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I've been designing logos for awhile now, and I'd like to think that I've gotten better at it over time. Part of that is because I tend to have a few design goals in mind and a process worked out that lets me take concepts about what we want the logo to represent and turn it into a symbol. I feel like I'm capable of picking colors and type as well.

But, as I've heard before, "The logo is not the brand." Design shops like Wolff Olins make beautiful identities (here's a recent-ish one I like) where the logo is far from the most dominant part of the overall brand.

When it comes time to design a brand identity to surround the logo, I feel as though I'm not very good. I'll try to design brand guidelines with my new logo, but I feel like I either create something that doesn't fit the eventual work or I can't create a brand guideline until I make enough collateral to see how the logo, colors, type, and graphics work with the content the brand will actually use.

So, what kinds of processes yield better brand identities? Some possible sub-questions that might help clarify (or might misdirect, don't know!) what I'm asking:

  • Do people tend to design the manual before or after they've created actual pieces?
  • Do people have a pile of stuff that needs branded/rebranded when they're considering this step to refer to?
  • Do people design their logos with the branding effort in mind? (If yes, GE and IBM would be strong counterpoints - full rebrands have happened with old logos).
  • Is it possible that, because branding elements outside of the logo tend to involve professional photography or illustration and I'm not as strong in those places, that I'm just trying to lean too hard on vectors and type, which are more of my strengths?

I doubt if there will be a straight answer here. I'm really just hoping for someone who's made some solid brand identities beyond the logo to share some insight into how they made it happen.

  • The bigger rebrandings tend to encompass a full ad campaign as well. That's something the larger firms tend to deal with more than the solo designers. – DA01 Jan 14 '15 at 17:38
  • @DA01 - Do you have a sense of what that looks like? Does the design team pass a brand manual to the ad team who runs with it? Or, does the designer pass a logo to the ad team, who does some stuff, and then the designers encapsulate the use cases into something more consistent? My specific context is that I'm trying to launch an in-house brand and I feel like I'm stuck between either defining guidelines we won't use later or having a messy brand with no rules. I'm wondering if this is a common problem or if I'm just approaching it wrong. – Brendan Jan 14 '15 at 17:44
  • It's typically one large campaign. Often dictated by the ad agency. As for a brand standards manual, there's no rules for that. I would't over-think it, though. – DA01 Jan 14 '15 at 17:58
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It's context-centric, for the most part. It really depends on the particular business and the needs of the client.

Let's take a restaurant. They need an identity.

That could be:

  • a new logo

and be all that the job entails. Ideally, though, you'd get to talk with them some more and explain to them how a cohesive brand identity is important as it's not just the logo your customers will interact with but everything that has to do with your business. That could then be expanded to include:

  • advertising
  • menu design
  • signage
  • table ware (custom plates, napkins, etc.)
  • interior design
  • employee uniforms
  • accessories (take out bags, table tents, delivery vehicle livery, sandwich boards, tray liners, etc.)

You can't really define the style guide until you address the actual needs. The style guide--if needed--will usually come at the end. Now that you've created their brand identity, here are some rules that they can take and pass along to the next designer but still stay 'on brand'.

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Probably a good start is a good interview with the client. You can not (or should not) start designing a logo if you do not have a minimum information.

For example, a logo for a electronic medum only, lets say a web site, can use gradients and shadows, but if the logo must be printed in a shirt, or must be phisically built in the exterior of an office building the characteristics are completly different.

As part of this interview you should ask the uses of this brand, Do they have a fleet of vans to deliver the products? Do they like to use uniforms? Does the company uses bags, like a retail store, with the brand?

Besides that you can make a short list... or a long one of possible aplications, and categorize them. For example:

1) Basic ones. Business card, a folder, or some leterheads.

2) Electronic usage. A simple website header, a facebook wall image, some email firm, a Power point presentation.

3) Integration to a printed ad, the use with some photo as a background, in a magazine.

4) Possible 3d aplication. A video intro or a phisical construction in metal.

5) Etc...

You do not need to make all of those if your client does not need it, of course, but you will have the gidelines you need, and it is a good mental exercise too.

Of course in the process of thinking this aplications you can modify some aspects of the identity manual, you discover that a colour can not be reproduced on a specific product, or the lines are too thin for another aplication or size. Its better to think in advance that possible problems.

  • I think this addresses the need for a variety of logo implementations, but doesn't address the broader branding identity as a whole--above and beyond the logo itself. – DA01 Jan 14 '15 at 20:38
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    Yeap, you are probably right. In bigger projects the issue must be multi disciplinary, marketing, architecture, interior design. But I think it is a starting point. – Rafael Jan 14 '15 at 20:57
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To answer the question in practical terms (from my experience of working for a brand design agency):

  1. designer researches the company and competitors
  2. comes up with ideas/concepts and brand values
  3. creates a logo based on brand values and research
  4. mocks logo applications (mock up of the logo in various contexts like a website, a shop, a letterhead) eventually he modifies the logo based on his mockups and customer feedback and market research if any
  5. creates brand guidelines which could include (in addition to the brand values & logo): typography, tone of voice, imagery (photos/illustration) and the mock-ups nicely presented.

I don't think you need to be a professional photographer to give some indication of the sort of photographs that would go well with the logo.

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A brand is not just the logo and the usage of visual elements. It is instead a promise of what users and buyers will get by using said branded company/organization. It's the entire experience, from the moment a user discovers the brand down to how complaints and feedback are handled. Brand is the ultimate user experience - it is the sum total of the company or organizational culture. Thus, while the designer may help provide styling for the brand (think of it as a perfectly tailored suit), it is the person inside the suit (the organizational culture) that makes or breaks the brand.

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