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It takes time to develop a strong brand identity. You can’t just choose a few colours and throw a logo together arbitrarily. To create an identity that genuinely reflects your brand and can assist you as you grow, you must approach design deliberately. Deep thought, a team with excellent communication and creative abilities, and a thorough grasp of who you are, what you do, and how you want to portray your brand to the world are all required.

This effort is not easy, but it is crucial to the success of any brand. If you’re going to do it, you might as well do it properly. Of course, dealing with a brand identity can be both daunting and perplexing. What should it contain? How do you start? Who needs to be involved? 

Don’t be concerned. You can proceed through the process effectively with the correct direction, which is why we’re here. To keep things simple, we’ve broken it all down into this straightforward step-by-step guide, along with our best advice and a useful toolbox to assist you along the way. If you follow this approach, you will have a beautiful, practical brand identity that will help you stand out from the crowd, connect with the right people, and communicate your business story via every piece of content.

Is it your logo? Your color palette? Your infographic style? It’s all that—and more.

Branding pro Marty Neumeier defines a brand identity as “the outward expression of a brand, including its trademark, name, communications, and visual appearance.” To us, a brand identity is the sum total of how your brand looks, feels, and speaks to people. (Sometimes that even includes how it sounds, tastes, feels, and even smells.)

That said, when most people talk about brand identity, they’re referring to a brand’s visual identity. For the purposes of this post, that’s what we’ll be focusing on.

A strong brand identity is not about making pretty packaging; it’s about communicating your brand story effectively. Design is a powerful tool that can transform how people interact with your brand in three important ways. 

  1. Differentiation: How can you stand out in a crowded marketplace? Your brand identity can play a strong role. Whether you want your product to stand out on a shelf, or you want your ads to stand out on Facebook, creating a consistent, cohesive presentation is the secret to success. 
  2. Connection: The more effectively you communicate who you are, the easier it will be for people to engage with you and, ultimately, join your community of lifelong fans. 
  3. Experience: Everything you create reflects your brand. Thus, if you want to create a consistent, cohesive brand experience, you need to present a consistent, cohesive identity. From your website, to your social media, to your sales brochures, a strong identity is the key to elevating your brand experience. 

Some brands elevate brand identity to an art (think Apple, LEGO, or Levi’s). Some brands make it their entry into the playing field (think Warby Parker or Casper). Others struggle because they don’t know who they are or don’t know how to communicate it effectively. (The truth is too many brands fall into this camp.)

Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, one thing is certain. If you want to be a competitive and successful company, crafting a strong brand identity is mandatory.

To help you understand the procedure, we’ve divided it into ten steps that will take you from A to Z. These steps are listed in this order because distinct aspects of your identity are developed on top of one another. Whether you’re starting from scratch or rebranding, this sequence will help you create a powerful brand identity that will set you up for success.

Step 1: Know Your Foundation

Before you jump into the steps we detail here, know that the visual aspect of your brand identity is not the first thing you should tackle when you’re building a brand; it’s actually the last thing. A brand is like a house; it should be built on a solid foundation.

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First, you need to know who you are: What’s your personality? What do you care about? What do you do? How do you talk about what you do? These are the core elements of your brand that your visual identity will communicate. If you don’t have this foundation to build upon, you can’t design a visual identity that properly tells your brand story.

Before you proceed, make sure you know your:  

  • Brand Heart: This is an articulation of your brand’s core principles (specifically your purpose, vision, mission, and values).
  • Brand name: If you haven’t done this already, find out how to choose the right name. Note: You really cannot design a logo without a name.
  • Brand essence: This is your voice, tone, and personality.
  • Messaging: Know your tagline, value proposition, and messaging pillars to ensure your visual identity communicates the right story. 

Additionally, you need to know why you’re going through this process at all. If you’re starting from scratch, it’s obvious why you need to do this. If you’re rebranding, make sure everyone on your team understands the challenges you’re facing with your current identity and what you’re hoping to achieve with a new one.

As long as you have your core brand elements established, and your team is on the same page, you can proceed.

Step 2: Assess Your Current Identity

Good branding is ultimately about good communication. To make sure your visual output aligns with your brand values reflects your personality, and communicates your total brand story, you need to have an intimate understanding of your brand.  

Thus, you should start with a brand assessment to understand:

  • The current state of your brand’s identity
  • How that brand identity might be crafted or tweaked to align with your goals going forward

By taking a critical look at your brand, you can get the insights you need to build an identity that accurately communicates it. 

Step 3: Audit Your Competition

Building a brand identity is all about differentiation: making your brand visible, relevant, and unique. Thus, it’s crucial to understand not just who your competition is but how your brand compares in terms of your visual presentation. 

