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Creating a compelling visual identity is essential for all businesses. You may feel overwhelmed or even a little lost if you are just starting out. It can be difficult to decide what your visual identity should look like, but it doesn’t have to be. In this blog post, I’ll cover the basics of how to choose colors, fonts, and imagery to use in your visual branding. If you are a non-designer, this beginner’s guide is perfect for you!
BTW, if you’re wondering who I am and why I’m writing this article, here’s a quick intro: I’m Sarah, a professional visual designer, website developer, and content marketing expert with 10+ years of experience in the game. I wrote this post for those out there who aren’t experts in this area and either don’t have the knowledge or money to pay for professional visual branding.
I hope you find this guide helpful.
Before we get into it, let’s take a quick look at what brand identity is and how it’s different from visual branding.
- Brand Identity vs. Visual Identity
- Why is visual identity important?
- How to design your visual identity in 5 steps
- What’s next?
Brand Identity vs. Visual Identity
If you’re confused about the difference between brand identity and visual identity, no worries because you’re not alone.
Even professional marketers and designers often mix these two terms up.
What is brand identity?
Brand Identity is the overall perception of a brand by its intended target market. It’s made up of specific elements that help a brand create the image and personality it wants to portray.
If that still sounds confusing, let me put it like this. Think about your own personal identity. Many elements come together to make you who you are, and you decide how you want to be perceived in the world around you.
From how you dress, the way you talk, the job you have, to the way you choose to show up on your social media accounts and beyond. You control all of these things, and usually, you do it to express your individuality and create the perception you want from others.
It’s a very similar process for businesses. To attract the customers or build the audience they want to connect with, they’ve got to create and establish a unique identity for their brand.
Brand identity is made up of multiple elements that work together as a whole. It includes your company’s mission, values, unique positioning, tone of voice, and the graphical representation of all these things.
This is where visual identity comes into play. It is one element of a company’s overall brand identity, and that is the major difference between the two.
They are not the same thing because one is a part of the other. You can’t really have a strong visual identity without first developing a strong brand identity.
What is visual identity?
So far, we’ve established that visual identity is the visual representation of a clearly defined brand identity. So, to clarify further, brand identity is how a company wants to be perceived and positioned, while visual identity is how a brand wants to look when it shows up in the world.
A business develops its visual identity through the intentional use of colors, fonts, imagery, and a carefully designed logo. The unique combination of all these elements is typically the most recognizable part of a brand.
And this is often why people mistakenly confuse visual identity with brand identity and use the terms interchangeably.
Why is visual identity important?
Visual branding is essential because it helps people connect with your brand. It helps build trust with your audience, gain their loyalty, and ultimately turn them into repeat buyers or lifelong fans of your business.
Paying for professional visual brand design may be out of the budget for you at the moment, which is a good thing. You shouldn’t pay for complete brand design until you are making a profit.
However, it’s still vital that you create an appealing and cohesive visual identity for your brand. If you want people to take you and your business seriously, it’s worth the time it takes to read articles like this one.
Creating a solid starter visual identity system that can last you for the next couple of years as you build out your business will be worth the effort.
How to design your visual identity in 5 steps
Now that you know the difference between brand identity and visual identity, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and create a visual identity of your own.
In this next section, I’ll walk you step by step through the process.
There’s just one thing I want you to keep in mind. Don’t get stuck on any one step. Since you are likely just starting your business or at the beginning stages, your answers and decisions don’t have to be perfect.
If you do your best and make progress, by the end of this article, you’ll have a well-designed starter kit of visual brand elements to work with.
Step 1: Determine Your Brand Personality
Brand personality is the set of human characteristics attributed to a brand. Like people, the goals and values you set will help establish who your brand is at its core. It’s a crucial step in determining the look and feel of your brand visuals.
Think about it for a moment; the style of clothing you wear is likely an intentional expression of who you are. It’s the same when it comes to your brand visuals.
