In the previous article, we covered the basics of branding. We looked at how to create your name, strapline and the language you use in marketing material as well as when talking to customers.
With your company name & strapline moving closer to completion you can start to consider the more visual aspects of your brand.
Your brand assets can be broken down into the following list:
- Company name
- Company strapline
- Colour scheme
- Messages and copywriting
- Promotional materials including business cards, website, flyers, ads and so on
Keep in mind that there is a huge amount of brand material you could make.
What we want to focus on this week is creating the visual language that you’ll use going forward.
Picking a few key elements such as colour and style and then applying them consistently across a small number of materials to get you started.
If your business idea is very product-based involving a lot of packaging then you will likely need to assign a lot more time to this week’s tasks.
These items will be informed by the exercises earlier in the chapter, about what you stand for and how you want to treat and communicate with your customers. You want to get these ideas across with your brand imagery so you always need to be referencing this work.
How to create a mood board for your brand
Unless you are naturally gifted with design skills (and even if you are!) it’s almost impossible to pull a fantastic idea from thin air. Great logos and visuals mostly come from structured processes that aid creativity and not incredible moments of inspiration that hit you in the middle of the night. To that end, let me introduce you to the tried and tested method of the mood board!
A mood board is a collection of imagery, materials, colours linked by a theme (your core brand values!) that you feel could contribute to its look and feel. It might consist of cut-outs from magazines, photos you take when out and about, the imagery you find online or anything relevant you think could influence appearance.
It could be a digital board you collect together in a document or literally a physical board where you print out and pin items to. As you build your mood board over time, you can add or subtract imagery to gradually distil the overall appearance towards something that represents your brand values.
At this point, you are keeping it vague and conceptual, the purpose is to give you a starting point and a place of inspiration that you can build on.
Pinterest is a great online tool for collecting boards of ideas together:
You can use your mood board to test out how different types of visuals ‘feel’. As we get on to deciding colours, you can create different mood boards with different colour palettes to help make that decision. As you try to decide the most appropriate imagery to communicate with your audience, you can start to collect together types of photos and illustrations you think could work.
Your mood board(s) should help inspire your brand visuals and aid in bringing together a consistent look and feel across your brand.
As you start to narrow in on a theme that really expresses your core values, you can start putting these ideas ‘in context’. For example, you could mix together some of the images with some of the wording you’re considering for adverts to see if they complement each other.
Starting to put images and colours ‘in context’ will really solidify if they are the right fit for your brand and the way you want to communicate your messages.
Picking your colour scheme
Your colour palette can completely change the look and feel of your brand and it’s important to know how colour affects emotions and perceptions.
- Yellow: is optimistic, positive, warm and friendly
- Orange: is fun, friendly and bold
- Red: is energetic and attention-grabbing
- Purple is creative, premium and regal
- Blue is trustworthy and reliable
- Green is for growth, health and peace
- Black/white is for simplicity, elegance and clarity
To help you out, head over to https://color.adobe.com/create/color-wheel/ where you can test out colour sets and generate 5 colours based on a colour harmony pattern. It’s a fun tool!
There are no strict rules for the colours you pick but it’s a good idea to pick a set that work well together. Start by choosing 5 colours.
- A primary brand colour – hitting the emotions closest to your brand core values
- A spot colour – This is a colour that compliments your primary brand colour
- Neutral dark or light colour
- Neutral dark or light colour
- Neutral dark or light colour
Make sure you have at least one neutral dark colour and one neutral light colour. These are there for practical purposes like text headers and backgrounds so that your primary brand colour doesn’t get lost.
Of course, choosing a colour is just the start. There are many different ways you can treat colours. A navy blue may evoke feelings of professionalism and confidence whereas a lighter, sky blue evokes calmness and safety. You can push colours towards being bright and bold or soft and pastel, again, depending on what you are trying to get across.
Keep referring back to the earlier exercise of what you stand for and how you want to communicate that to your target audience. Ask whether the colour palette you are choosing is hitting those goals.
