Visual Identity in 5 Steps: Definition & Creation | Guide + Examples
Last update: 20 September 2022 at 04:55 pm
The first impression people will have of your brand will be based on its visual identity. We don’t always realize it, but the choices you make when creating your visual identity and branding will have an impact on how you are perceived.
According to this study, 77% of people consider brands that use yellow to be cheerful, while 40% associate blue with safety, reliability and honesty. Choosing yellow will not have the same impact as choosing red or blue. Choosing a triangle or round logo will not have the same effect either.
Brand visual identity is more than just choosing a logo. It must be done strategically and is composed of several elements that must make sense with each other, and fit together to create a website that will convert.
In this article, we will answer 3 questions:
- What is a visual identity?
- Why is it important to have one?
- What are the steps to create a visual identity for a brand?
Don’t forget that we can help you, by proposing the best branding agencies, the ones that will be able to answer to your needs, your budget, and your activity sector.
What is a visual identity?
A visual identity is a set of graphic elements that will allow a brand to differentiate itself from the competition but also to be recognized in its market.
When I say that it must be recognized, that means both by customers and its prospects as its partners, throughout its existence. The creation of a visual identity will allow a brand to express its personality and its character, but also to create a link with its target customers.
In addition, the creation of a visual identity will translate a mission, a vision, and values that will make sense in relation to the public it seeks to reach.
The challenge is to have a global vision of your brand. Are you able to put on paper what matters to your company, and then translate it visually and create a link with your audience?
Another challenge is the adaptability of your visual identity. It must give something clean on all the communication channels you will use. We will focus on your website in this article, but you will have to make sure that its identity can also be used on social networks, in your newsletters, on your products, etc.
Your brand’s visual identity can’t vary between your site, your Instagram account, and your business card for example.
The components of a visual identity
The different elements of the visual identity of a brand must be included in a graphic charter. It will be used to define your identity on all the communication supports you will decide to use. As far as its components are concerned, we can mention :
Personally, I advise you to opt for a “Wordmark” type logo, that is to say that the logo is the name of your company, stylized according to your typography and your colors. This is the simplest and most effective way to create a logo. Many startups make this choice, and I think they are right.
Ideally, you would couple this wordmark with an icon that will be easy to recognize and that can be used more easily on the web.
Your typeface will be used everywhere on your website, so choose it well. It should be easily readable and have enough variations to be able to make several uses of it.
What I mean is that your typeface should be pretty to look at, but it should also be pretty in italics as well as in bold and regular. The same goes for upper and lower case letters. Remember to check all the different uses you could make of this typeface, as well as its compatibility with the colors you intend to use.
The most famous brands are easily identifiable thanks to their colors. Think of the yellow and blue of Ikea, the red and blue of Burger King, or the green and white of Starbucks. Coca-Cola is also an obvious example with its red color.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, each color has a specific symbolism. And you have to take that into consideration when creating a visual identity. In addition to that, some colors are more easily referred to certain sectors of activity.
I’m thinking of blue and white which refers to the medical sector, white and black which refers to tech, or green which refers more to agriculture for example. If you are launching a company that is “Born Global”, you will also have to think about the cultural differences in the countries where you will be active.
The icing on the cake: take the time to choose your colors according to the associations you can make. Two colors taken separately can make a lot of sense for your business, but they can also be very ugly to look at when put side by side.
The ideal method is to choose 2 or 3 colors and make variations of those colors in terms of their depth and transparency.
In our case, it goes something like this:
Shapes and signs
The shapes and signs you choose are also used to create your visual identity. For example, if you use emojis, choose a limited number that will be used regularly in your communication.
The idea is to create a habit and make your audience more and more familiar with your brand’s communication. It’s a bit like talking to a friend who has very specific facial expressions.
What a visual identity is not
Important point: there is a difference between a brand’s visual identity and its brand identity. The latter is broader and includes elements such as the name, values, prices and products, as well as the graphic charter of the brand in question.
