You found an identity to steal. A theme that you can dive deep into and extract a visual story from. Now, your goal is to use these elements coherently. So much so, that even if your company's logo is absent from a piece of collateral, an ad, or website, it should still be recognized as something from you. Note, every design deliverable is different and the medium you are building within can have a major impact on how you will apply the visual identity. That being said, these are the top things to be aware of for cohesion:
I cannot overstate the value of a unified color palette, especially if you've selected on unique to your market. Keeping your colors intact and uniform makes your company appear more organized and it helps establish a subconscious connection between you and the selected color. When cigarette advertising became prohibited, Marlboro paid bars to paint entire walls of their spaces Marlboro red. Their sales increased as a result. That's just from establishing a brand color. Or think about Tiffany Blue and the associations of prestige that come along with it. Color has major impact.
Of all the visual elements startups get wrong, this is most common. Type is both science and art, hell, some people dedicate their entire lives to the study and creation of beautiful letterforms. Point being, it ain't easy. But there are some overarching principles one should consider. Firstly, limit yourself. Pick two typefaces max and stick to them. Secondly, choose typefaces that are legible and timeless. No curly q's or any of that Microsoft WordArt shit that sends you back to 2nd grade. If you follow those two steps, your visual prowess will be 50% ahead of anyone not doing so.
Layout is the arrangement of elements on a design deliverable. Here is what you need to decide: does your brand reflect order and cleanliness or chaos and creativity? Both are good, but you need to pick one side. By establishing a game plan for how you will layout design elements, you can create templates for websites, presentations, ads, etc and they will all bear the same amount of order. If you bounce back and forth between hyper-create and hyper-structured you lose cohesion.
Subsequent Design Elements
This is where your stolen identity comes into play the most. Brand identities need spice, transcendent elements that make them unique. Let's say you decided to steal your visual identity from a Brooklyn pizza parlor. You know, a real-deal shop with red and white table cloths, twine-wrapped wine bottles, boisterous families talking across the table, Italian flags everywhere, and old-time, sepia-toned photos of the city. That is a treasure trove. You've got patterns (tablecloth), illustrations (of cool stuff like twine-wrapped wine bottles), voice and tone (boisterous families), photo styling (sepia-tone photos) all from one unified source. The same would apply to motion graphics (maybe a pizza being tossed in the air), icons, or any other element.
If you refuse to use the clichè icons, illustrations, and photos present within your industry and replace them with something out of context, you can make something impactful. You can tell a better story. It's all in your stolen identity. Unlock that treasure trove and create something awesome!
I recently deleted several apps from my phone, ones that I had previously used on a daily basis (Gmail, LinkedIn, Slack, etc). Apart from not being bothered by the constant slew of information or feeling the need to satiate a hunger for attention, something else happened after deleting these apps:
I could critique and analyze them more effectively.
Akin to seeing the forest through the trees, opening an app after not using for a bit gave me a new perspective. I could examine each step in their onboarding, I could observe their interactions with a keen eye, I could look at their layout and better empathize with someone who hadn't seen it before.
Using these apps or obsessively critiquing them daily wouldn't allow me to do that.
In the interest of getting good ideas and understanding what makes these products great, delete them... for a bit.
One of my closest friends lives in London, but he's in San Diego now for his sister's wedding. It was a pleasant surprise. I hit him up and he told me he'd only be in town until tomorrow evening.
Tomorrow evening!? Dang, that's not a lot of time to get together.
I checked my calendar and saw a bunch of scheduled items. All of them are black, so there's no distinction between them. How could I have scheduled so much stuff on one day?
Cue color coding. I created some alternative colors to use to showcase different meeting types I have. Red for in-person and green for digital meetings.
Sure enough, I have three red items today. That's a lot of meetings in a very short amount a time. Don't get me wrong, I love people (a lot more than most designers, I'd think), but this showed me that I'm spreading myself thin for time. This burns the most when I don't have flexibility to see friends from out of town because of it. Something had to change.
So I set a rule: if I see two red/green slots in one day, that's it. No more. A red flag, if you will.
Color-code your calendar.