Branding: where do I start?

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When you have a new business, branding can seem like an overwhelming and scary task. You might be unsure of where to begin, what you need, and where to go to find it. The question of how your branding should look and feel, to communicate what you're about, is a big one.

In my experience, that's the question that can make branding your business feel intimidating. Many people delay and procrastinate, sometimes unconsciously, doing other 'urgent' startup tasks instead because the fear of this unknown process, and of getting your branding 'wrong', is kind of bubbling away back there, paralysing decisions.

So let me demystify some of what branding is about, and offer some fundamentals to hopefully make you feel more confident about where to start.

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Branding isn't mysterious

Ok, so I do believe there's a little magic involved in the branding process. There's definitely magic in the relationship with the client, and the moment when a logo design goes 'ping! perfect' for example. But there are steps to the process, and knowledge you can arm yourself with so that you can feel more confident about getting your brand stand-out and spot-on.

 

The ingredients of a brand identity

A full brand identity consists of:

- a logo

- colour palette

- typography / fonts

- photography style

- patterns or textures 

- brand icon

- illustrations / icons.

Of course, there are also things like tone of voice, writing style and customer service approach that also go into your brand, but we're primarily dealing with visual elements here.

If you're just starting out, and your budget is tight, you can start with a logo, colours and fonts first, and build the other brand elements around it later on.

 

Logo

The logo is central to your brand, it's the cornerstone if you like, but it's not the whole brand (see Your Logo is Not Your Brand, here). A logo should be clean, clear, simple and beautiful. Don't be tempted to cram in multiple messages or styles, or it'll look messy and lose impact. Keep it simple, and use the other elements of your brand identity to build around it. Patterns and textures add depth, colours create emotion, and so on.

Image courtesy of Rowanmade from Pinterest

Image courtesy of Rowanmade from Pinterest

The example above illustrates what I mean. The logo (at the top) and brand icon (bottom) are clean and simple, but the brand is broadened by the colours and photography, which tell more of the story.

Keeping it simple also ensures your logo will have longevity. You want your logo to stay relevant and impactful for years to come. Other brand elements can be refreshed every few years if need be, but a logo needs to become established. Don't use trendy calligraphy fonts or the latest hipster styles, because they'll date.

 

Colours

A colour palette gives you a consistent look everywhere your brand appears. Colour communicates emotions, so it's important to consider what you want people to feel about your business, and it isn't just about what colours you personally like.

You might paint your bedroom walls in Farrow & Ball Pitch Blue, but that won't necessarily be right for your business brand. 

This is where the discovery phase is really important - by identifying what makes up your business' story, all the elements of its uniqueness, you can start to work out what colours will speak for it best. You'll more than likely need a designer's eye to put a palette together, ensuring the tones all work and complement each other, but you can do some fun experimenting yourself, for sure. Grab some paint chips from the local DIY centre and play around creating a palette, or browse Pinterest for some inspiration. 

The colour palette I designed for Aligned Design Co. gave me Mad Men vibes.

The colour palette I designed for Aligned Design Co. gave me Mad Men vibes.

 

Typography

Choosing one or two font styles as your 'brand fonts' is really important. As with colours, the fonts will become a recognised part of your visual identity. I always come to this step after the logo design is finalised, because the fonts need to sit well alongside it. There are no hard and fast rules about selecting fonts, except that a font you've used in your logo shouldn't appear anywhere else (otherwise the logo's strength is diluted). It's a good idea to have a header font, and one for body text. Use two different sizes or weights of the same font, or choose two contrasting fonts for more personality.

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Try to make sure there's a contrast in style or weight between your fonts. For example, use a bold and a light style, or pair a serif with a sans serif. If you have the makings of a typography geek, like me, take a look at myfonts.com for thousands of inspiring font designs.

 

Brand collateral

Once you have your brand elements and a lovely new style guide, you can create the collateral to put your visual identity out to the world. Here are some things you might need:

- social media header and profile images

- instagram post templates

- business cards

- printed postcards / brochures / flyers

- a website

- email template (e.g. Mailchimp)

- stickers

- headed stationery

- signage.

If you're design-inclined, you can have a go at creating some items, such as social media images, yourself using Canva or similar programs. Steer clear of Word as it really doesn't make it easy to create good design. You'll need your logo and brand elements in print and web formats from your designer (high resolution CMYK for print, low resolution RGB for web). 

 

In conclusion

Now you know some fundamentals about branding I hope it doesn't seem as daunting to get started. A good designer will of course be able to help you make the right choices for your brand design and guide you through the process, but I think it helps to have some knowledge yourself and get involved with the creative process.

If you'd like to receive more practical advice on developing your brand, please do subscribe to my newsletter, where I share more tips and inspiration every month. In the meantime, good luck with your brand explorations and feel free to ask me your questions in the comments below.