A UX Approach to Branding Design

How thinking like a user experience designer can benefit your branding exercises.

Posted by Matthew Farleo on 13th Jan 2018

There are a number of different approaches when it comes to branding design depending on who you are talking to and what their personal background is. In my experience, the brand’s that have lasting impact with their customers are those that understand who their customers are and why they got into the business in the first place. First, however, it is important to understand the difference between a Brand and a Logo. A Logo is the graphic portrayal of your business, usually a combination of typography and simple symbols that represents your business (or just a symbol in more widely known brands). This is what is typically thought of when someone says branding. Some examples of logos for famous brands are below.

Some examples of easily recognizable logos and marks from widely known companies

Branding is the summation of the experience a customer has with your company. It is the way your company wholly presents itself, from tone of language in written statements to internal company culture. Branding is the essence of your company and should hold the values of what made you get into the business in the first place. Branding your company with the WHY of your business will help customers connect with your values and build trust, becoming more than just a purveyor of products but a lifestyle enterprise.

You can “own” a logo, but a brand belongs to your customers in the emotions it elicits and the lifestyle it influences.

Understanding the Company and its Customers

Creating a brand that lasts and has a strong impact and resonates with its audience is not as simple as putting together some pretty typography with an equally pretty icon. A strong brand comes from a deep understanding of its target customers and the business landscape it exists within. This initial background research phase can be likened to the discovery phase within the five “D” process.

Firstly the brand must understand its customers, what appeals to them and why. This comes from learning what other brands they are interacting with, what makes them comfortable, and what issues they face regularly. Creating a brand that speaks to the aesthetic that its customers find appealing can be accomplished by knowing what makes the customers feel excited or comfortable depending on your brand’s messaging.

Secondly, in order to stand out within the business landscape that a brand exists in, the brand must be aesthetically independent from other brands in the marketplace. Performing a competitive analysis is paramount when crafting a new brand identity in order to understand how to stand out in your brand’s market. This should help you define your product’s Unique Selling Point or what makes your product superior or different from your competition. A good example to think about here is if you are thinking about creating a new salsa that you’d like to sell in supermarkets. Think about the aisle your product will be sold from and the other products on the shelf. What will make your salsa stand out from ten feet away? What is its unique selling point and how can that be displayed in a simple aesthetic way?

Defining the Path Forward Through Sketching

Once the target customers have been defined and researched and the business landscape has been analyzed the branding exercise moves into the conception phase. When creating the initial concepts for a logo design, I like to use the traditional approach, pencil and paper. Sketching allows the designer to quickly iterate on concepts, to try out multiple solutions rapidly in order to gain a more solid understanding of the shapes and typographical interplay that can make the logo (and by association, the brand) stand out.

Some examples of personal logo concepts for a previous logo project

These sketches are typically not client facing and exist to begin the process of ideation, getting rid of ideas that wouldn’t work or can’t be refined. Generally speaking a page or two a sketches (like ten to thirty individual quick concepts) can be refined into three to five really solid logo concepts.

Refinement and Presentation

Refining the initial concepts created during the sketching phase means taking the sketched files and transferring them into the computer and executing them digitally into professional logos. This can include typographic research in order to find a font family that showcases qualities of the brand or matches the aesthetic style of the iconography developed. Generally, this phase is broken into two parts, initially creating black and white concepts, focusing on the form of the mark followed by introducing color to the concepts, to apply or define the brand’s color palette.

Once the logo concepts have been refined to the point where they are ready to be shown to the client or owner, they are placed into a presentation. Within a presentation the logos can be shown with context and surrounded by brand elements, which helps provide a more complete feel. The presentation can also show use cases for the logo (photo manipulations of the logo onto apparel or other example of branded merchandise) which will help give clients a better understanding of how it can be used. Then a deck is put together and presented to the client, where a discussion can be had on the implications of the different concepts, what inspired them, and how they can propel the brand forward. This dialogue is important and helps solidify the ownership of the brand and its values by its company.

Presenting a Logo should be a dialogue between partners about Brand Values.

Moving Forward

After the logo presentation meeting there will undoubtedly be additional refinements to the favorite concepts based on feedback from the clients, which should be weighed against the team’s knowledge of the competitive landscape and customers. This process of refinement and polishing can take a few rounds of back-and-forth to land on a final logo that truly represents a brand’s values, appeals to its customers and has lasting impact on the marketplace.