What’s in a Brand?

Friday, March 6, 2009

We have often heard the phrase “brand new,” or heard a particular product referred to as a “brand name.”  The term is used so freely that the history, meaning, and principals behind it have been lost for most people.  In this article we’ll explore how “brands” originated, and how a good designer can create visual materials that grow your brand.

” According to Hoyle”
The term “brand” seems to derive from the archaic Scottish language for a torch.  It recurs in Shakespearean language when characters refer to something as “burn new,” meaning fresh from the forge.  “Branding,” or pressing flame-heated shapes into the skin of livestock as a means to declare ownership became a household term during the American western period, and it is from there that we retroactively apply the term to any mark placed on a product or service to denote its creator or quality.

In archeology, we find wine jugs as far back as the ruins of Pompeii with specific logos and marks pressed into the clay as a means to denote the vineyard (and the quality) of the wine within.  It seems that from the very advent of commerce, humans have been using visual symbolism to denote superior goods and services.

“Drive the Nail”

So what can a design team do for your brand?  Understanding this lies at the very heart of why design exists, and what designers actually do.

Good design considers both the medium and the audience when determining what colors, fonts, ratios, proportions, and gimmicks to employ in getting a specific message to a particular viewer.  Certain fonts have certain historical and emotional associations.  Certain colors create emotional responses and even affect human spending behavior.

A corporation like McDonald’s, for instance, utilizes a palette of warm reds and browns to excite the appetite while communicating value and quality.  WalMart uses blue and white to build their identity as an ever-present and reliable retailer.  Designers working for each of those corporations discussed the target market, the message, and the expected outcomes before they began creating visual materials to communicate these things.

“Someone you can Ride River with.”

It’s important to have this type of dialogue with your design and marketing professionals.  Like many products, a cheaply bought logo or mark is almost always inferior, and does nothing to communicate the spirit of your brand to your consumer audience.

A seasoned or educated design professional will discuss with you the details of your brand identity, your target market, and your competitor’s symbolism before passing any sketches to you.  Knowing what is being communicated is an absolute must if one is to create a lasting and powerful visual.

“Go through the Mill”

Once you define your brand, and locate a trained design professional, the process of creating your collateral (logos, brochures, business cards, and websites) requires that you trust in this expert.  There is a particular reason for each element of these designs, and it is best to ask what the rationale was before suggesting changes that might confuse your message.

Clients often ask me to use “fancier” fonts or brighter colors.  While these elements by themselves are quite appealing, as part of a greater design they can distract from the intended communication.  Is the suggested font “flashier” than the font in the client’s logo?  Does a new color detract from the message of stability and quality that most businesses are trying to convey?  These should be concerns in producing quality visual communication that will inspire your audience to choose your brand over the competition.

“Make yourself Top-Sawyer”

The most important thing any business can have is a clearly defined vision and plan for generating revenue.  Graphic design, in all of its forms, is merely the means by which you communicate this vision.  Quality graphics will only spread the passion of a particular idea from the business to the client and create a lasting relationship that will be mutually beneficial.


Posted in: Austin Web Design, Web Design

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