Exploring modern identity design

The essence of your brand lies in its ability to instantly captivate your customers. Your target audience forms an immediate connection between your brand identity and the products or services you offer.

Akhilesh J
Updated on
October 20, 2023

Branding, are we selling product or ideas?

As competition between brands grew fiercer, companies aimed to create professional and cohesive images to represent their products. They found great value in targeting specific audiences by giving products and companies a unique style, look, and personality.

One notable example is Apple Computers' iconic '1984' television ad, which drew inspiration from George Orwell's novel named “1984”

1984 is a book by george orwell

The novel envisions a future where a powerful entity called "Big Brother" controls the world. Orwell depicts a society where people unquestioningly follow the instructions of "Big Brother" while being influenced by constant screen-based brainwashing.

In their advertisement, Apple drew inspiration from this concept. However, they added a unique twist to the scene. In Apple's rendition, a woman wielding a sledgehammer symbolically destroys the oppressive influence of "Big Brother."

The ad showed users breaking free from strict limitations (a dig at IBM) using Apple's Macintosh computer. This was an early instance of a corporation selling an idea or vision rather than just focusing on the product itself.

Stand out or blend in while building a brand?

This approach became popular, leading businesses to prioritise long-term corporate identity over short advertising campaigns

In 1931, Proctor & Gamble took the lead by establishing the first brand management program. Neil H McElroy, an advertising manager, wrote a memo suggesting that an individual should be in charge of each brand within Proctor & Gamble, with a support group dedicated to each product – as if they were separate businesses. 

a black and white photo of Neil H McElroy

  • This approach, known as product differentiation, aimed to highlight the unique qualities of each brand and reduce competition between them.
  • Product differentiation remains a crucial aspect of successful marketing campaigns today, helping brands stand out and establish their distinct presence in the market.
  • Brand identity design strongly influences product differentiation by crafting unique visual and conceptual elements that shape a brand's perception in the market.

The pixel perfect revolution

“In the next decade, you will be competing with more brands than you ever have before” - Gary Vaynerchuky

Computers revolutionised everything, and the revolution proved endless. Every significant software update enables and inspires new trends which flood the market in waves.

Can that be slightly bigger sir?

The age-old request in advertising is often, "Can you enlarge the logo?" 

However, the internet has forever limited the scope of design. 

  • In a pre-Web era, when the smallest canvas was a business card, intricacy was celebrated. 
  • Nowadays, corporate identities must make an impact within the confines of tiny boxes, such as iPhone buttons or browser favicons.

Small Screen, Big Impact: Mobile First Design

Standing out amidst the overwhelming visual landscape of ads, apps, and open tabs is a challenge, particularly for intricate and three-dimensional logos. 

This challenge has driven the adoption of "mobile first" design, where identity and functionality are conceived within strict limitations. 

  • What works on a phone is likely to work across various platforms, including prominent structures like water towers.
  • For modern startups, pixel-perfect attention to detail is essential, but established brands face the challenge of adapting their long-standing brand equity to the digital landscape. 
  • This explains the Burger King debranding effort, which invested significant time and effort into creating a versatile and visually impactful monogram that works effectively at any size.
burger king identity

Identity crisis

  • In an increasingly cluttered digital environment, brands strive to capture attention by presenting a visually uncluttered and streamlined image
  • As a result brands are stumbling towards creating identities more appropriate for a digital age
how various logos have become more simple

Amidst discussions about the loss of product differentiation, it's important to consider that this phenomenon is not solely dependent on the visual identity of a brand. 

It relies on a multitude of factors like

New opportunity, who this?

Though it may seem like the recent shift towards debranding is killing the character of brands, it's actually creating new opportunities for them to expand the application of their identities. 

  • Debranding and adopting flat, minimalist identities offer brands the opportunity to convey diverse messages and moods.
  • This flexibility proves particularly advantageous for brands operating in various genres, those with a wide range of products or services.

Warner Bros.

warner bros frame being used o depict shows
The Warner Bros. rebrand allows the studio to incorporate its identity into movies (and merch) with wildly different themes

Baskin Robbins

baskin robbins different icecreams
The rebranding of Baskin-Robbins transformed the iconic "BR/31" symbol into a canvas for flavour expression. It became a dynamic system with endless possibilities, showcasing the diverse range of eclectic flavours offered. It became a portal for creativity and exploration.


