Creating a Strong Brand Identity: How to Avoid Mistaking Your Logo For a Brand

A logo is a graphic element that represents a company or brand. It is the foundation of a company’s visual identity and can greatly impact how a company is perceived by the public. An effective logo is key to establishing a company’s credibility, differentiating it from competitors, and building brand recognition and loyalty. However, a logo will not be memorable and effective in the branding endeavour if it is not considered as part of a larger visual identity system.

The importance of a visual identity system cannot be overstated. A visual identity system is a set of guidelines that dictate how a company’s visual elements, such as its logo, typography, colour palette, and imagery, should be used in order to create a cohesive and consistent brand image. This system ensures that all visual elements work together to effectively communicate the company’s brand and message to its audience.

One of the main benefits of a visual identity system is that it helps to build recognition and recall for a company’s brand. When a company consistently uses the same visual elements in all of its branding materials, it becomes easier for the audience to recognise and remember the brand. This is especially important in today’s digital age, where there is an overwhelming amount of information and content being consumed on a daily basis. By using a consistent visual identity system, a company can stand out from the competition and make a lasting impression on its audience. Read more about brand guidelines here.

A good designer or agency will be able to create enough visual variety for a brand to be visually consistent without it being monotonous and boring.

A visual identity system also helps to establish a company’s credibility and professional image. When a company’s branding materials are cohesive and consistent, it conveys a sense of professionalism and attention to detail. This can help to build trust with the audience and establish the company as a reliable and reputable brand.

In addition to building recognition and establishing credibility, a visual identity system can also help to differentiate a company from its competitors. By using a unique and distinct visual identity, a company can set itself apart from others in its industry and create a strong and memorable brand image.

However, it is important to remember that a visual identity system is more than just a logo. While the logo is an important element of the system, it is only one piece of the puzzle. In order to be truly effective, a visual identity system must include guidelines for all visual elements, including typography, colour palette, imagery, and more. These guidelines should be followed consistently in all branding materials in order to create a cohesive and consistent brand image. A good designer or agency will be able to create enough visual variety for a brand to be visually consistent without it being monotonous and boring. Read here about style here.

In conclusion, a logo is an important element of a company’s visual identity, but it must be considered as part of a larger visual identity system in order to be truly memorable and effective in the branding endeavour. A visual identity system helps to build recognition and recall, establish credibility, and differentiate a company from its competitors. By consistently using a cohesive and consistent visual identity system, a company can create a strong and memorable brand image that resonates with its audience. Click here to view Brands that have great visual identity systems.



Logo of the week

Logo for an outdoor experiences company by Roy Smith

Roy Smith freelance designer recently uploaded this beautiful logo of a company that does outdoor experiences. I love the genre busting logo of being both a symbol and a monogram, with the feather having the initials part of the design. It is subtle and for it’s beautiful lines and proportions it could function as the logo even if the initials were not WA, as that is the characteristics of a feather. What also places hearts in my eyes is how the feather is pointed, resembling a bullet and with the negative line that follows from the quill to the rachis of the feather it gives the brand a sense of motion. One does not get the sense that this is a business run by weekend warriors, but by professional experienced guides thanks to the logo. As for the brand elements, the use of the negative shape of the ‘A’ for brand application is just so conceptually slick, as it represents trees and the outdoors, without distracting from the logo. The strict geometric lines of the brand element offers contrast against the structured and flowing lines of the logo while complementing it.

What many freelance designers tend to focus on is this ideas that symmetry is key to crafting a logo or icon. I can think of great symmetrical logos – Starbucks, BP, ADIDAS, Shell, Unilever – the trick is in the way these symbols and elements are applied to make them distinctive and memorable, but often symmetry is boring when your soccer mom / freelancer has not yet developed the eye for such things. What I also love about this design is that it is asymmetrical. Can you think of the worlds most recognizable brand (four letters long starts with N ends with E)? Is the swoosh symmetrical or asymmetrical?

Hats off Mr Smith

Logo design for outdoor experience company applied in different formats


Business owners’ biggest mistake when branding their new venture


It’s always great to work with clients that have an incredible optimism and energy towards their new venture. Yet sometimes there are clients with a bad enthusiasm. They approach an agency or freelancer with the wishes of having a funky logo that stands out and can communicate all the dreams, aspirations and intentions they have. These goals are great, though naive, but that energy is much needed for great brands to form. It is when working alongside certain clients their eagerness tends to get in the way of these aims. Designers are thought to make pretty pictures, and their work to be about their preference of aesthetics. Often, when designers have been hired their skill set in visual communication is overlooked, which if otherwise utilized ultimately means sales.