There are other, practical considerations too. You need to ensure that your imagery and text is legible on screens and in print. Ensure there is enough contrast in your text and make sure you don’t put colours together that clash and are hard to read.
Don’t put light text on a light background – without enough contrast, it will make reading difficult
Don’t combine too many bright colours – a bright colour is great for being bold and fun but too many can look noisy and affect clarity
Putting text on busy backgrounds – Be very careful if you want to use a background image or pattern behind text because it can really hurt legibility
Using too many colours in general – too many colours can make a page look noisy and lack focus.
Lots of text on coloured backgrounds – even if you keep the number of colours to a minimum, if you put too much text on coloured backgrounds it can make reading tiring and hard work.
How to create your company logo
Your logo is the starting point for all your brand visuals. It’s a mark that, when done right, epitomises what you’re trying to say about your company. The words that we wrote down earlier to describe your brand such as ‘fun’, ‘expressive’, ‘reliable’ etc should be instantly communicated from your logo. If you can achieve this, your logo will go a long way to starting to build a memorable brand in people’s minds.
Look at your competitors
When you did your market research, you should also have taken note of your competitor’s logo and brand visuals. It’s important that you create something that stands out from your competitors. You don’t want your brand to be mistaken for theirs. It’s also a chance to look at what is working for them and how they use their brand visuals to effectively communicate their message to their (and potentially your!) customers.
The internet is awash with design sites with logo and brand inspiration from hundreds of logo examples to case studies breaking down the branding process with specific companies.
Here are some examples:
Create your own collections of logos that you like the style of and think could work for you.
There are many different styles of logos from simply writing the name of your company to having detailed illustrated marks.
Keep it simple and memorable
‘The greatest ideas are the simplest’ is not always the case but it’s not a bad rule to go by.
Keeping it simple helps your logo have high recall value but also makes it easy to use across different media. Your logo ideally needs to look good at all sizes, from a giant promotional banner all the way down to a tiny favicon (the favicon is the tiny icon you see next to the tab at the top of your browser).
Don’t make your life more complicated than it needs to be by designing something too detailed.
Be focused on what you want to get across.
It doesn’t have to be original
Creating an icon of a few coffee beans next to your coffee shop name might not be the most original idea in the world but it is at least clear. Don’t get too obscure with your design just for the sake of being original if it’s not clear what your brand is about. Keep it simple.
Create your own logo or outsource?
At this point, you need to be honest with yourself, do you have the skills to create this yourself or is it worth getting a logo created for you? Even if you like to dabble in creative work, creating good logos is a difficult and subtle art. There are far more ways of creating bad looking logos than good!
For most people, it’s going to be worth paying a designer to create something for you. Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do all the earlier work of establishing your tone of voice and creating mood boards.
You are going to have to explain your brand to whoever it is you get to create your logo so the clearer your brand is to them the better!
If you are going to create your own logo here are my tips for approaching it:
- Keep it simple! I’ve been over this, you will make your life easier if you work simple and focused.
- Keep it rough – to start with, just create quick concepts in pencil. At this stage, you don’t want to spend all your time working one idea up in high quality. You want to cast your net wide with lots of rough ideas.
- Be productive – sketch as many ideas as you can think of, even bad ones. You may only have bad ideas to start with! Get them all down and keep going until you hit on something you are happy with (Then keep going after that).
- Iterate. Once you have a range of ideas, experiment with all of them with variations. Your first variation might be uninspiring but by the 4th it could have promise!
- Get feedback – get some honest feedback from friends and family. You need to find out if your idea is getting across clearly without having to prompt people. If it you need to explain the idea, it’s likely not strong enough.
Outsourcing logo design
At the end of the chapter, we’ll go through creating a brief for a design agency however if you want your logo done without involving the finding of an agency you could go to an online site such as:
These sites will connect you with a huge pool of talent ready to make logos or other brand materials too and this is probably a quicker route then a design agency. A design agency will provide a more consistent and complete experience but there is no denying the convenience, speed and affordability of these sites.