BMW logo on digital screens
The new brand design of BMW is geared to the challenges and opportunities of Digitization for brands. It is flexible for the wide variety of contact points in communication at which BMW will show its presence online and offline in the future. 


Applications of nissans logo
In certain digital and video applications the new identity will actually ‘come alive’ as it shifts and pulsates against a variety of backgrounds, allowing the logo to reflect today’s ever-changing environment and the flexibility needed to remain exciting, relevant and intriguing. 


How heinz is using its keystone symbol in ads
Heinz's recent rebranding, which marked its first global visual consolidation in 152 years, places a strong emphasis on framing. The company's iconic "keystone" serves as the centrepiece of this new "masterbrand," acting as a gateway for a multitude of products and ingredients to burst forth with vibrancy and impact.

A bigger horizon for identity design

Today, empowered by cutting-edge technology, a whole new realm of possibilities has emerged, adding captivating layers to the very fabric of identity design like

  • Sonic identity
  • Motion identity
  • Generative identity

Sonic identity


Sonic identity is the considered and strategic use of sound and music across a brand or experience. 

It is intended to

  • Increase brand recognition and awareness
  • Create or deepen an emotional connection with customers or users
  • Help customers or users intuitively navigate a brand or experience

Effective sonic identities are distinct, memorable and most of all, cohesive across a customer or user journey.

Sonic logo

A sonic logo is a  brief two to four second sound that acts as the audio representation of the brand. One of the most recognisable, and current examples of a sonic logo is the Netflix sonic logo.

It is most often heard alongside their animated logo before their content. Millions of people watch Netflix, so this logo is very engrained in people's minds through repetition. 

The advantage of a sonic logo is that someone doesn’t need to actually see the content to be able to align it to the brand or experience. 

This is why sonic logos are used very powerfully in traditional marketing like commercials on television - even if you’re not in the room watching the commercial, you can hear the sound and align it to the brand or experience. 

Types of sonic logos

  • Melodic logos - They have a clearly defined melody or a sequence of notes
  • Sound design based logos - They use harmony or chods alongside semiotics.

The netflix logo doesn’t have a clearly defined melody. It consists of two hits and a harmonic pad. This makes it a sound design based logo, similar to the HBO sonic logo.  

The advantage of these types of logos is that they won't clash with any type of music that comes before or after them since they don’t have a clearly defined melody.

Melodic logos have the advantage of being very memorable, even without much repetition. They get stuck in our heads easily. 

Some examples of melodic logos

Whether a sonic logo is melodic or sound design based, research confirms that repetition is the best way to get the general population to recognize that sound, and align it with the brand or experience. 

Creating variations based on context

Brands may opt to create variations of the sonic logo depending on different content or audiences. 

A variation of the Netflix sonic logo for a series called ‘After School’. Timestamp - 2:03/2:06

The idea was to reimagine the well known Netflix sonic logo for a younger audience, so a version that was reminiscent of class being let out with the school bell ringing was created.

Another brand that has successfully used variation in their sonic logo is McDonalds. 

The Bah dat dat dat dah originally performed by Justin Timberlake has become unique variations for different campaigns and commercials, using different instrumentation to match the music or the spirit of the commercial.

Mcdonalds can do this effectively because the original is ingrained in peoples heads. That makes it easy for them to recognize a variation.

Motion identity

In the ever-evolving world of branding, motion has emerged as an influential trend, breathing new life into logos, typography, and design elements.

Infusing Brands with Dynamic Energy
By effectively harnessing the power of animated logos, brands can establish a profound connection with their target market, securing a prominent position in the minds of potential customers through

  • Increased engagement - Motion attracts attention
  • Storytelling - It convey stories in a more dynamic and compelling way which can evoke emotions and build a deeper connection with the audience
  • Increased recall - It is more memorable than static imagery
  • Improved communication - motion graphics transform complex matters into a dynamic and simple way that can achieve stunning results, because it combines the language of film and graphic design together
  • Differentiation - Distinct visual styles can be created to stand out from the competition.
  • Multi-channel adaptability - It can be applied to websites, social media, video advertisements and mobile apps.