Business owners often want their logo to communicate all the dreams they have, however they do not understand the intricacies of how brands work, ie; what the function of a logo is, or how the visual elements applied consistently create the identification of the brand, etc. Much like a person who goes to the mechanic and tells him that the fuel pump needs changing because they are convinced it is causing their car to stall. Or a patient that goes to the doctor to ask the doctor for medication because they are out of breath after walking upstairs. The hopeful client will steer the ship off course if designers are inexperienced or become apathetic.

Clients are never blind to great brands nor great design, however, they are unaware of why things work and why others don’t. And during the design process, with this obliviousness, the options with the most potential to solve the intentions of the client are often discarded. There are, however, designers who can preempt a client’s unintentional self-sabotage, they are, however, far and few in between and more pricey. But perhaps more cost-effective in the long term.

For the business owner to separate the wheat from the chaff may be a challenge. Perhaps first and foremost they need to see the profession as a language and the designer as someone who speaks that language. It may not be entirely impossible to know whether they can create grammatical sentences and use this language to communicate abstract concepts being uneducated on it, but just like how communication between people is mostly nonverbal, design has a ‘body-language’, so to speak, that communicates tacitly, and the effects are always apparent.

For a client to make the most when collaborating with a designer, to maximize the potential for the best solution, one should trust they have their goals in mind. It is not easy to articulate and provide a rationale for every detail or give a crash course on why things have been done or point out that there is an intention to what seems like an arbitrary configuration. Especially, since designers are not trained on such things and tend to be visually and conceptually inclined and solitary. Much like how doctors and mechanics tend to not discuss nor debate their courses of action. The process of branding and solving design challenges is best when the enthusiasm of the client does not restrict the process of the designer but fuels it. That is a whole other post but there is a balancing act of control and trust, once the creative or agency has been found.

Speak to us.


Paul Rand on marks

Logos, Flags, and Escutcheons

by Paul Rand

“It reminds me of the Georgia chain gang,” quipped the IBM executive, when he first eyed the striped logo. When the Westinghouse insignia (1960) was first seen, it was greeted similarly with such gibes as “this looks like a pawnbroker’s sign.” How many exemplary works have gone down the drain, because of such pedestrian fault-finding? Bad design is frequently the consequence of mindless dabbling, and the difficulty is not confined merely to the design of logos. This lack of understanding pervades all visual design.

There is no accounting for people’s perceptions. Some see a logo, or anything else seeable, the way they see a Rorschach inkblot. Others look without seeing either the meaning or even the function of a logo. It is perhaps, this sort of problem that prompted ABC TV to toy with the idea of “updating” their logo (1962). They realized the folly only after a market survey revealed high audience recognition. This is to say nothing of the intrinsic value of a well-established symbol. When a logo is designed is irrelevant; quality, not vintage nor vanity, is the determining factor.

There are as many reasons for designing a new logo, or updating an old one, as there are opinions. The belief that a new or updated design will be some kind charm that will magically transform any business, is not uncommon. A redesigned logo may have the advantage of implying something new, something improved-but this is short-lived if a company doesn’t live up to its claim. Sometimes a logo is redesigned because it really needs redesigning-because it’s ugly, old fashioned, or inappropriate. But many times, it is merely to feed someone’s ego, to satisfy a CEO who doesn’t wish to be linked with the past, or often because it’s the thing to do.

Opposed to the idea of arbitrarily changing a logo, there’s the “let’s leave it alone” school-sometimes wise, more often superstitious, occasionally nostalgic or, at times, even trepidatious. Not long ago, I offered to make some minor adjustments to the UPS (1961) logo. This offer was unceremoniously turned down, even though compensation played no role. If a design can be refined, without disturbing its image, it seems reasonable to do so. A logo, after all, is an instrument of pride and should be shown at its best.

If, in the business of communications, “image is king,” the essence of this image, the logo, is a jewel in its crown.

Here’s what a logo is and does:

A logo is a flag, a signature, an escutcheon.

A logo doesn’t sell (directly), it identifies.

A logo is rarely a description of a business.

A logo derives its meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolizes, not the other way around.

