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.

Author
Updated on
July 8, 2023
modern brand identity logo design

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

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. 

Nissan

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. 

Heinz

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

Overview

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.

Just like your personal identity, your brand identity makes you who you are. It differentiates you from the crowd and gives you a unique outlook; personality and design speak for themselves.

Although a key factor, a brand is not defined by its logo. A brand is a rather emotional and experiential concept. Once set, it promises what your brand is and what it will deliver to the customers as well as the employees. You can dive deeper to learn everything about what is branding here.

What is Brand Identity and how is it different from brand image?

Brand identity refers to the elements of a brand that together form the identity of the brand in the minds of the consumers and differentiates it from its competitors.

Let’s get this straight. Many believe they understand what brand identity truly means, whereas most confuse it with ‘brand image’.

The difference between brand image and brand identity lies in the point of view. If it’s the consumer’s opinion about the brand based on their experience, judgements then it is referred to as brand image. Similarly, if we are talking about the collective efforts taken by a brand to convey a message and shape a consumer’s opinion, it is called a brand identity.

A brand identity constitutes tangible brand elements. It could be the logo, image, typography, packaging, tone, etc. While it is easier to control and alter from your end, a brand image roots from your customer’s end; Thus, it is difficult to control. What companies can do is use brand identity as a means to frame the desired brand image.

Why is brand identity important?

Your brand’s identity reflects the face and personality of your brand. The stronger your brand identity, the stronger people can recall and connect with your brand.

  • Benefits with Price Premium– A strong brand identity creates a set of customers prepared to spend more.
  • Helps with brand differentiation– A unique brand identity helps cut through the noise and carve a market share for you.
  • Perception of quality– A strong brand identity can influence the customer’s perception on quality.
  • Brand recall and loyalty– A memorable brand identity has the power to induce recall. Remember Nokia’s ringtone? McDonald’s golden arches? The stronger the recall , the better the loyalty towards the brand.
  • Builds brand trust– A strong brand indicates a strong leadership. It enhances brand reliability and helps build trust from the customers.

What makes a brand identity strong and memorable?

Unique– A unique brand identity captures attention. Mailchimp is a good example of how a unique brand identity can set your brand apart and stick with your customers.

Scalable – The brand identity should be flexible to evolve with the brand. Strong brand identities are consistent. They retain the same meaning and essence on digital as well as physical brand communications. Remember that scalability means retaining consistency along with the brand evolution.

Easy to remember– Take Nike’s swoosh for example. The logo is simple yet powerful. Easy to remember and communicates the brand message as well. It is also easy to remember and recall.

Now that you know about the power of having a unique brand identity, lets get down to building one.

Below we discuss a 6 step strategy to develop a unique brand identity that will stick with your customers forever.

How to develop a unique brand identity?

  1. Establish a clear brand purpose
  2. Define your target audience
  3. Create your brand’s visual identity.
  4. Develop and nurture a brand voice
  5. Create a brand style guide.
  6. Be consistent with your brand identity.

1. Establish a clear brand purpose

Okay, so you’ve got a brand. Are you driven by a purpose? Even so, have you clearly labelled the purpose?

One of the most effective methods is to think inside-out. What it means is to start from the ‘why’ and not the ‘what. This can be done using the concept of ‘The Golden Circle’ as coined by Simon Sinek.

How to develop a brand identity

According to Simon Sinek, most brands know what they are doing but only a few know why they are doing it.

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it” –Simon Sinek.

As a founder, you might have your vision and mission set in your mind, but that seldom reaches your customers as intended through your communication and marketing efforts.

Sometimes, when you are too close to your business, you are so fascinated by the idea that you fail to completely understand how the brand is perceived from the customer’s point of view.

For your customers, you are just another brand. So, what you need to do is over-simplify the message for the customers to comprehend.

This is where a brand strategy comes in. A brand strategy helps align your intended message with what is actually communicated out to your customers. It is a comprehensive study of the market, the target audience, and an analysis of your competitors.

Marketing and branding agencies like us help companies realise and optimize the strength of their brands effectively and communicate messages with an authentic flair.

