For some brands, recognition takes a split second. When you see an Apple product with its sleek design, clean lines, and familiar logo, you know it. It’s one of the best examples of a company with a strong visual brand language—a brand expression that ties your reasons for buying the product or service with the emotional triggers that motivate you to pull out your wallet. (They look so cool!)
A strong visual language supports brand concepts, connects with consumers, and helps you stand apart from the competition. It’s unique and immediately identifiable. Branding expert Guillaume Wolf, founder of Los Angeles-based Guillaume Wolf Studio and branding instructor at Art Center College of Design says the first step to developing a visual brand language is to think of your brand as a person. What does the person look like? What are the traits that embody your brand?
“It starts with simple stuff like [whether the brand personality] is masculine or feminine. Is this brand introverted or extroverted? Is this brand about exploring or creating meaning? When you have all these elements in place and you know your brand DNA, this is your message,” he says.
Building the Look
Approaching the brand as a person allows you to have a touchstone for keeping your visuals on track. As you build visuals like product or office design, logo development, and website design, you can think back to your brand personality and determine whether it suits the persona you identified, he says. For example, would your rugged outdoors-loving cowboy like that dainty font? It’s an immediate reality check that can help you avoid being swayed off track by trends or other factors.
When you think about your brand persona, you can also get good insight into what product features would be important and how the product or service should be packaged, Wolf says. Is your persona a well-dressed professional or a funky college student? One might favor luxurious and expensive detailing while the other lends itself more to bright, economical options. Such a persona analysis will help you make solid decisions about materials, colors, and marketing options.
Appealing to the Audience
Building your look also means knowing your audience and their preferences and needs, he says. As you develop logos and typefaces, think about the attributes of your audience. Millennials like visual complexity, so you would likely take a different design approach than for a Baby Boomer audience, which may prefer cleaner lines and more straightforward design.
This is also where your brand persona comes in. Just as some people aren’t a good match, your brand persona will help you not be all things to all people, Wolf says. Does the design you’ve developed suit the personality of your brand? Are you designing to suit your audience instead of keeping your brand strengths and attributes in mind? Trying to communicate an image on which your brand cannot deliver is a recipe for disaster.
Building a visual language requires knowing your brand as you would a person. Creating a brand persona and designing for him or her is a good way to keep your visual language consistent and on-track.
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