The visual identity, on the other hand, aims to represent the company and visually translate the identity of the brand.
Why is visual identity so important?
There are several reasons why I believe that creating a visual identity is necessary if a company wants to be successful.
Differentiate Yourself From the Competition
As I explained at the beginning of the article, a visual identity will help a brand stand out and be easily recognizable. A case in point that comes to mind is Uncle Ben’s. Their rice box is clearly identifiable, and it really stands out among all the packets of rice available in the supermarket shelves.
The logic is the same for a website. Today, 51% of people surveyed say they use Google to find out about a product they are considering buying and the amount of time spent on the Internet each day has literally exploded in the last ten years. According to Statista, between 2011 and 2021, the time spent on the Internet increased from 75 minutes to 192 minutes per day, per individual.
That’s an increase of 156%.
What this means is that content consumption has exploded as well. People are spending more time online and they are looking for more information about the products they want to buy.
Hence the importance of having a strong visual identity. It will allow you to leave a mark in the minds of those who will see your brand and not be forgotten a few minutes after they have visited your web page. Just as Uncle Ben’s stands out among the packets of rice, your website must stand out among all the web pages your audience is viewing.
Increase Awareness of Your Company
If people remember your brand because of its visual appeal, there’s also a good chance they’ll share it around. And if they share it, your brand awareness should grow naturally.
I did a lot of research while writing this article, and I came across a study that covers the reasons why people tend to share content online.
One of those reasons is to provide value to the people around them. Specifically, 49% of those surveyed explained that sharing information allows them to show products that matter to them to people they know, and 94% of them do so if the product in question is likely to interest those around them. In addition, 73% of those surveyed said that sharing content allows them to develop relationships with people who have common interests.
Another reason for sharing content is to define themselves as individuals. Specifically, 68% of respondents indicate that they share information to better define their identity, better let others know who they are and show what matters to them.
What this all means, in my opinion, is that if your visual identity resonates with members of your target audience, they should be more likely to share it around them. And that will increase your brand awareness. That’s why it’s important to consider your audience, to know what will appeal to them and what will make sense to them.
A Multitude of Choices
Finally, the last reason that comes to mind to justify the creation of a visual identity is the multitude of choices available.
With the development of the Internet, you can buy anything and everything from an infinite number of suppliers, all from your couch. This is even more true since the arrival of Covid-19.
Brands are no longer limited geographically to reach the audiences they want to reach. The days of having to go to the local store are long gone. The end of this geographic limitation is a huge opportunity to cultivate your brand’s uniqueness. What makes it unique, and what will allow it to resonate strongly with a very specific audience.
Precisely because you can reach anyone, you can make your brand unique because the Internet will always allow you to reach your audience. Today’s consumers are turning to brands that are like them and they are buying products that convey values they believe in.
I think you have to take advantage of that. Instead of having an “average” visual identity that no one will like, I think it’s better to cultivate a strong visual identity that will appeal to a minority and with whom you can develop a really deep relationship.
How to create your visual identity in 5 steps?
Understand your environment
The first step in creating a visual identity is to understand the different actors that will have an influence on your visual identity.
Understand your competitors
Take the time to analyze your competitors.
- What are the choices they have made in terms of graphic design?
- Why did they make these choices?
- Are there things you like or dislike about their visual identity, and why?
Analyzing your competitors will allow you to better understand the elements that are often used in your industry, and that you should therefore adopt, but it will also help you differentiate yourself.
Understand your target audience
It’s pretty obvious, but a brand’s visual identity should serve to attract the attention of a specific audience. The one for whom you create value and who will allow your business to be profitable.
Hence the importance of knowing what will appeal to them, to create a visual identity that will create a connection with them. Moreover, how do you want your audience to perceive your brand? What do you want them to think when they see your website?