Your brand’s purpose fuels your brand by justifying pursuit. Once your purpose is laid out clearly, it’s time to build on it.

How to pin down on your Brand Personality?

Brand personality shapes the foundation of your voice, tone and marketing efforts. To determine your brand personality ask yourself: If your brand were a person, what would they be like? What kind of lingo would they use? Which popular personality can they be associated with?

Once you answer these, you’ll have a personality for your brand in itself. Just like human beings, your brand should reflect its personality in every marketing effort and message. You can get a comprehensive idea about building a brand personality here.

How to set your positioning game right?

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you read Coco-Cola?- ‘Happiness’?  How about Volvo? -‘Safety’? This is the power of positioning. Coco-Cola sells happiness and Volvo positions itself to have the ‘world’s safest car’- they own a word in the minds of the customers.

Positioning is all about finding a specific spot in the minds of the customer. It is not about

creating something new and different but manipulating what’s already in the customer’s mind.

2. Define your target audience

Your brand needs to provide for a specific set of audiences. Do not go about saying your products/services are for everyone. Narrow down on a particular target group and understand who they are and why they should care about you.

Look at your current customer base, check out your competitor’s customers and analyze your product/service offerings with the demographic, psychographic and behavioral characteristics. Clearly define your target market and target audience to best cater to their needs.

One approach is to build your customer personas to better understand your target audience and serve personalized content that caters to them aptly.

To identify your target audience, you need to start by asking the right questions. You may want to ask questions such as- Who are my customers? Where do they hang out? What attracts them? What solution are they seeking? What do they do? How can I solve that? and so on.

Now, while building an identity for your brand, keep in mind, the ultimate receiver is your customer. So, understand what your audience wants and tailor your communications to align with their exact needs.

3. Create your brand’s visual identity

Visual elements form an integral part of building a brand’s identity. It is what brings your brand to life and makes communicating messages fun and effective.

Start with your logothe prime identity of your brand!

If you already have a logo, audit it. If not, start by creating a logo that is simple, scalable and memorable.

Although an element, it is one of the key ones. Your brand logo is practically the first thing your customers would see- It serves as your brand’s identity. It is found everywhere, from your website, packaging, brochures to online advertisements. Hence, your logo should entail a strong visual representation of who you are and also look cohesive.

Remember: sometimes less is more when it comes to logos. Take Nike’s swoosh, for example; it is a simple yet, a great logo that can be easily used in multiple forms without losing its essence.

Color palettethe defining aspect of your brand identity

Next up is the color palette.

Your color palette and logo go hand-in-hand. Colors have an innate ability to evoke emotions, and this makes them a vital element to adapt strategically.

What do you associate the color red with? Does green color reflect the environment? Do you associate black with style and premium?

Every color holds with it a psychological tie. Adopting the right colors can make a world of difference to your brand’s identity. If you fail to pay enough attention to the branding colors and logo colors, your audience is bound to perceive your brand differently, which you do not intend for.

Selecting a color palette is essential to have uniformity in your visual identity. This helps the customers for quick brand recall and brand association. You can start by understanding color psychology.

Colour Psychology

(Source: Jennifer)

Make sure to pick one primary color and other secondary colors that compliment it. Keep the hex codes and Pantone numbers handy for future references to maintain consistency.

Check out and analyse what other players in your market are doing. Is there a market standard? A norm? Have you noticed how most of the MNCs have a blue logo? It is because blue represents loyalty and trust. Something that most technology and consumer goods companies want to amplify.

Typography- the compliment your brand content needs

Choose typography that speaks to your customers fluidly across all channels. Fix a typeface as well.

The typography you use in your marketing and communication efforts is just as important as your logo or colors to build a strong brand identity.

Each typography speaks its own tone and voice. It is why horror movies use bleeding typography while magazines use serifs fonts. It represents the tone and values of your brand, just like how colors represent feelings and emotions. You may even consider customizing fonts specific to your brand elements. Developing custom fonts helps you gain authority and cultivate a unique brand identity.

Select fonts that are legible. Do not try to fancy it at the cost of readability.  You don’t want your customers to squint their eyes to read your message.