The only way you’ll know how to visually represent your brand is to dig deeper and find out who your brand is by answering the following questions:
Question number four is my favorite. It’s so fun to answer. Honestly, whenever I’ve used it to help kick off a visual branding project, it immediately helps me start curating visual design ideas.
Like I mentioned above, keep it simple. Answer the following questions as best as you can. If you can’t quickly answer questions one through three, then at least answer question four in full.
For instance, if your brand had a personality, maybe it would be:
Don’t take too long on this step and don’t let yourself get stuck here. Most importantly, remember that what matters most to your brand should reflect the things that will matter to your target audience.
Think about how you want your audience to feel when they interact with your brand.
Step 2: Know Your Target Audience
Understanding your brand personality is just the starting point. You have to go one step further and get into the minds of your target audience.
Remember that although you want to personally feel good about your brand visuals, it’s more important that your target audience find it attractive.
It’s just like dating. While you should most definitely dress primarily for YOU, you likely tweak your appearance to attract the kind of partner you want.
Or, when you have an interview, you likely dress up to leave a lasting impression on your potential employer.
When creating your visual identity, the goal is to get your audience to not only like you but feel like you totally get them. Your brand visuals have to align with the taste and aesthetics that appeal to your target audience.
One way to do this is to create an Ideal Client Profile.
I created one a few years ago when I ran my own design agency. I’ll be honest; it wasn’t an easy process for me.
I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and I wanted to get it right, so I did a lot of research and attempted to fill out the entire profile. I started and stopped many times, and it took me much longer to complete than I’d like to admit. My perfectionist tendencies almost had me quit before finishing it.
Looking back, I should have been less concerned about getting it perfect and instead focused on getting a simple profile down.
If you are just starting your business, I’d highly encourage you to keep it super simple when it comes to this step. You may not know who your people are yet, but I bet you have some guesses, and that’s more than enough to get going.
Start by thinking of someone who would love your product and services. If you don’t know anyone in real life, make this person up and write down a few fictional but realistic details about them.
Remember that it’s worth it to take the time to do this because the more your brand resonates with your customers, the more they will trust, like, and buy from you.
Get a FREE copy of my Ideal Client Profile Workbook
In-depth fillable PDF for those that are ready to go deep and discover who their people really are.
Step 3: Find Your Brand Colors
As a professional brand designer, choosing the final colors for a brand’s visual identity system has always been fun for me. I absolutely love color and have incorporated bright, bold colors into my own visual identity.
If you aren’t much of a color person and think you’ll do fine with just a black and white palette, here are a few stats that you should consider first.
- 62‐90% of a product assessment is based on colors alone.
- Color increases brand recognition by up to 80 percent.
- 92% of people see visual appearance as the most persuasive marketing factor overall.
Now, my goal is to help you get through this process as fast and painless as you can. I know you aren’t a designer, so this will likely be your placeholder visual branding until your business takes off and your budget increases.
However, I still want you to love what you create here and have it last you for at least the next couple of years as you continue building your biz. So, even if you are DIY’ing your visual identity, you’ll need to understand the basics of color theory.
Here’s an infographic I created to quickly bring you up to speed on the psychology of color without having to take a design course to learn it.
It will help you better understand what colors feel right for your brand and audience.
Now that you know more about how colors are perceived, you’re ready to start picking them out.
Gather color inspo
Start by finding images on Google and Pinterest that reflect your overall brand vibe and personality.
What makes this so easy is that many people have already done the hard work of creating and curating pre-made color palettes and mood boards. Create a board on Pinterest and pin all the ones you like.
Another great tool you can use is an online color generator.
Coolors.co is another option and is the tool I used to choose my personal brand color palette.
Check out this quick carousel tutorial I created:
Select your final 3-5 brand colors
Gathering all your color inspo is the fun part, but now it’s time to get serious and select your final colors.
You’ll want to keep your palette between 3-5 colors max, with three being my suggestion.
