make a few stunning product images the focus.

Check out these top email design tips.

Create a brand style guide

Once you’ve got your design assets, you want to make sure they’re used in the right way, which is why you’ll definitely want to create a brand style guide. This document outlines your design assets, when and how to use them, as well as any design do’s and don’ts for your brand. And it will ensure that any future design is in line with your brand identity and generates the right perception with your audience.

Brand style guide

A brand style guide is a must to preserve your brand identity.

Consistency is key to creating a strong brand identity. You wouldn’t want your brand to look totally different on social media than it does on your website. That would confuse customers and make your brand feel less trustworthy and professional. So, make sure to always stick to a brand guide that covers all the different elements of your brand identity. That’s what is going to enable you to build brand recognition and brand loyalty in the long term.

Brand identity in a nutshell…

Your brand identity is what sets you apart from the endless sea of competitors and shows your customers who you are and what they can expect from working with you. If you want your brand to be perceived in a positive light, it’s crucial that you nail your brand identity and create designs that accurately portray who you are to your customers. And now that you know how to nail that identity, it’s time to start designing.

Want a brand identity that’s uniquely yours?

Check out all your design options and bring your brand to life today

Author: Deanna deBara

This article was originally published in 2017. It has been updated with new examples and information.

1. Data collected via online research firm Corus in June 2022 from 1,061 decision makers from small businesses with no more than 100 employees across North America, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.