9 Principles For Great Branding By Design

We all know great design has a critical role to play in building a great brand. But how do we go about making that happen? I recently had the opportunity to speak to three top designers about that very question: Robert Brunner, founder of the design shop Ammunition and author of Do You Matter: How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company; Joe Doucet, founder of Joe Doucet Studio and David Hill, vice president of design at Lenovo and author of the Design Matters blog.

Through these conversations, it became clear that the link between design and branding is important, and that having a top design team is to crucial to having a winning brand.

Here's what I learned:

  1. Branding and design are, to a large extent, inseparable. "A brand is not your logo or ID system," says Brunner. "It's a gut feeling people have about you. When two or more people have the same feeling, you have a brand. You get that feeling via smart design, which creates the experiences people have with the brand. Everything you do creates the brand experience, ergo design IS your brand."
  2. If design is the brand, stop thinking of branding and design as distinct disciplines. "It's all about integrating design and brand," says Doucet. "We need to cease thinking of them as different disciplines. The essence of the Apple brand comes through its design. Take the logo off a BMW and you still know it's a BMW."
  3. Brands need to create an emotional relationship with people. "We are all emotional beings and we have emotional relationships with brands we trust," says Brunner. "Designers need to make that happen. A designer must take the values and assets of a company and transform them in a special way that connects with people emotionally."
  4. Designers need to "get" the essence of the brand. "For designers to build a great brand, they have to understand it," Hill points out. "You need to understand its history, its values, and what it means to people. Can you imagine designing the latent Jeep without understanding the brand archetype of what it means for a product to be a Jeep?"
  5. Design needs to be strategic from the outset. "For design to have a major impact, it's got to get involved at the strategic level," said Hill. "It can't be an afterthought or superficial trappings to be put on post product creation. Samsung's brand became powerful only after they put a Chief Design Officer in place and made it a priority for the company."
  6. Integrate design early in the process to drive innovation and create solutions. "Good designers approach design as an opportunity to ask questions," says Doucet. "Solution generation starts by questioning initial assumptions. Rather than ask myself 'How should I design Widget X?' I need to be asking 'Do we really need Widget X or is there a better solution to this customer problem? So a designer needs be there at the beginning and be connected to the decision-makers. For example, at Braun, Dieter Rams sat across from the owner of the company."
  7. Don't overdesign. "With the increasing emphasis on design in the world today, it's important to avoid the 'over-designed syndrome,'" says Hill. "A simple, well-thought-through, authentic design is often the best. Everything doesn't need to be redesigned; sometimes what we have in hand is better than what we seek. It's not all about being different; it's about being better. If Levi Strauss wanted me to redesign the patch on the back of their jeans, I would look in their archives for the original."
  8. Use design to continually reinvent the brand. "Some folks think they know branding," says Doucet. "Figured it out long ago. 'Hi. I'm someone you'll like. You'll know it's me because I always wear a red polo shirt (pantone 185 to be exact) with blue pants and a yellow belt.' You can't think that way today. Brands need to allow themselves to constantly update, and be much more fluid. Look at Google; they morph their logo for special occasions. Constant change is a big part of who they are."
  9. Use design to make a difference. "Design can make a difference in how we live," says Brunner. "Take sustainability. A lot of what is done in that area is 'making bad, better.' We're taking wasteful things and seeing how we can make them not so bad. We need to start thinking about how we can use our design tools to encourage people to change. You do that by making 'doing better' also be fun, interesting and (importantly) the path of least resistance. And you do it in an encouraging, not controlling, way. Design needs to do that in order to reach a larger audience than just the small group that is socially driven.

While these steps may require a new way of thinking about design for some, they're key steps to the path for those who want to build a great brand and make life better for those who experience them.

[Image: Flickr user Eugene]

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11 Comments

  • Sean Maki

    Thought I'd add a brief usability recommendation. You should use more line and font spacing between your numbered list & bold text. The cramped grey bold text is really difficult to read. I can't get through a single full point.

  • SimonPearceLive

    Mark. Great summary. I do think that the digital shake-up of the media world actually makes brand design ever more important. Social media, in particular, makes design more important because in social media, people talk about tangible experiences that they have had with brands more than they talk about marketing messages that they received from brands. Over time, more and more "social media" impressions will derive from concrete experiences and brands that design those experiences the best will profit the most.

  • Bud Wood

    The 9 steps all appear to be valid.  The best is step 7; in designing a logo, I always try to have a connection to what came previously.  A continuous link is, in my opinion, a necessary part of a good design.  It's my point "E" at http://www.chartimages.info/Id...

  • Julie Low

    I agree that this article is a bit of a snore and shortsighted. As brand developer and one passionate about quality design, I will be the first to say design is just the tip of the iceberg relative to branding. It certainly incorporates messaging, how someone is greeted in a store, how a receptionist answers the phone, what are people wearing when interacting with customers ... and so on. 

  • Teena Dorn

    Agree with Sharon Lee. So often it's getting the organizational head to understand this concept and support it in order to guide the branding to its best. Unfortunately, branding takes place in organizations whether it is guided by design or not.

  • Sharon Lee

    Very good article BTW. Design and branding do go together and that is inevitable. However branding is more than the design aspect. Branding is not only visual aspect but in the actions, words, marketing, management and more. it encompass all senses that makes good customer experiences.