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How can you 'brand' 5 different websites that live under one parent company that are all very similar with the exception of the demographic? Stack Exchange is a very good example because they sites are all a similar function but with different demographics.

How can I create graphical elements that all relate to each other, but are somewhat different between the sites. They should all still be visually recognizable as part of that 'family'.

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4 Answers 4

A useful question is also: "How important is it for any of the audiences to know that the site/subsite is a child of the parent?" This is a business question, that graphic design can support or undercut.

The answer to this at one extreme is "Not at all." in which case you have a free hand to tailor the presentation of the subsites to each audience without regard for making association with the parent. Of course at the other end is "Each sub site MUST CLEARLY be tied to the parent". In a case like this, the more shared visual motifs you use, the stronger the association will be.

So find out where you land on this spectrum.

If you're going for tie-in to the parent then your design activity is playing with different variables. Keep the same typeface, layouts and change the colour. Keep the typeface and colour but change the layouts. Iterate a lot and you will see which combinations seem strongly aligned with the parent and which seem weaker or totally divorced.

I have seen cases where the gap of understanding about the design between the design team and the marketing team were outcomes of not being clear about this desired association with a parent brand.

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A popular strategy is to create brand identities that incorporates a variable element or component that allows you to tailor the exact design depending on the context or brand. The City of Melbourne corporate rebranding followed a similar strategy, and you can see the rationale and results. Public opinion was actually quite positive because there was a strong sense of identity created by the shape, yet the subtle (and not so subtle) variations helped to reinforce the diverse and playful side of the culture.

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There's really no single approach to creating sub-brands, but here is how the process might go...

  1. If you are creating the parent identity, then you're also taking into consideration how the sub-branding might work/look
  2. You experiment with slight modification of fonts, colors, imagery, etc of the parent brand and use your judgement to know if you've gone too far
  3. You submit your ideas to the client and rely on their feedback to know if you've gone too far; sometime they might be wrong, and sometimes not
  4. Repeat from step 2 if required

The exact changes to fonts, colors, imagery, etc should not be so extensive as to contradict the parent brand, but they should definitely have their own flare.

I have seen some companies adjust their logo for sub-brands by simply shrinking the icon, and adding some colorful text below the company name. Sometimes the text is a similar style to what the parent is using in its name, and sometimes the style is more customized towards the target audience (e.g., a more playful text for kids).

If you're dealing with printed materials, then it might be a good idea to create a master layout, and customize rather than reinvent for each sub-brand. Again, you have the same tools: fonts, colors, imagery, etc. You should also think about referencing the parent company with their logo somewhere, possibly near the bottom/end of the document.

For websites, you can use sub-domains (e.g., graphicdesign.stackexchange.com, vector.tutsplus.com). And once again, you have the same tools and you might want to create a master layout as well as include the parent company logo somewhere.

I think the key is to make sure that the result achieves the goals of the project. Sometimes companies actually want to distance the parent company from the sub-brand so they can enter new markets that the parent company would never be successful in. So the degree of changes will depend largely on the objectives of your client.

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Start with the excellent answers to this question, which is closely related. If you follow the steps I outlined in answer to your other question, then look at DAO1's and Lauren Ipsum's responses to that question, you should have all the ammunition you need.

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