Understand your business
Last but not least, you need to know the ins and outs of your business. This is necessary to create a visual identity that will be consistent and make sense to everyone. What is your company’s industry? What is the culture of your company? What is the product of your company? And so on.
I mentioned it earlier: the visual identity of a brand expresses all the aspects that make it up.
Gather as many ideas as possible
Once you understand your company, your customers, and your competitors, you should have a better idea of how to position your business in its market. Now the question is how to capture that positioning through your visual identity. How to make it real?
My advice is to simply go on a hunt. Find sources of inspiration on which you can build your visual identity.
For example, you can:
- Search on platforms like Pinterest, Flickr, and Instagram.
- Analyze influencers that capture the attention of your audience
- Think about the moods your visual identity should evoke
The goal here is to find as many sources of inspiration as possible. Then, it will be necessary to sort out and elaborate the style that will suit your brand. However, be careful not to take too much inspiration from the design of others, and not to fall into a pure copy.
The objective is to give your brand a unique visual identity. An identity that will allow it to be recognized and to build a relationship with its public.
Defining a style
Companies that manage to find a good visual identity rarely need to redesign their identity. They manage to create a perfect alignment between their customers and their brand.
When you think about it, it is quite rare to see a large company completely change its visual appearance.
In my opinion, there are several styles that can be adopted:
- Retro: Perfect for businesses that want to create a similar style vibe, like Starbucks coffee shops for example.
- Classic: The main advantage of this style is that it is more likely to last and reach a larger number of consumers, like Coca-Cola for example. If you have a large customer base, this can be a good choice.
- Minimalist: The idea is to have a simple and clean design, like Cowboy or Hims for example.
- Flat: In my opinion, this is one of the best choices for a web-only company, like Google.
- Isometric: Many startups active in the tech field make this choice, I can for example quote Smovin and Accountable. Here is a tool that will help you find illustrations of the same style.
- 3D Isometric: This is something that is happening more and more. The best example is Pitch.com, whose landing page is just amazing.
- Illustrated/Handmade: A more minimalist and abstract style, like the one chosen by Charles.co for example. Here’s a tool to help you find illustrations in the same style.
Choosing the style of your visual identity will depend on the elements you have already defined. Namely, what appeals to your target audience and your brand identity as such.
Develop the different components of your visual identity
This is the stage where you will develop your graphic charter. It includes:
- Use of graphic elements,
- Different sets of colors that can be used on different types of communication media,
- Principles for the choice of images and illustrations,
The objective of your charter will be to keep a coherence between the different communication supports that you will use.
It is here that you create all the elements I mentioned above. From the logo to the signs used by your company.
Apply these components to all your communication media
Finally, the last step to validate your visual identity creation, make sure it works well on all your channels:
- Social networks
- Paper supports
Visual Identity: Example
Before we close, let’s look at several examples of visual identity that we can learn from.
Show who you are
Your website should reflect your brand’s personality. Through texts written in a specific tone and choices of visuals that translate the values you want to convey.
For example, the Amy’s Kitchen website shows the family values of the brand. It also shows their will to present an image of simplicity and authenticity.
Another example is Mercedes which uses a sober design and gives an image of seriousness, reliability and innovation.
Keep it Simple
Don’t start with too complex graphic orientations. Keep a clear speech that goes to the essential.
Like here, on the website of Churchill agency, which opts for black, white and yellow.
You must adopt the same visual identity on all your supports. The idea is to be easily recognizable by the customers/visitors according to the type of channel used.
For example, Yves Rocher’s main website and Instagram account have the same graphic codes. They evoke nature, well-being, simplicity, natural beauty (green color, visuals of plants…).
Combine graphics and ergonomics
The website can use graphic elements such as infographics, videos or motion design to add value to your textual content and increase visitor engagement.
But for a web design to be effective, the design of the site must ensure optimal navigation. We talk about loading speed, mobile-friendly site, responsive design, etc.
In the end, creating a visual identity requires a lot of work. And as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I can only advise you to work with a branding agency.