A logo is less important than the product it signifies; what it means is more important than what it looks like.

A logo appears in many guises: a signature is a kind of logo, so is a flag. The French flag, for example, or the flag of Saudi Arabia, are aesthetically pleasing symbols. One happens to be pure geometry, the other a combination of Arabic script, together with an elegant saber-two diametrically opposed visual concepts; yet both function effectively. Their appeal, however, is more than a matter of aesthetics. In battle, a flag can be a friend or foe. The ugliest flag is beautiful if it happens to be on your side. “Beauty,” they say, “is in the eye of the beholder,” in peace or in war, in flags or in logos. We all believe our flag the most beautiful; this tells us something about logos.

Should a logo be self-explanatory? It is only by association with a product, a service, a business, or a corporation that a logo takes on any real meaning. It derives its meaning and usefulness from the quality of that which it symbolizes. If a company is second rate, the logo will eventually be perceived as second rate. It is foolhardy to believe that a logo will do its job right off, before an audience has been properly conditioned. Only after it becomes familiar does a logo function as intended; and only when the product or service has been judged effective or ineffective, suitable or unsuitable, does it become truly representative.

Logos may also be designed to deceive; and deception assumes many forms, from imitating some peculiarity to outright copying. Design is a two-faced monster. One of the most benign symbols, the swastika, lost its place in the pantheon of the civilized when it was linked to evil, but its intrinsic quality remains indisputable. This explains the tenacity of good design.

The role of the logo is to point, to designate-in as simple a manner as possible. A design that is complex, like a fussy illustration or an arcane abstraction, harbors a self-destruct mechanism. Simple ideas, as well as simple designs are, ironically, the products of circuitous mental purposes. Simplicity is difficult to achieve, yet worth the effort.

The effectiveness of a good logo depends on:

a. distinctiveness b. visibility c. useability d. memorability e. universality f. durability g. timelessness

Most of us believe that the subject matter of a logo depends on the kind of business or service involved. Who is the audience? How is it marketed? What is the media? These are some of the considerations. An animal might suit one category, at the same time that it would be an anathema in another. Numerals are possible candidates: 747, 7-Up, 7-11, and so are letters, which are not only possible but most common. However, the subject matter of a logo is of relatively little importance; nor, it seems, does appropriateness always play a significant role. This does not imply that appropriateness is undesirable. It merely indicates that a one-to-one relationship, between a symbol and what is symbolized, is very often impossible to achieve and, under certain conditions, may even be objectionable. Ultimately, the only thing mandatory, it seems, is that a logo be attractive, reproducible in one color and in exceedingly small sizes.

The Mercedes symbol, for example, has nothing to do with automobiles; yet it is a great symbol, not because its design is great, but because it stands for a great product. The same can be said about apples and computers. Few people realize that a bat is the symbol of authenticity for Bacardi Rum; yet Bacardi is still being imbibed. Lacoste sportswear, for example, has nothing to do with alligators (or crocodiles), and yet the little green reptile is a memorable and profitable symbol. What makes the Rolls Royce emblem so distinguished is not its design (which is commonplace), but the quality of the automobile for which it stands. Similarly, the signature of George Washington is distinguished not only for its calligraphy, but because George Washington was Washington. Who cares how badly the signature is scribbled on a check, if the check doesn’t bounce? Likes or dislikes should play no part in the problem of identification; nor should they have anything to do with approval or disapproval. Utopia!

All this seems to imply that good design is superfluous. Design, good or bad, is a vehicle of memory. Good design adds value of some kind and, incidentally, could be sheer pleasure; it respects the viewer-his sensibilities-and rewards the entrepreneur. It is easier to remember a well designed image than one that is muddled. A well design logo, in the end, is a reflection of the business it symbolizes. It connotes a thoughtful and purposeful enterprise, and mirrors the quality of its products and services. It is good public relations-a harbinger of good will.

It says “We care.”

Originally published in 1991 by AIGA, the professional association for design. Also available in “Looking Closer: Critical Writings on Graphic Design” from Allworth Press.


Brand everywhere


One of our capabilities, branded environments, includes murals. To make the best impression on your customers and potential clients engage them in large visual sensory experiences. Our eyes and optic nerves are connected directly to the central nervous system so its not just like a cat brushing up against your leg, its a complete sensory experience. Its like being served steak with the sizzle…

Photo by ecastro on flickr