We often hear the word ‘brand’ thrown about, but what is it exactly and what is the graphic designer’s role in branding?

The beating heart of an organization is the essence of a brand. It’s the purpose that keeps the organization pumping. It’s the organizations reason for existing—what it stands for and its unique value, and it’s not limited to corporations. An individual or a political party—even a country can be a brand.

A brand with a valuable purpose provides meaning to all who interact with it. By defining the value from a foundational perspective, we can focus the brand messaging through oral (or auditory), written, and visual mediums to create the appearance of a singular unified voice.

Does this sound familiar? Does it sound like a culture?

Cultures are created by people and that’s all a brand really is. A culture is an idea formed that consists of common language, common visual stimulation, common mannerisms and behaviours. All cultures are based on behaviours and beliefs that stem from how we see ourselves or how we want to project ourselves. The collection of shared common elements is what makes up brand identity.

Breaking down the brand

What we aspire to achieve in branding is to tap into that essence, capture it with clarity and imprint it on the world by making it into form; form as in a tangible, heightened sensual experience. The ultimate goals are to appeal to those of like-mindedness, positive beliefs and perceptions, and increased value—because a brand is an asset. A brand is the promise, reputation, value, and unique selling proposition. A brand turns a commodity or service into a distinguished asset. If the brand is consistent and loyal to its beliefs, behaviours, and offerings, people will trust and identify with it, leading to brand preference and loyalty over time. A brand is what people trust and believe an entity stands for.

The promise – The core concept of the company evolves from positioning the product or service. Take for example Vega. Vega’s business model is product-based; they sell supplements. Vega believes in practicing plant-based diets that are raw, whole foods, and alkaline-inducing to achieve optimal health.

With consistency of this core belief, the Vega product lines are vegan, nutrient-dense, and alkaline-forming. Their signature line is “Clean, Plant-based Nutrition.” Their promise is to deliver premium, innovative, industry-leading wellness solutions that are plant-based and clean. Vega demonstrates accountability by being transparent with their product ingredient lists. The promise that Vega makes and keeps is the backbone of the brand and the basis of its reputation.

branding vega

The reputation – The reputation is determined by the public but, it is based on the company’s integrity of keeping with its brand values and promises. People naturally want to associate with like-minded individuals. If a company speaks to them emotionally, that emotional connection is identified with and a bond can form.

The unique selling proposition – A supplement is a commodity. The Vega supplement line however, is distinguished by a unique attribute; the unique selling proposition. The USP of Vega is a line of supplements that are vegan and nutrient-dense.

What branding does

When you think of branding, think of it in terms of what branding can go for you, such as:

  • A unified, focused messaging
  • Brand equity
  • Organic customer loyalty
  • Internal efficiency in understanding, organizing and relaying information
  • Strengthening the reputation
  • Echo workplace culture and moral (how the receptionist engages with people creates a brand experience)
  • Risk mitigation in potential liabilities
  • Ease corporate mergers and acquisitions
  • Increase market capitalization
  • Increase financial performance

The graphic designer’s role in branding

The designer’s task is to research the state of the brand. We begin by reviewing the company vision, mission, and values as it relates to the product/service offering. We can speak with all sorts of employees and read customer reviews to get a feel for what they think the brand is and what their brand experience has been. Ultimately, the best people to speak to about the company vision is the CEO or owner. As the leader of the company, they will understand more than anyone what the value, challenges, and desired future of the company is. Once there is a consensus about the desired brand message, the designer can move toward a strong, singular idea that will lead to a clear visual solution.

The following is a list of factors that make up a brand and brand experience:

  • Product and/or service
  • Company actions and beliefs
  • Reputation
  • Internal and external expectations
  • Employees
  • Customer service experience
  • The visuals and sentient experiences (scents and sounds can be included in brand identity)
  • Logo

So we know that there are several factors that make up a brand, and that they play an important role in the ongoing branding cycle. Designers do not have control over most of these factors. From an ethical position however, we can voice our findings and hope the company will address the brand inconsistency. If they do, a branding or rebranding project will be more successful.

With a strong understanding of the company and desired messaging, the designer can begin identifying relevant elements that will support the visual brand identity. These elements range from colour, typefaces, shapes, medium (illustration, photography) and style of medium, subject matter, and creative conceptual style. The combination of these elements executed with the four design principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity are the building blocks that professional designers use to create a strong, clear identity for your brand.