Designing a brand identity is more than simply creating a logo. Making strategic design choices across every facet of your visual brand can mean the difference between blending in and popping out from the competition.
A strong and consistent visual representation of your brand is something you want no matter what business you’re in—whether that’s starting a personal brand, monetizing your YouTube channel, or launching an online store.
This guide will help you understand the best practices and fundamentals of strong brand identity design. Throughout, you’ll find advice from design experts and examples of brands that are doing it right.
What is brand identity design?
Brand identity design is the creation of a holistic package of assets, visual elements, and design decisions that represent your brand image. It is composed of a number of creative decisions that define your brand personality visually. The choices you make will become part of your brand guidelines, informing visual decisions you make when building your website, creating marketing materials or business cards, and curating content for social media feeds.
Why is brand identity important?
Brand identity is a tool used to create consistency at every customer touchpoint. A tagline, a unique logo, or a distinct palette can stick in customers’ minds, helping you build brand recognition. Over time, consistent visuals and branding design decisions will also help you generate brand loyalty and trust—customers will know to expect the same high-quality content or products they’re used to from you.
In crowded markets, a strong brand identity can also help you stand apart from your competitors. When customers choose one white t-shirt over another, much of that decision comes down to brand. Taking a strong position with your overall brand—including brand identity design that resonates with your target audience—can give your small business an edge.
Essential elements of brand identity design
Your brand identity consists of a number of parts that all form your brand guidelines or brand kit. You’ll set the stage during your branding exercise by determining your mission statement, brand values, target audience, and the mood you want to inspire. These decisions will help you create brand identity design components such as:
- Typefaces (or fonts)
- Color palette (or color scheme)
- Photographic treatments and style
- Visual elements and assets
- Brand name
- Brand tagline
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How to design a brand identity in 8 steps
- Set the foundation for your brand identity
- Conduct market research
- Establish your overall brand aesthetic
- Design a logo
- Build a typeface library and a brand color scheme
- Hone in on a photographic style
- Create an asset library
- Build a brand style guide
1. Set the foundation for your brand identity
It will be challenging to get started on brand identity without putting in the foundational work of building a brand first. This includes market research to understand how to cater your brand to your target audience, capturing a compelling brand story, and understanding the competitive landscape. Building a visual brand identity is just one part of your overall branding exercise—and it should happen last.
Choosing a brand name
One of the first steps you might take after you lay the foundation is coming up with a brand name. There are a number of factors to consider when choosing a company name. Ask yourself what you want the name to say about you.
- Is the brand connected to you as a person? Use your own name, like Betsey Johnson.
- Is it important that people know exactly what you’re about from your name alone? Try a descriptive phrase, like The Container Store.
- Do you want to be playful and unique, creating something entirely new? A portmanteau—two words mashed together, like Netflix—or a completely made-up or derivative word, like Volvo, will work here.
Run a name check to see if another brand (especially in your industry) is already using the name or if it’s already trademarked. The availability of a suitable domain name and social media handles will also factor into your decision.
A business name generator can be a great place to start—plug in a few details about your business and get a list to choose from. These may also inspire something entirely new.
In two brand naming examples, Brooklyn Brew Shop chose a literal description of its location and product (this is helpful for SEO or targeting a location), while Alaffia chose a word with a personal meaning to its founders and the origin of the company (it’s a common greeting from central Togo, Benin, and Nigeria).
2. Conduct market research
While you will conduct research at the beginning of your branding journey, your brand identity design will also benefit from this exercise.
When you’re looking at a blank canvas, it can be difficult to know where to start. “I would recommend looking at what competitors are doing,” says designer Skyler Hestnes. What font styles are common for your industry? Are the logos more typographical or illustrative?
Researching the top brands in your industry will help you understand what fonts or colors resonate with the target audience and those that may not be a fit. “You can still push the boundaries and try new things within that realm,” says Skyler.
In some saturated industries, like fashion, examining the competition and finding your differentiator is critical—especially with the increase in new online businesses. “Differentiating a line from similar brands is more of a challenge than ever,” says Boxwood Co founder Carolyn Delacorte.
