I’ve worked on over 100 visual brand identity design projects in my career and, for me, one of the most exciting parts of the process is right at the start.
Speaking of excitement, one of my guilty pleasures in life is time spent on Pinterest. There was a season where Friday nights would consist of me, on the couch, in my slanket (no shame!), with a cold ginger beer at hand, and Pinterest on my laptop. And I lovvvvvvvved it!
Luckily, I can often also justify Pinterest time during working hours and, today, I’m going to give you permission to do the same!
Whether you’re working on branding for somebody else, whether you’re the one who’s looking for branding support or whether you’re working on your own branding – this post is for you.
I’m going to share some crucial steps to take in the beginning of developing your visual brand identity, and how Pinterest can be a useful – and enjoyable – resource.
Let me just put this disclaimer out there: Pinterest has in no way incentivised me to talk about them :).
In fact, as much I recommend Pinterest as a tool for this visual brand identity development process, you could very well use Google Images or some other visual search engine. You could even use references in the real world! In fact, back in the day, before Pinterest existed, I would collect all sorts of flyers, posters and magazine clippings. In those days, Pinterest was a big box in my studio!
Visual brand identity design begins with clarity
When embarking on any visual brand identity design project, I first need to really understand the brief. Sometimes my clients will send me a thorough brief but, oftentimes, I have to support them in developing one.
I do this by collecting some key information, either through a conversation with them, through a questionnaire or a combination of the two.
The following are the most important things I need to establish. Being really clear about these is helpful for both the brand owner themselves and anybody delivering creative services for them.
- What do you do? – What is your business about? What products and/or services do you offer?
- What are your long term goals for your business? – Ideally the visual brand identity should help in the attainment of these goals so, it’s important to know what they are.
- What do you want to be known for (you can check out episode 1 for more on this)?
- Who are your main peers? – I use the term “peers” instead of “competitors” because, I like to maintain the mindset that, when we’re true to ourselves, there is no real competition.
- Who is your ideal target audience and what they want/need from you? – I challenge people to be really specific about their ideal audience profile. I want to feel as if I know this person for real!
- How do you address their wants/needs?
- What are your values?
- How do you want your branding to feel/what feeling you want it to evoke in your ideal client/customer? – Emotion is powerful. We needn’t shy away from it. Instead we should embrace it! Even in business.
- What brands and visuals do you like?
- What brands and visuals don’t you like?
- What made you choose us as a potential partner for this project?
I started including that last question to ensure that my client knows what they’re expecting. For instance, I’m not for you if you need to create a super corporate visual brand identity. Clearing that up from the beginning saves everybody a lot of time and potentially money too.
For more guidance with finding the right creative fit for you and getting the most out of the experience, check out two articles I’ve written. One with tips for finding the right designer for you, and another with advice on saving money when commissioning creative work.
On to the fun stuff
Once all this information is clear – about the business and about the brand aspirations – the exploration can begin!
It’s an open-ended exercise. Inspiration is a result of curiosity so, there really is no formula. There are simply prompts to start the journey of discovery.
You can begin by looking at how similar businesses have branded themselves. If my client is an art museum, I might type in: “art museum branding” or “art museum logo”.
When presented with all the results, I’ll take a closer look at those that instinctively speak to me. I’ll hover over those images and open them in a new tab. If I’m still feeling them, after looking closer, I’ll save them. I’ll also look at the related items that Pinterest automatically generates. You can find a grid of these below the pin in question.
Along with doing this for businesses in a similar space to my client’s, I’ll repeat this process for all the following pathways:
- What do you want to be known for? – for example, if they answered “African flavour!”, I may look up “African art museums” or “African branding”. Search terms are always an experiment. You may try something that doesn’t bring you the kind of results you’re after. If this happens, you adjust and try something else.
- Who are your main peers? – I’ll look up the businesses mentioned and see what comes up! If those peers aren’t so widely known, Google Images can often generate better results than Pinterest on this one.
- Who is your ideal target audience and what they want/need from you? – if their audience wants help simplifying their lives, I might look up “simplicity branding”. I know that term may sound strange but, if you actually try search for it on Pinterest, you’ll be presented with a real specific vibe. You can then see if that’s a vibe that feels right for your project, or if there are specific images in the results that inspire you.
- What are your values? – I’ll always challenge people to go beyond the obvious things. You know: quality, integrity, reliability… (yawn). Those are things we should expect from every brand! I’m talking about distinctive values – the ones that set you apart. I’ll then translate these into something searchable. For example, if one of the values is around challenging the status quo, I might look up “rebellious branding” or “activist design.”
- How you want your branding to feel/what feeling you want it to evoke in your audience? – Again, I’ll always challenge people to push this response. “Inspired” as an answer is lovely, but it’s too broad. What kind of inspiration do you want to stimulate in people? If the answer is “spiritually inspired”, I will search for “spiritually inspired branding” or “spiritual visual brand identity”. Total vibe.
- What brands and visuals do you like? – I will search for these brands or types of visuals, and see what recommendations come up.
- What brands and visuals don’t you like? – I’ll use the same approach as above only, this time it’s about me being clear on what I shouldn’t be guided by.
- What made you choose us as a potential partner for this project? – Along with this question helping to ensure that all parties are aligned, it can also be used for the exploration process. If somebody answered that they wanted to work with me because of my vibrant use of colour, I can look for more inspiration that uses colour in interesting vibrant ways.
A note on self-control
It’s easy to go on these journeys of discovery… All. Day. Long.
It can be hard to stop yourself when you feel you’ve got enough. You might tell yourself – “maybe there’s one more spark of inspiration that’s going to make all the difference.”
Resist! It’s a trap. It’s often procrastination in disguise.
You may want to give yourself a time limit for each pathway in order to stay focused and not let Pinterest take over your day :).
By this point, you will likely have saved quite a bunch of images! Now, it’s time to do some sorting. Look at them all again. Perhaps there are some that you don’t feel as strongly about anymore. Perhaps you found examples that spoke to you more. Cull what you don’t need.
I actually download the images at this point, and start to organise them in different categories, with a folder for each. I’ll then create moodboards in Adobe InDesign but, you could easily do this in a PowerPoint/Keynote or Google Slides presentation.
The aim of the moodboards is to clarify my thinking into solid visual brand identity concepts I can move forward with. It’s also a more presentable way of sharing my ideas with my clients.
How’s your branding process going?
This is how my branding process begins. What follows is the creation of original designs.
I’d love to hear about what’s worked for you. And if you do try some of these strategies, let me know how it goes.
If you have any questions, please share them in the comments.
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