Picking more than three colors can get complicated real quick and is best left to a professional. However, if you find an excellent pre-made color palette with three or more colors, then go with it.
Make sure you select your primary, secondary, and tertiary colors.
Your primary colors will set the overall tone of your palette and will be used as the dominant color in your brand designs.
Use your secondary colors to accent or support the primary color. You’ll likely use this color in more minor elements like buttons, links, and headlines.
Tertiary colors can be neutrals that work well as background and surfaces to create contrast and balance between your primary and secondary colors.
Jot down your color codes
Once you’ve selected all your final colors, don’t forget to write down your hex codes.
If you don’t know what they are, upload an image of your color palette to Canva’s color palette generator and grab your codes from there.
Don’t forget to note your CMYK codes if you plan to do a lot of printing.
One final tip
Make sure your designs always have enough color contrast to be accessible and legible. Please and thank you.
Step 4: Choose Your Fonts
You already know your brand personality, so choosing your fonts should be a smooth process. Just like your brand colors, you’ve got to select typefaces that match your brand vibe and will attract your audience.
Be sure to keep readability and legibility in mind. Your content and copy should always be easy to scan and read.
If you are creating your brand visuals yourself, keep things simple and classic.
Don’t try to be a designer here if you aren’t one.
I have a few people in my life who are super creative and like to take a stab at designing things themselves. They are usually proud of what they come up with, especially when using “cool” “fun” fonts.
I usually have to break it to them kindly and let them know that their font selection and application look amateur, and then I typically will help them tweak it a bit.
Typography is truly an art, and pairing fonts together that contrast and balance each other in all the right ways is a skill to master.
So, if your goal is to get this process done quickly and have it appear like a professional did it for you, then just leave it to them and instead, go ahead and “borrow” their work.
But, before I let you out into the world to choose your fonts, let’s cover a few font basics that will be good for you to know.
Typeface versus Font
The terms “typeface” and “fonts” are pretty much used interchangeably at this point. However, there is a distinction between the two.
I’m using the term “font” for this article because it’s more universally known, especially outside of the design world.
I won’t bore you with the long, drawn-out details about those differences because, does it really even matter anymore?
Feel free to consult Google if you want to know more.
If you’re perfectly fine calling everything a “font,” then go ahead and skip this section altogether.
For now, here’s the gist of it.
Think of Typeface as the main family made up of related fonts. Let’s use Helvetica, a popular typeface, as an example.
Helvetica is a typeface made up of various fonts – Helvetica Light, Helvetica Bold, Helvetica Condensed, etc.
So if you were selecting your brand fonts, you might choose to use the Helvetica typeface and use Helvetica Condensed Bold for your headlines and Helvetica Regular as your body font.
Alternatively, you could pair two separate fonts from different typefaces.
For instance, you could choose the Helvetica Condensed Bold font for your headlines and use Garamond font for your body copy.
Ok, that’s all I’ll get into for now. Moving on…
Font types and their personalities
Let’s quickly go over the different font styles and their “personalities.”
Serifs fonts are classic and traditional and are embellished with small decorative flourishes at the ends of their strokes. They have an air of trust, elegance, and authority.
San Serifs are modern and sleek. Unlike serif fonts, they have smooth, clean edges. They often give off a contemporary and minimalistic vibe.
Slab serifs are bold and blocky. They give off a stable, strong, powerful feel.
Which of the above is starting to feel like your brand?
Once you start feeling a pull towards one or the other, you’re ready to hunt for the perfect brand font.
A quick hack is to search Google or Pinterest for “font pairings.” There are so many great options to choose from.
You should know your brand personality well enough to find fonts that accurately reflect it. Keep your descriptors simple so that your font selection is straightforward.
You can use Font Pair to gather font inspo and see screenshots of them in real use.
I use this website often when I’m starting a design project. It makes it easy to select a font pair without having to do the work of testing and pairing them together myself.