3. Establish your overall brand aesthetic
Once you’ve nailed your brand strategy basics and you have a great name, it’s time to get creative. A good brand strategy includes clear guidelines about how a brand will show up creatively.
Here, you can do a brainstorming exercise to help you narrow down the specific feeling you want people to have when they engage with your brand. Should they feel inspired or curious? Excited or calm? What colors and visual cues invoke those feelings? A mood board can help you put together the pieces of this exercise and inspire your overall brand identity design.
Remember to look at competition with a grain of salt. It will help steer toward what’s expected by the industry, but put a twist on it to make it your own. “If something’s working in the marketplace, that means that everyone’s doing it,” says Graza founder Andrew Benin. “And that can lead to homogeneity.”
4. Design a logo
Designing a logo can feel daunting when you don’t know where to start. A few simple rules can help you create a logo that represents your brand:
- Keep it simple. “One issue I see the most is logos that are very busy with lots of color and without any refinement,” says Skyler. A simple logo will be the most versatile, allowing it to work on everything from a website favicon to a billboard ad.
- Create variations. A wordmark or an icon? Why not create both? Variations will help your logo fit into different applications.
- Consider context. If using recognizable symbols or objects in your logos, consider what message those symbols mean in various contexts and cultures.
Home décor brand Schoolhouse uses different versions of its logo across various applications, from a wordmark on its website and products to a stylized initial-based logo for social and a simple “S” in its favicon:
Now that you have a few basic rules down, it’s time to get designing. Depending on your level of experience and eye for design, there are a number of tools you can choose from to create a strong brand identity, starting with your logo design.
Skyler recommends using a tool like Canva, Shopify’s free logo maker, or a comparable simple logo generator that has built-in templates, fonts, and design elements. “There are a lot of free SVG files online,” says Skyler. “If you have a hair care brand you can just Google ‘hair brush SVG’ and pull it into Canva to make it your own.”
Shopify’s logo maker is based on preset templates that are generated from your business name, industry, and use case of your logo (social, etc). You can make basic changes to colors and fonts. The functionality is more limited than Canva, but it’s great for beginners.
With Canva, you can start with a preset template and swap out icons, colors, and fonts, repositioning and resizing design elements to fit your brand. In this example we started with a template, updated the type, changed the font, and wrapped it around the icon, then updated the background color.
💡Pro tip: “Canva Pro users can build a brand kit within the tool, complete with chosen brand colors, fonts, and other elements, like logos,” says content designer Ibrahim Hasan. “This comes in handy if you’re working with a team or need to create a lot of assets with consistent branding.”
5. Build a typeface library and a brand color scheme
Your brand guidelines will include a suite of fonts (also called typefaces) that you typically use, as well as rules for how to use them. You can choose “fun” fonts for headings and social graphics and a simple complementary font for body text.
Color and font choices can communicate different brand attributes. For example, green may say “fresh” and a bubbly sans serif font can say “playful.” This would be an excellent combo for a bubble tea brand or an organic cotton kidswear line, for example.
First aid brand Welly uses three fonts across its touchpoints: a simple sans serif for body copy and navigation, a bold serif for titles, and its own playful logo’s font, used sparingly. While the site has a diverse color palette, the brand’s main color—a bright emerald green—threads throughout.
6. Hone in on a photographic style
When you shoot new collections, a digital lookbook, lifestyle images for social, and even product photos, you will want to have a consistent visual identity and brand feel. This can be achieved with a set of guidelines for photographers (or for choosing stock photos) that covers everything from composition to saturation.
A brand color palette can help to dictate some of this. You can also use the same photo filter for social media images. Choices of model, set, location, and lighting should also be consistent with other brand and visual identity decisions.
Vegan footwear brand KOI is consistent when creating its on-model photographs. The tones and overall mood may change by collection, but its consistent styling makes for a strong brand identity:
Olive oil brand Graza uses a photographic treatment popular among food DTC brands in recent years: a raw documentary-style attribute with an on-camera flash quality.
7. Create an asset library
Fonts and logos aren’t the only assets you’ll need to assemble as part of your brand identity exercise. Create a library of other visual elements that can be used for various purposes, such as website flourishes or packaging design. These might include photos, graphic elements like arrows, patterns or textures, or even character mascots.
