Things are going to change for this series.
For the longest time, I've been writing about branding, but it's hard to distill such a big concept into something tangible and practical. In light of this, I'm going to channel my thoughts on branding and design through a specific market: software and digital products.
Why? Because they fascinate me and there are so many amazing examples of software companies that have leveraged design with authentic precision (Dashlane, Uber, Mailchimp, Notion, etc.). It is also evident that we are entering a new era where creating software is becoming less exclusive, but good branding and design services aren't poised to service company's smaller than $1M MRR.
This is going to become a place where SaaS Founders and Digital Pioneers can come for inspiration and guidance on design. More importantly, where they can learn how to leverage it as a tool to delight their users and build a badass brand.
Here's to a fearless, focused, and forthright 2021. 🤘 😎
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.
Most startup founders associate branding with identity design (logos, color, patterns, etc.). While visuals are an important part of the branding process, it isn't everything. In fact, they are the last step taken.
It stands to reason that your logo is not your brand, and your brand is not your logo. Period.
Logos are symbols, a brand is a feeling. Specifically, the feeling one would associate with your company.
Think of it this way, if a blind individual could not see your logo, but they could hear the things you say and how you want to make an impact on the world, would they understand who you are? Or would they be presented a shallow articulation of who you are and how you're different.
Branding is not a logo. If you do not know how to communicate who you are to someone who cannot see, you're in trouble. You should sound different, act different, and feel different. Only then can you make a case for looking different.