Branding in the Design Process. Part 1

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In this article, we’ll cover the beginning of creating the experience — the brand identity.

It may seem that there is only a good designer’s taste and a couple of weeks behind the pixels that we call a design. The truth is that since every project needs a personal approach the designer needs to get to know the business and dedicate some time to find the right inspirations.

The start point

Every design work begins from understanding the project objectives and client’s business. I inspect briefs filled out by a client, study all the materials I got, stalking the competitors, talk to the client and google. Oh, I google a lot. There is no such term as “too much data“.

The aim is to collect as much relevant information as possible because preparation is a very important part of every project. It is crucial to have an understanding of what needs to be done before I diving into creating concepts.


No creative work can be done without brainstorming, right? I like this kind of activity because it’s a great opportunity to come together as a team and spend some time thinking, imagining, making notes and doodling. As a team, we start by discussing the data we have. It is important to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Then I define the directions of the future style and create some kind of a mind map for ideas that differ too much (if needed). There is always a room for some abstract creative thoughts, though. Let ideas flow!

But since it is a part of a process everything should be documented. The best ideas have the honor to go to the summary document with the most relevant and interesting ones that should be discovered later.

Getting inspired

Design is like driving a car. You need fuel (ideas) to start the engine (create a design) and get to the destination (business goals). No fuel means no movement. And by fuel, I mean inspiration — i.e. mood board and references.

So, a few directions to develop are defined. Now what? Let’s begin from the mood board. Originally a mood board is a physical piece where papercuts, fabrics, paints and photographs come together. It is very exciting but I prefer using Miro and Pinterest because collaboration and flexibility are significant for me. Thanks to a mood board, the brand’s values can be pictured and communicated without words. This must be the guidance for the design choices that will help in visualizing the emotions I want to evoke.

Consistency is fundamental for a good mood board. Separate mood boards should be created for different directions. Color palettes, patterns, font combinations, photos and illustrations are the basis. It’s fine to mix them up, edit, be creative but you need to keep in mind the main idea.

Here are some really nice example of mood boards ⬇️

Design by Marion Eijkenaar
Design by copperheartcreative

Mood boards are cool and inspiring but nothing helps as much as references. While mood board expresses the… well, mood 🙂 references show the way of how to do something. How does it work? I may like the font from some book cover, colors from a retro movie poster and illustrations from a science magazine. Then I bring it all together, experiment, refine and get something completely new. That’s how I use references.

Generating concepts

When mood boards and references are done, I can start working out concepts. It’s better to have a few to choose from. I strive for complex concepts that evoke emotions, not just colors and font pairings so finding the right theme for the whole brand identity can take some time.

The ideal concept should include:

  • Big idea
  • Logo
  • Color palette
  • Font pairing
  • Style of illustrations or photos

Here is the example ⬇️

Design by jacknifedesign

Polishing THAT special idea

When concepts are ready, I can show them to the client. It’s worth remembering that the concept is not a ready-made identity. It only represents the idea and key elements. Sure thing, it could be polished after the feedback session, but this is the essence of collaboration. I refine the concept until it becomes the actual identity.

Brand guidelines

And what happens when the logo, colors and the overall style are accepted? The brand guidelines are created. Or the brand manual. Or visual identity guide. Names may differ, but all of them mean the same –the client gets a handbook to help them use the branding without asking anyone for help.

The guidelines include:

  • Information about the logo (the idea behind it, how to use it properly, and what is not allowed to do)
  • Typography
  • Colors
  • Imagery style
  • Key graphic elements
  • Examples of usage

These guidelines are made for people who will be responsible for creating different kinds of content or merch — marketing team, in-house designers or other design studios. This handbook can be updated later when the website design is ready because there may be some cool examples of usage I may want to include in the manual.

And speaking of websites… I also have an article where I describe the website design process.

Branding in the Design Process. Part 1 was originally published in Muzli – Design Inspiration on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.