Offlimits founder Emily Miller started her cereal brand with a cast of mascots, meant to appeal to her millennial target audience. Each character represents a cereal flavor and is a critical part of the company’s overall brand identity.
Image file types
You will work with two main types of image files as you embark on your brand identity design journey: vector images and bitmap images.
Vector images are made up of paths (or lines) rather than pixels, allowing them to scale to any size. SVG, AI, and EPS are common vector file types. Vector images are typically used to design logos or graphics within design software and are used by printers, but generally are exported to a bitmap format for use online.
You may be more familiar with bitmap images—JPEG, GIF, and PNG. These are made up of pixels and therefore have limitations for scaling. GIF supports animation, PNG allows for transparent backgrounds, and JPG lets images be optimized to a low file size for web use.
8. Build a brand style guide
A brand style guide (also called brand guidelines) can help you keep track of all the creative decisions you’ve made about your brand. This is the visual language of your brand. That way, every time you create something—an ad, a post, an email—you have a set of specific guidelines to help keep it consistent.
A style guide can also be helpful if you’re delegating design tasks to a virtual assistant, a branding agency, or in-house staff as you grow your business.
Your brand guidelines may contain:
- Logo design and alternate logos
- Primary and secondary colors
- Visual brand elements like patterns or icons
- Brand logo usage guidelines
- Brand font library including rules for use
- Brand story or history
- Brand positioning
- Target market and audience demographics
- Example social media graphics
- Brand voice and brand personality
How to put your brand identity into action
The biggest factor in building a strong brand identity is getting it out into the world. This means consistently applying your style across every platform and space where your brand shows up. This cements your brand image in the minds of customers. Here’s where your brand’s identity design can be used.
Brand your online store
At some point in your project, you’ll probably want to build your own branded website. Sometimes it’s the first step, sometimes it’s the last, but having a place to call your own (versus selling on a marketplace or third-party channel) gives you full creative control.
Pet product company Wild One has a very simple type-based logo, but its visual identity shows up in other ways. Color palette is key to this brand’s collection and those choices are apparent across the website’s theme and photography:
You have more visual flexibility on your own website than on any other platform, but you’ll still need to adhere to your brand guidelines to ensure your brand identity is consistent. Here, you’ll apply those guidelines to a number of places:
- Store theme. Your theme is a website template that forms the skeleton of your site. Pick one that already aligns with your brand identity, and simply edit it to plug in your own fonts, colors, and images.
- Photos and graphics. Product and lifestyle photos should be consistent with your photographic style. Some Shopify themes have existing graphic elements—be sure these work with your brand when you choose your theme.
- Fonts. Most themes allow you to pick your fonts within the editor. If your fonts are not available, you may require some coding or advanced knowledge to load these fonts.
- Logo variation and placement. Choose the right logo variant for each use case: Your favicon will use your simplest logo, while your homepage might feature your main logo.
- Color palette. When you establish your color scheme in your initial branding design exercise, you should have hexadecimal codes for each color. Within your theme, you can set your brand colors using these codes.
Surface your brand identity on products and packaging
Brand identity design for packaging and products tips:
- When working with an experienced printer or using a self-serve online printing service, the onus is on you to be sure that the files you produce have the correct colors (compatible for print) and sizes to accommodate the printing application.
- The more places you can have your logo or other branding elements show up, the better chance you will have to cement your brand in your customer’s minds.
- Use the appropriate variant for each application of your logo.
Blackstock & Weber uses its full wordmark logo on its website and a compact version embossed on the insoles of its shoes:
Show up on-brand in marketing and customer communication
Your social media pages don’t need to be plastered with big versions of your logo over and over—and in fact, they shouldn’t. They should be more organic and aspirational, and show products in a lifestyle context. Your logo can pop up in subtle ways on packaging, but your brand identity can be successfully communicated through photographic and color choices across your grid or playlists.
Gummy candy brand Behave uses its Instagram account to communicate its brand without excessive use of its logo and products. Instead, imagery tells a story about the customer it hopes to attract using lifestyle images and memes.
Have your brand identity show up consistently across all your communications channels, including everything from shipping notification emails to checkout. Using the appropriate logo variant and size is important for each use case.
