How to Avoid the 12 Most Common Mistakes in a Visual Identity

A visual identity is an important tool to help your brand communicate, but just because you have one doesn’t mean it’s effective. There are many things, large and small, that can sabotage your visual identity, from sloppy design to indecipherable text.

These issues and oversights, whether intentional or not, make it difficult to build a consistent brand that connects with people. Worst of all, many brands (we’re talking global brands) don’t even know they’re making them.

Not sure if you’re falling victim? Here are the most common visual identity mistakes we see, plus the fixes that will put you on the right track.

1) Not Knowing Your Audience

Designing a strong visual identity isn’t just about what you want—it’s about how you want to connect with other people. If your brand voice or overall aesthetic doesn’t resonate with the people you’re trying to attract, then your visual identity isn’t successful (no matter how pretty your logo is).

Before you design your identity (or update it), try creating marketing personas that provide helpful insight into who your target customer is, what they think, and what entices them. If you haven’t created personas before, here’s an easy exercise to do them in under 60 minutes.

2) A Meaningless Logo

Logos are super fun to design, but they can also be a huge headache. Sure, you can design something pretty and call it a day. But a really strong logo supports and reinforces the brand’s core: its identity, mission, and business. If you can’t connect your logo to your brand, it’s time to refresh.

Example: We created a new visual identity for the Expanded Special Project for Elimination of Neglected Tropical Diseases(ESPEN), a WHO organization on a mission to eliminate five specific tropical diseases. To bring their mission to life, we created a symbolic logo that features a rendering of the African continent, made of five bars: one for each disease they’re battling.

Visual identity logo example

Of course, logo design takes a lot of deep thinking and serious brainstorming. (We’re used to designing at least 50 options for a brand—just to start.) If you’re struggling to come up with a logo that connects to your brand, try our simple logo design process to find a logo you love.

3) A Limited Visual Identity

Your visual identity is meant to help you communicate effectively in many use cases. As such, you need to give your designers the tools they need to communicate well. If you don’t provide guidelines and leave them to their own devices, you’re sure to end up with inconsistent content.

You might not need an encyclopedia-thick brand bible for your lean startup, but it’s important to give your team the basics. This includes:

  • Logo
  • Colors
  • Fonts and typography
  • Hierarchy
  • Photography
  • Illustration
  • Iconography
  • Data visualization
  • Interactive elements
  • Video and motion
  • Web design

For a few science-based hacks, follow this guide to designing each element effectively.

4) Clunky Web Design

Indecipherable favicons, unresponsive websites, low-res images—these are the types of things that seriously degrade your brand experience. A good visual identity isn’t just robust; it’s flexible.

Whether you’re designing your logo or your website, consider various use cases and user experiences. Will your logo render well as a small social profile pic? Is that new interactive mobile-responsive? These are the crucial questions to ask.

5) Inconsistent Elements

Just because you designed a logo, combined some colors, and chose a typeface doesn’t mean your visual identity is cohesive. If you want to create a unified experience, you need to design every element as a complement to the other.

For example, your typeface should work well with your logo (e.g., character shape and personality). Similarly, your colors should work well with your typeface (e.g., not too light to read). Start with your logo, then flesh out each element from there.

6) No Diversity in Imagery

No, we’re not talking about image styles. We’re talking about the people and/or characters you’re depicting, whether it’s in photographs or illustrations. It’s easy to fall into a rut, creating the same things over and over simply because it’s convenient. But representation is important.  Be mindful of gender and diversity in the images you choose.

7) Poor Typography

This is often an issue online, and it is one of the easiest ways to turn people off. If your font size is too small or your characters are illegible, people won’t have the patience to try to decipher it. To avoid this, try this typography test as recommended by lettering artist Jessica Hische:

How to visual identity

8) No Design System

Much like designing a piecemeal visual identity with no cohesion, brands are also guilty of lacking a proper design system. It’s not just about the parts; it’s about how they go together. Is there an intuitive hierarchy? Can people navigate your content easily? Consider the proper order of content, including headers, subheaders, body copy, images, blurbs, etc.

9) Too Many Colors

This is one of the most common rookie mistakes (and a tell tale sign that you let an intern design your visual identity). Luckily, it’s easily remedied. Simplify it with:

  • 2 primary colors
  • 3-5 complementary colors
  • 2 accent colors

10) Indecipherable Icons

Icons make life easier because they’re a visual cue to communicate quickly and effectively—without words. Therefore, simplicity and clarity are key. Unfortunately, too many brands get carried away with icons that are either redundant or too abstract to understand.

If you’re not sure, have someone do a sanity check to confirm your icons are intuitive and appropriate.

Example: We collaborated with Avalere Health to create custom iconography for its health care-related content. 

visual identity icon

11) Inaccurate Data Visualization

Thanks to the explosion of big data, brands are communicating with data more than ever. Data visualization is a powerful tool to make data easier to comprehend, but it can also do a lot of damage when data is misinterpreted or inaccurately represented.

To make sure your data visualization is correct, use our Data Visualization 101 guide to design the most common charts and graphs.

12) No Brand Style Guide

One of the biggest reasons brands struggle to maintain a cohesive visual identity is because they have no direction. Content creators are either “expected to know” or left to their own devices. It’s no surprise that content ends up looking Frankenstein-ed.

To keep your team on the same page, document your visual identity, including various examples that demonstrate proper application. You can start with our tips for building a brand style guide people will actually use.

More Tips for Creating Your Visual Identity

If you’re starting from square one, don’t be overwhelmed. Creating a good visual identity is a collaborative process, so make the most of your team’s creativity. A few things that can help:

But if you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help. We’re happy to take some work off your hands. Just holler at us.