Not an afterthought

In a lot of cases, the introduction of motion is an afterthought for many clients. It’s value is unclear.
When motion is considered from the outset, it can lead to more interesting and innovative outcomes for the brand identity. It needs to be a foundational component of the design experience.

Some thoughts to consider while incorporating motion into identity are

  • Motion design is considered fundamental to expression, similar to typography, colour, and composition, and should be given equal importance.
  • Carefully consider the purpose of motion. It should be meaningful and enhance visual communication rather than being used for everything for the sake of it.
  • Not all elements need to be in constant motion; the motion should be deliberate and should align with the brand’s message and values.
  • To effectively integrate motion into design, designers must have a deep understanding of motion design principles and theories.
  • Creative collaboration from the initial sketches enables designers from different disciplines to bring their expertise and ideas, resulting in a more cohesive and well-rounded motion design.

The 12 principles of animation

Descriptions of the 12 principles of animation have been taken from “Disney animation: The Illusions of Life”.

  • Squash and stretch - It is considered the most important principle of all the 12 principles of animation, because its effect of making the fixed shapes look realistic such as the weight, mass, and flexibility.
  • Anticipation - It is about a planned sequence of actions that leads clearly from one activity to the next. For example, preparing the next movement, and expecting what the move is before it occurs.
  • Staging - It is the most general principle because it covers many areas, such as action, presentation of the idea, mood, personality, where each element fully communicates with the viewer when it is staged.
  • Straight ahead action and Pose to pose - These two principles give the animators two choices of how to draw the movements. The first one is known as straight ahead action, which means to draw the object or the character in individual positions from the start to the end. The second is known as pose to pose, which is more as a measured technique, where the animator draws the key poses at the significant points in the action, which results in more accurate movements.
  • Follow through and Overlapping action - These two principles demonstrate how smaller actions work the main actions. For example, if the character has any appendages such as a long tail or big coat which is considered as a small action attached to the main 14 one, which is the character’s action. Therefore, each action will move in its own way too.
  • Slow in and Slow out - It refers to how the characters or objects need time to slow in and slow out when moving.
  • Arcs - The arcs animation is a visual path that moves from one frame to another. For example, when the object moves from A to B in arcs instead of straight lines.
  • Secondary action - When the object is not caused by the main action or movement, however, it occurs alongside it. For example, when the character wipes a tear as he/she turns away or drips of sweat coming from the character´s forehead.
  • Timing - The amount of time that action will take on the screen determines the number of drawings used in any move.
  • Exaggeration - It is what it sounds like, to exaggerate the movements to create more appeal, impact, and expression.
  • Solid drawing - It is where the animators draw 3D characters in a 2D space, that pay attention to volume, weight, and balance.
  • Appeal - It refers to pleasing design, a quality of charm, simplicity, communication, and magnetism.

How headspace leveraged motion to create better experiences

Headspace is an English American online company specialising in meditation. The company's brand value and mission are centred around making meditation simple and promoting more joy and less stress.

  • They  employ a fresh and happy colour palette that brings joy to its users.
  • The brand incorporates unique animation and motion styles into its visual identity, enhancing the overall experience.
  • Charming and illustrated characters are utilised to maintain consistency and cohesiveness across all content.

They have successfully created a delightful experience for their users, effectively bringing their brand identity and story to life.

Motion graphics are increasingly demanded in brand identity due to their ability to 

  • Attract attention
  • Convey messages
  • Enhance brand values
  • Engage consumers

They offer a cost-effective way to create visually appealing videos, and their benefits extend to brand recall, emotional engagement, and higher user engagement rates. While motion graphics may not become the standard for all brands, they are expected to continue evolving and integrating with emerging technologies in the future.


The field of brand identity design has evolved significantly over time, from the early days of product differentiation to the modern era of sonic and motion identities. Brands now strive to establish a unique and cohesive image that resonates with their target audience.

As technology continues to advance, brand identity design will continue to evolve, offering even more captivating possibilities for brands to connect with their customers and establish a thriving presence in the market.