I often hear people mistake the term “brand identity design” for simply meaning “logo design”. It’s an understandable confusion for somebody outside of the design world, but one that couldn’t be further from the truth. So what is this mysterious thing called brand identity, and why should your business care?
In a nutshell, brand identity is the entirety of a company’s visual appearance. Everything from the company logo, to advertisements, to their letterheads, business cards and stationery falls under this umbrella. It’s common for young or startup companies to put a great deal of thought into their brand, especially those marketing to the younger generations. Today’s youth are constantly bombarded with visual distractions on TV, online, and in most other aspects of their daily lives. In order to hold their attention, a company must have a powerful visual presence, because that’s what younger generations have grown used to seeing online. They equate visual togetherness with competence, and are likely to lose faith in an organization whose identity seems unsure of itself.
I see this principle demonstrated every day. I live in Austin, Texas, one of the biggest hubs for tech innovation in the US, and also one of its fastest growing cities. New businesses pop here constantly, and I’ve seen many of them fail because they lacked a strong, consistent brand. We’re seeing the same story played out all across the world – the companies and organizations that survive their first five years are the ones who put effort into the face that they show the public.
Let’s use an example. Sparefoot is a company based right here in Austin, and they’re a website dedicated entirely to booking self storage units all across the country. My wife is an employee there, and if you’ve ever gotten a storage unit in a major city, you’ve probably used them. Sparefoot is a young startup company, founded in 2008 by two college students, but they’ve since grown to be the dominant force in their industry, and are consistently voted one of the top employers in Austin. Go to their website. Check out the visual language, the colors, the typefaces. These elements are present in every aspect of the company, from all of its printed material to the physical office space. Sparefoot even has an identity guide containing the exact typefaces and colors to be used in all printed material, so that any documents made by employees will fit in with the company image.
This is what brand identity is all about. In order to succeed in today’s internet-saturated world, businesses need a visual language. Let’s use another favorite example of mine:
The Art of Shaving is exactly what it sounds like; an online store and a chain of physical locations dedicated entirely to the lost art of a good shave. It’s a somewhat risky business model, since most men are content with using newer, quicker, and cheaper razors to trim their facial hair in the morning. And yet, The Art of Shaving has not only managed to succeed, it’s built a wildly successful business out of a niche market.
Notice how their physical locations are laid out and designed with the same traditional look and muted color scheme as their products, and how their advertisements line up perfectly with the style. If it weren’t for their strong brand and instantly recognizable storefronts, the company wouldn’t be anywhere near as successful as they are today, even though they would still offer the same quality products. They realized that they needed more than a niche market and a good sales pitch: they needed an identity.
The world of design is rapidly evolving, and companies are beginning to understand that in a world where consumers can find your competition at the click of a button, you have to out-design your competitors rather than just yell louder. Brand identity projects are some of my favorites to take on, and I think we’re only going to see this niche of design continue to grow and evolve in the coming years.