Working with a designer to execute your brand identity
If you have the budget to do so, Skyler suggests working with a brand identity designer to create a memorable brand. You can focus on a few key items that are versatile that can carry through a number of use cases. “For ecommerce, I would start with a logo,” she says. “Secondly, ask for a good color scheme that can scale.”
With these two things, you can go a long way, mixing and matching colors and playing with logo size and positioning to bring consistency across your brand, packaging, website, and social.
Some more tips for working with brand identity designers:
- Commission branded templates. You can reuse these over and over in your content and marketing. “Ask them to come up with a repeatable template for wherever your largest touchpoints with your customers are,” Skyler says.
- Be crystal clear with your vision. Nail your brand’s personality before you hire a designer. The more detail you can provide about your desired look, mission, and customer, the better.
- Trust the designer to do their job. If you’re clear with your brand vision upfront, you won’t need to hinder the design process by micromanaging. You’re hiring a professional for their expertise.
Where to find a branding design pro
When choosing a designer, Skyler says, “Find one who has work that you like and specializes in the areas that you want to focus on.” There are a number of sites where you can browse profiles of freelance designers and design studios.
- Shopify Experts are vetted professionals who can take on projects of any size. If you have or plan to use a Shopify store, these designers and agencies have experience with the platform.
- Dribbble or Behance are goldmines for discovering designers. Filter to find designers that fit with your vision and style and reach out.
- Upwork or Fiverr are not design-specific, but you can filter to find freelance designers for your project.
- Sustainable packaging company noissue also has a community of creatives ready to take on commissions for design projects.
- Local design colleges may have students or recent grads looking for entry-level work or work experiences for credit.
How much does it cost to hire a brand identity designer?
In 1971, the designer who created the famous Nike swoosh was paid $35. On the other hand, major brands today can spend millions of dollars on a complete branding package that falls flat. While you get what you pay for in most cases, what’s important is to find the right designer for your project and be clear about your vision and expectations.
Retail brick-and-mortar businesses and restaurants may spend tens of thousands on a branding package for menu design, signage, and other physical design needs.
As an online business, however, you can focus on digital basics like a logo, color scheme, and a few templates. “Keep in mind, the logo is going to be the most expensive,” says Skyler. “But if you’re very clear in what you want, I would say on the lower range, it could be anywhere from $300 to $500.” This, she says, is a rate for a more junior designer. A more seasoned designer would charge a couple thousand dollars for the same work.
Your brand identity should leave a lasting impression
Some of the world’s most successful brands—Apple, Nike, McDonald’s—are widely recognizable by their most simplified logo. Often you’ll even know the brand by the tone of an ad, font choices, or photography style—before the brand is even mentioned. That’s because great brands have trained customers through consistent brand identity design.
Whether you DIY your brand identity or hire a pro, you now have the tools to start your branding journey. Stay true to your vision as you craft a brand identity that resonates with potential customers.
Brand identity design FAQ
What is a brand identity?
Brand identity is a holistic package of brand assets, visual elements, and design decisions that represent a brand’s image. The combination of these elements is what makes a brand unique, helps it stand out from competition, and earns it brand recognition. A memorable brand identity delivers a consistent message and cements your brand image in the minds of the public.
Why is brand identity important?
Brand identity is important because it gives your brand a visual anchor, helping you create consistency at every customer touchpoint. A catchy tagline, a unique logo, or a distinct palette can stick in customers’ minds, helping you build brand recognition. In crowded markets a strong brand image can also help you stand apart from your competitors. Taking a strong position with your overall brand strategy—including a brand identity that resonates with your target audience—can give your business an edge.
What should a brand identity include?
Brand identity should include a number of creative decisions that define your brand personality visually. These are some of the elements of brand identity:
- Color palette
- Photographic treatments and style
- Brand name
- Brand tagline
Can you create a brand identity on your own?
Yes! While hiring a graphic designer is an excellent option, many new businesses don’t have the budget to do so. Simple free and low-cost resources like logo makers, business name generators, and DIY design tools can help you work from an existing template or start your own brand identity from scratch—even with no design skills.