Your visual identity is one of the most powerful ways to communicate your brand’s essence: who you are, what you do, and how you do it. That makes it one of the best tools to help you tell your brand story—if you do it well.
A good visual identity creates a good brand experience, which is crucial if you want people to connect to your brand. If your visual identity isn’t cohesive or doesn’t accurately represent your brand, you’re providing a less than stellar experience (at best) or degrading your brand overall (at worst).
Unfortunately, many brands assume that their visual identity is effective, simply because they have one. Not so. A good visual identity is flexible enough to grow with your brand and strong enough to build upon it. That said, not every brand needs to change for the sake of change. Not sure where you stand? We have a few tips to help you figure out if a new visual identity is what you need.
9 Ways to Know if You Need a New Visual Identity
It’s easy to slip into stagnancy if you’ve been doing the same thing, especially if your brand has been around for a while. But if any of these issues sound familiar, it might be time to talk to your team.
1) Your Logo Isn’t Flexible
The world has changed. The Internet has introduced a whole new world of branding, and some brand’s logos are not well-suited for the unique format. For example, if your logo mark or word mark is overly detailed or too long, it might not fit nicely on a banner ad, homepage, or favicon. This can make it difficult to work with or design around. Ideally, you want a logo clean, simple, that renders well at any resolution.
Example: When we helped UCI Applied Innovation create a visual identity for The Cove, a new work space for community and innovation, we designed both a static and animated logo that 1) reflects the dynamic brand and 2) can be used for multiple applications.
On a related note, some brands over rely on their logo because they have a limited visual identity. That type of excessive overbranding can turn people off. If you’ve been guilty of this, consider designing a full identity that gives you more tools to work with.
For more tips on creating a great logo, follow our simple process to design a logo you love.
2) Design Matters More Than Brand Experience
Some brands don’t just have a visual identity; they have a next-level aesthetic. We’re all for beautiful design, but sometimes a brand’s artistic aspirations steamroll a user’s most basic needs. If your sleekly designed app is buggy or your groundbreaking site is all but impossible to navigate, people won’t stick around long enough to be impressed by your “innovative” design.
3) You’re Inconsistent
Here’s a quick and easy test. Go to your website, Instagram, and Facebook. If you take a quick look at all three, do you see a consistent visual language? Would a regular person instantly recognize the similarities? If not, your visual identity could probably use some work. Remember: Your goal is to create a cohesive experience at all times, whether someone is reading your blog or checking your product page.
Example: Sleep brand Buffy has a strong visual identity that translates across properties, from their site to their Instagram.
For a little inspiration, check out these 15 brands whose visual identity perfectly captures their personality.
4) Your Packaging Is Outdated
This one seems obvious, but it’s shocking how many brands are stuck in the ‘90s. Lest we forget there’s a difference between dated design and classic design. If your product has undergone several iterations but your design is a holdover from v1, a fresh visual identity may be in order.
5) You Look Like Your Competition
Does your packaging stand out from your competitor? Your website? Your logo? Your social presence? If you’re losing market share although nothing has changed, consider how your branding might play into that. Over time, it’s easy to blend in with a competitor (certain industries tend to suffer from hivemind), but a bold color palette or beautiful logo might be just the thing you need to stand out.
To figure out where you stand against your competitors, do a competitive analysis that includes a deep look at their branding.
6) It Doesn’t Reflect Your Values
A strong brand is built on a strong core identity: your purpose, vision, mission, and values. If your brand never articulated those elements, or developed a visual identity long beforehand, it’s important to reassess whether or not your visual identity accurately reflects your personality and beliefs. Every visual element, from your logo to your font choice, is an opportunity to reinforce your brand values. If yours isn’t doing this effectively, it may be time for a refresh.
Example: We created a fresh visual identity for Civ.works, a social network that connects and empowers Americans to affect change. Drawing inspiration from the brand’s mission, their visual identity incorporates elements that reflect their values, from the hand-drawn founder illustrations that add a human element to the logo that renders the American flag as stairs, symbolizing steps toward change.
If you’re not sure how to incorporate your values into your visual identity or content, get inspired by these 10 brands that put their values front and center.
7) You Follow Too Many Design Trends
Sometimes some brands are a little too eager to adopt new design trends, creating a totally disjointed look. If you were using skeuomorphic styles, then hopped on the flat design train, you might be need a fresh visual identity with a clean, cohesive look.
8) Your Brand Is Expanding
Whether you’re launching an entirely new product line or targeting a new group of people, you likely need to adjust your strategy, and your visual identity should play a role in that.
For example, different cultures may react differently to certain imagery, or a specific type of consumer may demand different ways of interacting. (If you’re skewing younger, find out how design helps you communicate with Gen Z.)
9) You Don’t Have a Brand Style Guide
This is the most obvious sign that you need a visual identity. If your brand has no guidelines at all (or they’re buried somewhere no one has ever seen), you can almost guarantee that your brand is all over the place.
Example: Our brand style guide for Visage clearly details how to use everything from images to color palettes to create a cohesive brand.
To get your team on the same page, try our step-by-step guide to build a style guide people will actually use.
How to Refresh Your Visual Identity
A new visual identity requires time, thought, and intention. Whether you go in-house or use a design agency, make sure you have a clear vision and sign-off on what you’re trying to achieve. If you’re ready to dig in, see our step-by-step guide to creating a brand identity and follow these science-based tips to design the most impactful visual identity. If you’re overwhelmed by the process, let’s chat about how to get through it.