Crafting a brand identity is fun and it can skyrocket a startup's legitimacy. But it's hard. Especially if you're jumping into it for the first time without a whole lot of experience or direction. So here are some steps that I'll be expanding on later this week. This initial run is an effort to get these thoughts out of my head and on to something tangible.
1. Establish and define the brand
The brand is the gut feeling someone has about an entity. Without defining what this feeling is, it's impossible to craft visuals that are aligned with it. The route to this definition comes from asking a lot of questions, empathizing with who would love this company the most, and precisely detailing the personality of the company. Think of it as creating a movie character. You want to know them intimately.
2. Seek, steal, and repurpose
Visual identities are often relegated to what I call the "design aesthetic." The design aesthetic doesn't have a unique personality to it but has good command over whitespace and simple layouts. While there isn't anything wrong with utilizing those design principles, establishing an emotional connection is contingent upon a humanistic element. Something unique, tasteful, and appropriate. The design aesthetic is a fail-safe for those who do not have a deeper story or who are afraid to be something different. As such, they try to create something on their own and fall into the design aesthetic trap.
What's the antidote? Find inspiration (from a book, a movie, a place, another brand), steal as much as you can, and repurpose the elements for your brand. Something inspiring and impactful already out there, magic happens when you place it in a new context.
3. Establish visual elements
There are foundational elements in every identity build. Namely, color, typography, layout, logo, and subsequent elements like illustration, pattern, photography, iconography, and motion. Once a visual theme has been set, the task is now to apply that theme to these elements so there is a cohesive look to everything. It's been phrased before that any piece of collateral should be recognizable without the brand's logo on it. This is done by aligning and consistently using branded visuals.
4. Flex and be ready to adapt
Change is inevitable. Prepare yourself to move and adapt your visual identity as time progresses. New mediums will arise, styles will change, your company will change, and eventually, your visuals will need to as well. Be prepared to flex, experiment, and change.
I admire the confidence of startup founders. Everyday, they get up and get after it in the hopes of doing something to change the world. It's inspiring. However, it's sad that most of them fail to see the obviously awesome things about themselves and their companies that would make them unforgettable. Instead, they try to focus on what they think people want them to be. It's an inauthentic approach to building a brand and it usually results in being labeled something they are not proud of. In time, they become something they fail to recognize.
I call it, "pickle syndrome."
Since they spend their lives in a jar, pickles have no idea what they look like from the outside. They also don't recognize the unique qualities that make them special either. They float in the jar hoping someone will recognize them and see their worth.
It's in moments like this that is pays to have an external voice chime in and tell you all of the things that make you and your startup significant. To give you a new label based on the obvious truths you take for granted.
You are still a pickle and you're freaking awesome at it. Don't be afraid to tell everyone.
When you are first starting a new habit, the key is to first get the motions right. For example, when I started writing these posts Monday-Friday, the goal wasn't to write perfectly, it was just to write every Monday-Friday.
Similarly, when you first get a new brand identity, you should follow your style guide to a "T." Why? Because you are learning to walk within your brand and if you start running you will fall, chip your teeth and look stupid.
Think about it, the kid who can consistently walk at a steady pace will get further than the one who pushes himself too far.
What's more? The kid who walks will get faster with time and practice, naturally.
Treat the design of your brand the same way, walk before you run.