Graphic Design 101: What Makes for Strong Branding, and Why You Need It

September 24, 2016

Look at the shade of red below, and think of a beverage.

If you were thinking of Coca-Cola, you’ve just experienced the power of branding.

Today, we’ll be addressing three core questions: what is branding, what goes into good branding, and why is it important in the first place?

Let’s begin with:

What Exactly Is Branding?

To the uninitiated, it’s a buzzword thrown around by men in grey suits in marketing board meetings.

In reality, the concept of “branding” is as old as the hills — and can make or break a business. when done well. (Think of the case of corporate rebrands.)

The German city of Cottbus selected this as their logo from a nationwide design contest, then paid 8,000 Euros for the privilege.

Even a single knitwear seller on Etsy can get a tangible benefit from solid branding.

So what is branding?

Firstly, it’s a topic on which thousands of books have been written and about which hundreds of seminars have been held. Branding is, essentially, the subjective nature of design combined with the hard-line science of business, so it’s a very peculiar concept and one that isn’t easy to sum up in a nutshell.

We’ll start with this definition from “The marketing practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.”

What this means is that all imagery and aesthetics should be translatable across the board. If the company logo is totally different from the look and feel of the website, which is different again from all the avatars and headers used on social media, then that isn’t branding: it’s a mess.

From a graphic design point of view, this is what separates “branding” from simply “making a logo.”

While the logo is nearly always the core asset (and the first place to start), it should be designed with wider use in mind:

  • Does it work in black and white (in case it gets used by a newspaper)?
  • Can a horizontal version of the logo be made for promotional items like pens?
  • Does it sit nicely on a letterhead?
  • Will it work on the various social media platforms the company may operate?
  • Does it work when rendered extra small (such as on business cards)?
  • Is the main font used in the logo (if any) legible enough that it can be applied to other promotional copy?

These are just a few of the things that should be going through a graphic designer’s mind when crafting a logo and thinking about the overarching design.

The key here is that even if the layout or image specs change, the look and feel of the branding should be consistent across all of the company’s output (both internally and publicly).

But this raises an even bigger question:

What Makes for Good Branding?

Alongside consistency, there are a number of factors that are seen as hallmarks of good branding.

Memorable. Not only should it be easy to draw the company logo from memory (see the above Cottbus logo for an example of how it isn’t done), but it should stick in the mind of the public in such a way that they instantly recognize it the next time.

Key Colors. A corporate color palette should be adopted across all branding to help boost cohesion. This is generally only one or two complementary colors, but it isn’t unheard of to have more.

Strong Typeface. While the logo itself may not contain text, a feature of strong brand identity is a typeface (or perhaps two) that is used across all promotional copy. This should be clear, legible, and compatible across both PC, Mac and mobile.

Consistent Image Style. Outside of the logo vectors, you might be using other images throughout the website and on social media (especially if the company is product-centric). Whether you use line art, illustration, or modeled photography, it should possess the same look and feel across the board.

Uniqueness. All of the above is well and good, but if someone beat you to the punch with something very similar you’re always going to be stuck in their shadow. It’s important to do your research and create something original.

There are infinite ways to achieve the above, and we see exceptionally innovative examples of this in the marketing world frequently (as well as some terrible examples of branding that are so bad they gain their own publicity).

But all of this boils down to our final, and possibly most crucial, question:

Why is Good Branding Important?

Simply put, good branding increases sales. If it didn’t, companies wouldn’t pay design agencies thousands (if not millions) of dollars to overhaul their branding every decade or so.

For a small company just starting out, good branding can help them get noticed. For a giant multinational corporation, it can help build brand trust and retain dominance in an increasingly competitive market.

In short: branding is for everyone, and you can’t afford to forego it.