Canva also has a great selection of free fonts available. Check out their font pairing guide that lists 20 pre-vetted font combinations that you can use right in Canva.
I recommend you use free fonts if you’re on a budget. If you do, stick with Google fonts.
If you’d prefer something a bit more custom yet affordable, search for fonts on Creative Market, they offer both free and paid options.
A word of caution, not all fonts are creative equal.
There are a lot of poorly made free fonts out there, so if you use sites like Dafont, don’t select your official brand fonts from there.
Using a fun font for your family Christmas card might be totally fine; using a poorly made font as the basis for your brand typography is not a good idea.
I’m serious about making sure you keep your brand assets as professional as possible, even if you are creating them DIY. If you are building a business, take it seriously and choose wisely.
One final tip, when it comes to font selection, I think this is one instance where it ok to copy. If you come across a site and love the fonts used, find out what they are and use them yourself.
You can install Font Ninja on your Chrome browser, and it will tell you what fonts a site is using with one click. Take note and search for them.
Hopefully, they are free, and if so, you’ve got fonts to use for your starter brand visuals.
Step 5: Select High-Quality Images
One thing that I dislike most is seeing someone use low-quality, cheesy, and, dare I say, ugly photos on their brand assets.
If you’re reading this article, I’m guessing you care about aesthetics, appreciate good design, and want the same for your brand visuals.
So, if you’re taking the time to DIY the best damn good-looking visual identity system that you can, then I know you’re gonna put that same energy into your brand images.
We all know that looks matter, so when your ideal client finds one of your online channels, make sure you leave the right kind of impression.
It’s a fact that images are proven to increase engagement and performance across all online platforms, and written text combined with high-quality images get 94% more views.
High-quality images will reinforce your brand identity and help to build trust with your audience.
If you can, get professional photos taken to put on your website and socials. If you are on a tight budget, focus on getting a few quality shots of yourself or your products.
If you can’t afford even that right now and have a somewhat aesthetic eye and take pretty good photos, then you’ll need to whip out your iPhone and take some snaps. Almost all of the photos you see on my site and my social channels are photos I’ve taken with my iPhone.
If your iPhone photos look horrible, then you’ll need to Google how to take iPhone photos for your business. There are tons of great tutorials on taking amazing iPhone photos and editing them with easy-to-use apps.
Here is a tutorial I posted on Instagram that might help:
Lastly, you can use stock photos, but for the love of God, please don’t use the ugly, cheesy kind!
There are many excellent stock photo companies, other than Shutterstock and the like. Take some time to find a few and then carefully curate a solid collection to use on your online channels.
Pixistock is a great option that I personally use. They offer photos that are not only beautiful but, also diverse. I can’t tell you how hard it is to find great stock photos showcasing people of color. This collection is more female-leaning and well-suited for entrepreneurs and professionals alike. They’re also a small business, and I love supporting women-owned businesses.
Canva has a great high-quality stock photo library with its Pro subscription. Just take time to look through them and create a collection of brand photos that will work for you.
If you don’t have the money for custom photos and can’t afford a premium stock photo subscription, then you can try Unsplash. They offer beautiful high-quality stock photos to use for free as long as you credit the author. Remember that, since they are free, these photos are used everywhere.
You may have to search deep to find great images to use for your brand, but taking the time to do so will help you create a collection of free stock photos to use across your online channels.
Bonus Step: Design a Simple Logotype
You’ll notice that I didn’t mention anything about creating a logo, and that was on purpose. Designing a timeless logo that perfectly represents your brand is not an easy feat, and I know because I am literally a brand designer.
If you’re building a business or a personal brand and take this endeavor seriously, you will undoubtedly reach a point where a professionally designed logo is a must.
Hopefully, you’ll have a healthy marketing budget to do so at that point. Until then, however, focus on creating a simple, clean type-based logo to hold you over while you get your business up and running.
My advice is to keep your logo simple at this stage.
