Your visual identity is simply a tool to help you execute your brand strategy—to communicate who you are and what you’re about. Like anything in life, the better your tool, the more success you’ll have. Unfortunately, when it comes to building a strong visual identity, we see brands all over the map.
Some have a weak identity that doesn’t really communicate who they are. Some have no identity, resulting in content that is totally inconsistent. The worst, however, is a brand whose visual identity is so meticulous and complicated that no one knows how to use it; thus, they end up with the same inconsistencies as a brand with no identity.
We hate to see brands plagued by these issues, which is why we’re determined to equip you with the knowledge and tools you need to create a beautiful and practical visual identity that works now—and in the future. If you’re getting ready to create your visual identity (or thinking about revamping your existing one), it’s important to know what hurts and what helps.
5 Keys to a Strong Visual Identity
A visual identity is a long process, full of pitfalls and mistakes. To make the process easier and less stressful, here are the five ways to make your visual identity is a success.
1) Make It Comprehensive
You visual identity is a tool kit to help brand designers (and any content creators) communicate on behalf of your brand. Whether they’re creating quote cards for Instagram, animations for a brand video, or a new infographic, your visual identity should equip them with the knowledge to do their job well.
Therefore, you need to include guidelines for everything they might need, depending on the medium in which they work. The general basics to include in your visual identity:
- Data visualization
- Interactive elements
- Video and motion
- Web design
Depending on your brand’s needs, you may need to include additional elements, but these are a good starting point.
Above all, remember that each of these elements should also be designed for maximum impact. Use our convenient checklist to make nothing’s left out, and try our best tips on designing everything from logos and typography to data visualization and interactive elements (all based on research and science).
Example: We created a comprehensive visual language for Avalere Health, including a flexible design system, iconography, and more.
2) Make It Future-Proof
A good visual identity is flexible enough to grow with your brand. This means it evolves with your business, whether you’re branching out into new products, services, or industries. This also applies to the type of content you’ll be creating. New platforms and mediums are likely to emerge (for example, Instagram didn’t even exist when we started our agency), and your brand has to be ready to adapt.
Things like mobile-responsive design, web-friendly typefaces, and even brand colors can affect your brand experience, so make sure you’ve accounted for these in your design. Also consider the people you’ll be catering to. This is especially relevant when it comes to things like disability accessibility online. (Not sure who you’re designing for? Find out how to create personas to give you better insight.)
Example: We collaborated with UCI’s Applied Innovation to create a visual language that worked in multiple mediums, including a static and animated logo.
3) Be Unique and Personal
Your visual identity should accurately represent your brand: who you are, what you do, what you believe in, and what you care about. Communicating this is a challenge, but it is crucial to do it—and do it well. (When there is a visual disconnect or any sense of inauthenticity, people clock it quickly.)
In addition to representing your brand, you want your image to be distinct. Avoid hopping on design trends or mirroring your competition. To help ensure your visual identity is on-brand:
- Do a brand audit survey before you dive into design. This will help you get a clear picture of your brand on paper, then you can visualize it through design. Here’s every question you need to ask before you start.
- Do a competitive analysis. This will help you see what your competitors look like so you know what to avoid. To do an analysis quickly and easily, make a copy of this convenient template, which includes all the information you’ll want to find out, and follow these steps.
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.
4) Keep It Cohesive
A good visual identity isn’t just beautiful; it works at every level. It’s also designed for maximum comprehension and easy application. That means it’s:
- Consistent: The aesthetic is consistent throughout, from icon to illustration.
- Complementary: Each element works beautifully with the other.
- Comprehensible: All elements are clear and easy to interpret (think of things like your iconography or typography).
- Intuitive: The design system is easy to apply.
If any part of your design clashes or feels out of place, you make it harder for your team to create beautiful, cohesive content—and ultimately risk diluting your brand.
Example: When we were brought on to help USA Today rebrand their infographic and data visualization design, we crafted a visual language that fit seamlessly with the paper’s overall aesthetic.
5) Document and Share It
If you’re a growing brand that creates a lot of content, it’s likely that you already use outside freelancers (or will in the future). With that many hands on your content, it can be difficult to keep quality at a certain level. How do you maintain? With a documented brand style guide.
This helps keep everyone on the same page, assures that guidelines are used appropriately, and makes life easier for the whole team. To do it well, make sure your style guide is:
- Complete: Include guidelines for anything relevant to content creators, including both brand messaging and visual guidelines.
- Full of examples: Real-world examples leave no room for misinterpretation.
- Accessible: Make sure everyone knows where they are.
Updated: Your creative director or brand team should maintain the guidelines and address any issues or questions creators have.
For more tips, find out how to create a brand style guide people will actually use.
Remember: Your Visual Identity Is Only One Part
There are many elements that contribute to a strong brand. Before you start designing your visual identity, make sure you have a fully fleshed out brand strategy, that you understand your brand goals, and that you have a creative brief that is accurate (and approved).
(But if you don’t have the energy for any of these, let’s talk about how to get you through it.)