Through a competitor audit, you can compare your brand to each competitor, and compare your competitors as a whole, which can surface some surprising insights. 

For example, we once did competitive research for a brand and found that all of their competitors used the exact same four colors. This isn’t uncommon, as many industries tend to gravitate toward the same visual elements (think Netflix and YouTube’s use of the color red), but it revealed a great opportunity to differentiate.

Fun fact: In 2011, the video platform Twitch made a splash with their all-purple branding (at a time when their competitors used bold greens and reds). The color instantly became a hallmark of their brand (now a multi-billion dollar company). 

Noting these types of opportunities is why a competitor audit can be invaluable.

Step 4: Hone In on a Visual Direction 

Now that you’ve taken a critical look at both your current identity and your competitors’ identities, it’s time to get your team aligned on the direction you want to go in. 

Design can be incredibly subjective. Colors that convey power and strength to one person may be perceived totally differently by others. Even the vocabulary you use to describe your brand can be interpreted differently across your team. 

At this stage you aren’t ready to design yet; you first need to have important conversations and move through exercises that will help you land on a shared vision for your brand identity. 

  • What are the key brand traits you want to express through your visuals? 
  • What type of visuals communicate these traits? 
  • What do you want people to feel when they “see” your brand? 

Note: It’s important to get brand stakeholders in the same room to have these conversations, identify the path forward, and make sure everyone on the team is aligned. (The insights you get from these conversations will help you craft the creative brief that designers will use to bring the visuals to life.)

Step 5: Write Your Branding Brief

Once you’ve completed the previous steps, you have the information you need to start design. However, you shouldn’t jump right in. Start with a creative brief that details the pertinent info you need to keep your team on the same page—and ensure you create an identity that aligns to your brand goals.  

Step 6: Design Your Logo

A brand identity is an intricate design system. Each element influences the other, but it starts with your logo. A strong logo captures the essence of your brand, helping you make your mark (literally) in the world.

You can go old-school here and bust out the pencils to free-sketch in black and white. You want to make sure that the core imagery is powerful enough to deliver the message on its own, without the enhancement of color. To start, work on loose shapes and complementary imagery to inspire your logo mark.

Step 7: Choose Your Color Palette

Once you have a solid logo, you can explore your color palette. Color is a great tool to differentiate your brand from competitors, but know that color can also elicit strong emotions, so choose wisely. 

A good color palette is clean and flexible, supplying designers enough choices to be creative but not enough to overwhelm. This includes:

  • 1 main color
  • 2 primary colors
  • 3-5 complementary colors
  • 2 accent colors

Step 8: Choose Your Typography

Every visual element in your identity should contribute to a cohesive visual language, and thus each should complement the other. This is particularly true of typography, which should be informed by the shape of your logo. 

Every stage of design has its own unique challenges, but typography can be tricky in a visual language, especially when brands follow trends that are hot for a second but quickly become dated or appear unoriginal (serif vs. non-serif).

To keep it simple, limit the number of typefaces to 2-3. This generally includes primary and secondary brand typefaces for specific purposes, such as body copy typeface, UI typeface, etc. For a deeper dive into choosing typography (including whether or not to license fonts).

Step 9: Design Additional Elements

Every brand’s needs are different, so you may or may not need to design a comprehensive identity. That said, consider your brand’s future needs. If you are planning to experiment with different types of content, make sure you include those elements in your identity. 

  • Photography

Photography plays a huge role in your brand identity, from your product images to your advertising. It’s important to identify clear guidelines about the types of images (and visual treatments) that are and aren’t appropriate.

  • Illustration

When it comes to illustration, you need a cohesive and uniform language. Don’t over-illustrate or use clashing styles. Instead, think of how your illustration will be used in conjunction with other visual elements.


Good iconography is influenced not just by the creative visual language but by the applications for the work. It depends on what your product or service is, as well as the industry and medium (e.g., website vs. printed sales brochures). Iconography is part art, part science, so you want to make sure things are as clear as possible.

Data Visualization

In addition to aesthetic appeal, data should be designed for clarity and comprehension. Thus, it’s important to design visualizations that adhere to data visualization best practices.

Step 10: Build Your Brand Guidelines

The only thing more heartbreaking than a poorly designed brand identity is a beautifully designed identity that is never used or used incorrectly. A brand style guide is the savior here—if it’s crafted the right way.

Include clear, easy-to-follow guidelines for every part of the brand identity, including examples and use-cases for print, web, video, and interactive elements (if applicable). Also include practical detail, denoting as much information as needed to help your designers replicate the brand identity successfully.

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