This week I asked freelance designer Amanda Guerassio, a friend and the talented woman behind Studio Guerassio, to blog about the importance of having a visual branding strategy. Specifically, since Amanda has a decade of design experience under her belt, I wanted her to write a Design 101 blog targeted to small business owners. Amanda works mostly with creative and lifestyle businesses, but the general tips she's sharing today are applicable to any brand.
No matter what type of business you own, there are certain best practices in developing your visual branding that will help you come out the other side with an appealing and engaging look. Here are three tips to help you do just that:
1. Your personal taste is not the focus.
I wrote a whole post about this recently, but what it boils down to is that your business' branding should be about what appeals to your target audience, not to you. Your favorite color may be pink, but if you're trying to sell something to conservative men in their ’40s, that's not going to be the smart branding choice. Once you know who your target audience is, your designer can use his/her knowledge of color theory, font personalities and more to make sure your visual branding lines up with who you're trying to reach. Branding is all about effectively communicating who your business is for and what it does for them, so the focus should be on them, not on you the business owner. That's not to say that you shouldn't like and be happy with your business' branding. But, keep in mind that a business owner usually doesn’t fall into the target audience of their business.
2. Keep it simple.
Don't try to crowd too many different elements into your visual branding. It will end up looking messy and sending mixed messages. These points are things a designer can help guide you through, but if you're set on the DIY track here are some basics:
• Fonts: Stick to 2 to 3 fonts that complement each other. One font for headlines, one font for large blocks of copy, and maybe a third for contrast in other stand-out text.
• Colors: I'd recommend sticking to 2 to 4 colors (not counting black and white). That's enough to establish a recognizable brand look and still have contrasting elements in a design. This is your overall color scheme for ALL branding pieces; it should be noted that you don't have to include the full color scheme in your logo alone. In fact, a good test for a logo is making sure it still makes sense and is readable when shown only in black.
• Logomark (the symbolic, non-text part of your logo): Simplicity is key not only for longevity (simple tends to be more timeless), but also because your logo has to appear many different places in many different sizes. An intricate logo might look great sized for your website's header, but what about when it has to fit onto a business card? A small social media avatar? A pen? If the beautiful details of your logo devolve into an indistinguishable blob, then it's not the best choice. Take a page from Nike or Apple's book and go for simple symbolism.
3. Keep it consistent
The best way to make sure your business' look stays consistent is to put together a brand guidelines document. Once you have the basic visual elements figured out, sit down and put all of that information together. Note what fonts you used and for what purpose (i.e. "this is the font for headlines"), what the color codes are for your brand's color scheme (RGB, CMYK, web hex), acceptable ways to use the logo, etc. You can even include what textural elements or photographic style your brand pieces should have. If you want to get really in-depth, you can also include non-visual brand notes, such as the tone of voice all writing should have, or how certain ideas should always be phrased. It takes a bit of time to put together, but once you have it you can always refer back to it if you forget what font you used, or can't remember the code for that specific shade of green. Also, if your business grows to where you have employees or partners, a brand guidelines document makes sure everyone is on the same page and is representing the brand consistently.
If you can keep those three ideas in mind, you'll already be ahead of the game. And if you need a designer to help you out, I just might know someone.