Tip: Try mixing up font styles

Why stick to one font style when you can choose to play with multiple fonts?

There’s no restriction on sticking with one font or font style throughout. As long as it is clean, readable and reflects your brand’s identity, you are good to go.

Generally, it’s a good practice to mix not more than two fonts. You can try to mix things up by using contrasting fonts (such as serif and san serif) to bring an exciting vibe to your brand’s identity.

Alignment is another area you can focus upon. People tend to read things from left to right. They also tend to read the bolder, brighter texts first.

4. Develop and nurture a brand voice

What do you mean by a brand voice?

Think of it this way, when three friends meet, they greet each other by- ‘Hi’, ‘Hello’, ‘Hey!’- they all mean the same thing, yet, what differentiates them is the voice. This, in turn, stems from their individual personalities.

Like humans, brands need to follow an authentic, consistent tone of voice across all their marketing and communication mediums. It compliments all your design efforts and ultimately builds strong brand identity.

Begin working on your brand voice. Do you want to keep it quirky and humorous? Would you like it to be friendly and welcoming? Or would you rather have Gucci’s tongue-in-cheek tone of voice?

This will be the tone of voice you’ll be using to interact with your target audience. Be it through emails. Social media content, tweets and responses to feedback, packaging messages and even your website copy.

Have a look at how Starbucks nurtures a brand voice. Starbucks uses both functional and expressive voice which is consistently visible throughout their different channels of communication.

brand voice of Starbucks

When the voice is consistent, it sticks with your audience making it memorable and increases brand recall.

Build an emotional connection with your customers to build a memorable brand identity

People love meaningful conversations that connect on an emotional and personal level. Here’s where storytelling comes in. Stories are engaging and they keep the audience hooked to a thread of ideas towards a clear motive/action.

A strong brand identity harbors a strong story. The need to tell a good, compelling story is critical to building a lasting relationship with your audience on a deeper level.

You can utilise paid ads and social media to interact with your audience directly. Social media has grown to become a virtual world in itself. As a brand, you can start by responding to customer feedback, mentions and repost user-generated content to show how much you value your customers. You can start by addressing your customers with their names to connect on a personal level.

5. Create a brand style guide.

A brand style guide is a strategically curated document that outlines your design assets and guides when, where and how to use them. It also guides your design dos and don’ts and ensures that your future designs and communications align with your brand identity.

Consistency is key for any brand. When uncertain about what and how to communicate, your brand style guide acts as a saviour.

Be it your website, social media page, packaging or emails, your brand personality, voice, and design should be aligned. You do not want to confuse your customers and lose trust and credibility.

So, make sure to create a brand style guide that covers all the different elements of your brand identity and make sure to always stick to it. This way you’ll be able to run wild with your creativity yet stay brand compliant.

If you are unsure how to go about creating a style guide, this article will help you.

6. Be consistent with your brand identity

Make use of the brand style guide and follow the design elements picked for your brand throughout all mediums of your brand communication.

Be consistent, not rigid. Give room for flexibility.

As important as it is to stick to your rule book (the style guide), you should avoid replicating the same design elements over and over again. Visuals should be attractive and people are always looking for a better version of something, all the time.

Flexibility allows you to stay relevant in the market and keep up with the fast-moving trends. You can also deploy liberty in designing for your ad campaigns to modernize and personalize them.

A good example is that of Google dots. It is not just consistent with the brand identity (four colors) but is also creative and relevant.

Genius, right?

As far as you stay within the circumference of the brand identity developed, everything is good to go- just be consistent, even with the changes that you adopt.

Check out how Google evolved a new brand identity altogether.

To sum it up,

Your brand identity is what sets you apart from every other Tom, Dick and Harry in the marketplace. In order to give yourself a particular label, you need to work consistently towards it. Right from your brand name, logo, colors, fonts and even target audience, you are ought to set all of them right. As you would have already understood from the reading, design can be a game-changer.

So put on your designer cap and start with it. Nail one element at a time and comprehensively, you’ll be able to build a strong brand identity that will eventually reflect your brand’s purpose and remain memorable in the customer’s minds.

Conclusion

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.

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