For some a brand identity is little more than a logo, and maybe a colour palette, often developed by a friendly freelancer. That might be fine when you're starting out, but any business that wants a lasting presence in the market needs something that will stand up over time. So let's break it down and see what goes in to creating a brand identity.
Before you start designing a brand's identity you need to understand what the brand is. Once that's been defined in words, the brand needs a physical presence so that it can interact with the world. It is the embodiment of the brand - its face, its voice, its walk, its clothes - made up with the style of imagery, the colourways, the logo, the typefaces and the tone of voice. Your visual identity gives you the tools you need to start forming relationships with people.
The first part of the process is to understand the who the brand is intending to form a relationship with. Create a picture of the world they occupy, so that you can create an identity that belongs in it. Think about what their house might look like, what car they drive, where they holiday and what other brands they invite into their lives.
Once you have a picture of your client's world it's time to create design concepts for the identity. Design concepts are mood boards that capture the look and feel that will both fit the brand and aspirations of the client. Look for brands that have already successfully created bridges over to your client's world. Break down the characteristics of those identities; what typography are they using, what colours, what imagery and iconography? And most of all, why?
Just as people are drawn to particular characteristics in other people, so they are more receptive to brands that feel familiar or echo their aspirations. It's important that an identity doesn't create any unnecessary barriers. So it's a good idea to start with visual characteristics they are familiar with, allowing them to understand and build positive semiotic links quickly. Work up two or three identity concepts for critique. Select one, and start to design.
Remember there is nothing new in the world, all the parts you’re using have been used before. Designing an identity is a process of fitting the parts you've identified together, moving them around, adjusting and re-building them into a unique experience for your client. Creativity is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration. There will come a point in the process where you suddenly see that you have something that is both distinctive and instantly appealing.
At this point your identity is still only theoretical. You still need to apply it to all your brand's touchpoints - your website, social media channels, templates and collateral. In figuring out how it is applied, the designer will develop guidelines that outline how it should be used. The guidelines are there to help anyone communicating on behalf of the business to stay true to the brand.
Brands are built over time, so consistency is crucial - this year, next year, in five year's time. A well designed identity will help you build trust, help you stand out, and help you grow.