Do remember though that you do get what you pay for and the onus is on you to ensure that anything you buy online and use for your business is not copyrighted by someone else.
Picking Brand imagery
“An image is worth a thousand words…”
Ok, I’m really sorry for repeating this overused phrase but the problem is…it’s as true as it ever was. A paragraph of text going into detail about how friendly your team is will be so much more powerful combined with photos of your smiling happy team. Picking good imagery is going to help sell the story of your brand and ‘story’. You want to weave a narrative that your customers will buy into and want to engage with.
Photography is the easiest option since there are so many good (and free) stock sites out there now. You can spend a lot of time (and you should) perusing these sites for images that fit your brand.
This is really where you want to start adding the stock you think fits your brand to the mood board you created earlier. Bringing your choices all together in one place will help you ensure you are being consistent. Ideally, at some point, you should consider getting your own bespoke photos taken which will be far more authentic than stock. However, at this early stage, to save time and costs, stock imagery is a great starting point.
Make sure when you download your chosen photos that you note how you need to attribute each one to the photographer who took the photo. If you don’t you could end up with a hefty bill from the copyright holder. The excuse “I didn’t know” will not help you!
- Think about your target audience. Do these photos reflect them and their interests? Would they find it appealing?
- Think about the tone of voice you have chosen. Do these images reflect if you have chosen to be professional for example?
- Are they good quality? High-quality images are well worth investing in.
- Are they consistent? Along with simplicity, consistency is the other key factor I am trying to hammer home!
Head to a royalty-free stock website such as:
Again you must confirm that the copyright holder licensed the image for the purpose you want to use it. There are generally restrictions attached. That means tracing it back to the original source in the case of sites that curate photos from lots of different sources as the license doesn’t always flow through accurately.
On another note if the image contains a model then you will have to make sure that the right releases are in place to allow you to use their image with your type of product or service. They might not want to be associated with your genre of product or service and may have stipulated this.
I’d generally recommend going with one of the big players in the market to avoid this. Companies like Adobe, iStock and Shutterstock all have simple licensing agreements that should cover you and if not you can contact them to arrange the license you need.
An alternative to traditional stock is looking for ways to illustrate your brand.
Illustration is a tricky art to get right in terms of hitting the right tone for your brand. If done right it can really differentiate you from the competition. Illustrations can get ideas across in a very engaging and unique way and many large brands are favouring them or using them alongside traditional stock photos.
There is stock illustration available but it is likely you will want to get some bespoke illustration created for your brand. Many of the websites that will create logos for you will also offer illustration services too. If you are going to a design agency for a logo then it’s a good idea to get them to quote for coming up with supporting illustrations at the same time.
Creating the brief for a design agency
So far I have mentioned in a couple of sections that your branding requirements could be outsourced. A final word on this is that your work in this document for filling out the exercises around your brand and your name should form the basis of your brief to a design agency. You need to clearly get across all the values you want your brand to stand for so that they are armed with the right information.
The elements of your brief
- Describe your target market
- Describe your target customer (perhaps refer to the personas created in the market research chapter)
- Describe your brand values
- Describe your ideal customer experience
- Describe your company’s tone of voice
- Describe the brand materials you need
The focus of this and part one was to make sure that you have a solid framework to go ahead and create your brand as you want it. Or alternatively, to be able to outsource the project to an agency with a brief that should get you the results you need.
- You’ve chosen your brand colours
- You’ve created your logo or created the brief for it
- You’ve chosen your brand imagery
- If needed you’ve created a design brief to get quotes from various agencies for your branding work
In the next series of posts, we are going to move onto creating your company website. We’ll look at how you practically set it up as well as your website strategy. The branding exercises from this chapter will help you build a coherent website that fits your company and your goals.
This blog post forms part of our series on how to start a business in 90 days. For an overview of the series and all the blog posts so far click here.