Developing a brand identity isn’t as simple as slapping together a few pictures and words – it’s a strategic multi-step process that helps put your business on the map.
Whether you’re in the early stages of developing your own brand, have built an established company, or are simply mapping out your dreams of small or big entrepreneurship, you’ll know there are a thousand different items that need to be considered and a lot of moving targets you’ve got to hit simultaneously.
In tandem with money and logistics, you’ve also got to think about the power you require to move things forward. Translation? Who are the right people in your camp that can help drive your vision into reality?
Learning takes a lifetime, and it comes through discovering new things, making mistakes, meeting new people, and asking tons of questions. Fortunately, we’re allowed to pivot, adapt and grow based on our learnings. It’s never too late to learn something new, and it’s never too late to unstick yourself from routines that no longer serve you.
Building a business (or even acclimating to one you’ve built) is like building an airplane while you’re flying. And while there are tons of guides on how to build a successful one, intuition, empathy, and a breadth and depth of knowledge about many different fields of work are all good foundational tools that you can’t necessarily pull from a step-by-step book.
My name is Dani Roche, and I am a self-taught (and then formally trained) graphic designer-turned-entrepreneur. I started young – I was 12 when I began learning the Adobe Creative Suite, and I was 16 when I opened my first business. The decision to start a business wasn’t really a decision at all; moreso, it was a fast-moving progression of a hobby. Because I never wrote a business plan and grew up with the idea that “creativity” or “the arts” would never translate into a successful career, it took many years for me to see myself as someone who could be a business owner. I didn’t think it was possible to possess both left and right brain thinking, and I certainly didn’t think I could do so and succeed.
Because I believe creativity and design is still undervalued in “the business world,” I’ve listed some considerations that might add to your knowledge bank and provide some guidance in hitting one of those perpetually moving targets.
1) A brand identity can’t just be aesthetically pleasing – it also must be strategic
I’m a graphic designer by trade, so I can happily share that a good brand identity is more than just a logo and typefaces. A brand identity is the way that a company visually communicates to an audience; therefore, visual assets are only a small part of a bigger picture. Design is strategic – it’s not just pushing around pixels and having a selection of brand assets that “do the job.” There is a preconceived notion that design (and designers) aren’t worth the investment, especially in an automated world where new design tools are templated, drag-and-drop, and turnkeyed.
When you’re hiring someone to create a brand identity, look for someone who asks a lot of questions, tries to understand your business capabilities, target market, needs and is forward-looking. A designer with a solid portfolio is a plus, but you should invest in their ideas beyond just images for a better long-game approach.
2) License your typefaces!
Fonts are more than just the default tools that come pre-installed on your laptop. Fonts are crafted by designers, much like how photos are taken by photographers and drawings are created by illustrators! Consider the importance of licensing the fonts you use the same way you would pay to license stock photography (and not just pull them off Google so you can sell your products).
Fonts are spectacular tools and beautiful works of art with many different personalities. The fonts you use to tell your brand story are designed by someone, somewhere, and they should be treated with respect.
3) Accessible and universal design for all should be a standard
If you’re starting a new business or are thinking about refreshing your old one, chances are, building a website is top of mind. Because you might be in the early phase of your planning, consider doing your part by creating an accessible web experience.
The amount of accessibly designed websites is not reflective of the individuals out there living with disabilities – be they hearing or sight impairments or neurological disorders like epilepsy. Tools like colour contrast checkers and screen readers can be used to help your website better reflect the ADA Standards for Accessible Design. If you’re unsure of where to start, check the latter to learn more.
4) Not all “creative” roles can be done by the same person
Your company is rooted in the people part of the story. If you’re a small business owner looking to scale, consider investing in design and branding OR finding a network of freelancers who care to understand what your brand is trying to do or say.
These days, we often hear the term, “jack of all trades, master of none” being thrown around. While there’s nothing wrong with playing in different sandboxes and exploring and learning new tools, the expectation – as a business owner – shouldn’t be to categorize all “creative people” as the same. If you’re running the show, you must identify with how easy it is to be burnt out when you’re doing too many different things at once. Similarly, your team should be able to do the best work when they have focused goals and are committed to something they excel in. For example, someone who is a creative marketing strategist should not be the same person running all social media accounts on a day-to-day basis. Just because these roles are categorized under “marketing” doesn’t mean they possess all-encompassing skills that cover the various disciplines and expertise that fall under marketing.
5) Be flexible, and don’t get stuck
A brand identity should be flexible, and it should grow alongside you. Even the largest and most recognizable companies rebrand. No matter what scale you’re at, if you think your brand needs a refresh, don’t feel tied down by the saying “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” Consider what decisions will help you build a more sustainable future.
About the Author:
Dani Roche is a creative director and designer based in Toronto, Canada. A product of the internet age, she combines a multi-disciplinary design background with a drive for digital strategy to create thoughtful and engaging output that spans print, brand identity and holistic marketing campaigns. Her empathy, forward-looking and acute understanding of digital communities has garnered her a spot on the prestigious Forbes Under 30 List (Marketing & Advertising 2019), as well as recognition from Marketing Magazine as a leader in Canadian marketing and by Applied Arts Magazine as a design industry disruptor. Dani has also been profiled internationally by Vogue, Fashionista.com, Coveteur, and Refinery29. She currently owns the design + marketing agency Kastor & Pollux and has worked on projects in the realms of fashion, tech, finance, and lifestyle.