Here are a few examples of simple typeface logos from people you may know.
Logos are meant to be unique and long-lasting, and that’s why I’m not a fan of using logo templates that can be sold and used over and over by many different people. That pretty much defeats the whole purpose of having a logo.
However, when you are just starting out and if your budget is tight, I wouldn’t be mad at you for using one.
Just remember, if you aren’t a designer or don’t have a strong design sense, it’s best to keep your logo design simple and even a bit generic for now.
One option you can try is to use Canva’s Logo Maker. I suggest that you find a template with a logotype you like and remove the graphic elements to avoid the possibility of having the same logo as someone else.
Creative Market also has great starter logo templates for sale. If you go this route, remember to keep it super simple and stick with a clean logotype.
If you feel confident that you have a strong visual design aesthetic, you could buy a logo kit and add a few strategically placed graphic elements.
One final reminder, if you know you are not a designer, don’t try to be one. I’ve seen lots of really bad amateur-looking logos out there made by people who fancy themselves designers.
Create a professional appearance by making sure all your brand pieces, including your logo, look as if they were designed by a professional.
The only way to do that if you aren’t a designer is to keep things simple, clean, and minimal.
Now that you’ve got your brand visuals created, you’ll likely want to start using them on your Instagram account, your website, and other marketing materials.
Here are a few resources to help you get things kicked off right away.
Create your style guide on Canva or Google Docs
The whole point of creating an entire visual identity is so that your brand can show up anywhere and stay consistent in look and feel across all media – both online and offline.
The easiest way to make sure that happens is to keep this info all in one place with a brand style guide.
It’s easy to create one yourself, but if you want to do this quickly, sign up for Canva Pro to use their Brand Kit where you can keep all of your brand elements in one place.
If you prefer to keep it in a Google doc, check out my article here. In that article I have a Style Guide template made for G-doc that you can use.
Set up your Instagram account and use Canva templates
You can easily search for free Instagram templates on Canva, but if you want to make sure your posts have a cohesive and branded look, I highly recommend purchasing a low-cost template pack.
The reason I like premium Instagram template kits is that they are typically sold as a pack of templates rather than just one-off designs.
Once you add your brand colors and fonts, using a family of templates will help your assets look intentional and branded. It will also help to cut down on the time you’d spend searching and piecing together individual templates to use for your branded graphics.
A Pixistock subscription is perfect if you want to level up your brand visuals and create an irresistible social media feed. You’ll have immediate access to thousands of graphic templates, high-quality images, and as an added bonus, you’ll get a 365+ day social media calendar content, caption ideas, and more.
If you only want to purchase Instagram template kits, Creative Market has options galore. There are so many to choose from, so here is a collection of my favorites.
Set up your website or blog on WordPress
You won’t need a website right away, especially if you are just starting your business.
You can set up an Instagram account and spend time creating branded content there first, but as soon as you can, make sure you get your website up and running.
One important reason you’ll want to create your site is that you own it. Instagram can go away tomorrow, and if that is the only place your audience can find you, you’ll be in trouble down the road.
There are a lot of great website platforms to choose from. If you’ve settled on WordPress as your platform of choice, I’ll share a few resources that I personally use to get my WordPress sites up and running.
For website domains, I typically use Namecheap.
I highly recommend Flywheel Managed WordPress hosting when it comes to website hosting because only the best will do.
In this blog post, I covered the basics of how to create a visual identity for your brand. Whether you are starting out or looking to refresh your current branding, you’ll be able to create a cohesive and professional look for your brand by following the steps in this guide.
Creating a clear and compelling visual identity using color, fonts, and imagery will allow you to make an impact on the people who see it. You’ll start building trust with your audience and establish a lasting and memorable brand.
If you found this blog helpful, send me a DM on Instagram @sarahluna.co and let me know.
Better yet, if you were able to put what you learned into practice, tag me in your stories, and I’ll repost it as well.
Have fun and good luck!