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How to Design a Brand Identity: Preperation

Lesson 14 from: Graphic Design Fundamentals

Timothy Samara

How to Design a Brand Identity: Preperation

Lesson 14 from: Graphic Design Fundamentals

Timothy Samara

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Lesson Info

14. How to Design a Brand Identity: Preperation

Lesson Info

How to Design a Brand Identity: Preperation

We're gonna be, essentially, bringing together a lot of the different kinds of specific skills, the specific kinds of processes that we have looked at. Image selection, image manipulation, choosing colors, looking at typography and how it integrates with imagery. Dealing with editorial as well as interactive issues. All under one roof, and that is through the creation of brand identity. We're gonna be talking about designing visual identity, or branding as it's often called, and those two terms are essentially interchangeable if you're talking to a designer. If you're talking to a strategist, branding means something a little bit extra than that. It involves all the strategy, all the writing, the feeling, the corporate culture. But we're interested really in the visual aspect of that is that really giving a recognizable, different and memorable visual form, a presence, to a particular entity or organization, whether it's a single person, a small group, a large business concern, multi-n...

ational or global organization, that will set them apart from their competitors, not only in terms of service offering or of being different, but of communicating the brand's or the company's core values as well as what is different or important about their particular service offering versus others. This particular identity is actually still in progress. It's for a certified macrobiotic chef who advocates for better nutrition and better knowledge about nutrition through a variety of activities. Education, through group presentations, cooking demonstrations, consulting, food writing and she also offers personal chef services, as well as menu planning. The first thing that usually comes to the fore, in terms of beginning the process of developing a brand identity, is to actually identify the entity. Is to tell, to show, who that thing, person, object is. And what we're really talking about is a logo. The word identifier, or visual identifier, is a more high brow, academic term for that thing. But really, it's a logo. And a logo is a sign that really does what it sounds like. It identifies the particular organization. And really, that's all it has to do. There's always, I think, not necessarily what I would call confusion, but this intuitive idea, and we could call it perhaps a misconception about logos, is that they have to communicate what the company or the organization does. That's entirely unimportant. What is important is that in seeing the identifier, that one is able to recognize who that particular entity is, and to know that they are not some other entity functioning in the same market or business sector or performing the same kind of activities. I think it's always a plus when a logo actually communicates the subject matter, or the nature of a business, and I often look for that. But ultimately, it's about who and not necessarily about what. But I think that every identity project steers you in one direction or another where the what-ness or the who-ness strike a certain kind of a balance. In this case, the what-ness is actually a very critical component of the identity. The identifier, or the logo, is most often the starting point for building a brand program. Because it is the core anchoring element that essentially defines all other things around it. And so, we're gonna start there with that. This particular client, who is a macrobiotic chef, nutritionist and a writer, has a particular philosophy about how food ought to be selected, what kinds of things you need to think about in terms of dietary issues, how nutritional elements, vitamins, chemicals from food interact with each other in the body with regard to acidity. And she's very, very interested in dispelling a lot of myths and fads that come up on a regular basis as people are trying to lose weight or gain more energy or help their cholesterol level. Every other week you see another report on the news or you read it in the paper that first goji berries are really good for you, and then oh, goji berries are not good for you. And then oh, soy is the best thing for your cholesterol. Oh, soy increases some other hormone in your body and your cholesterol, depending on who you are. One of her goals is to cut through the chatter and to present a very common sense and down to earth way of thinking about food. Of being able to discern between competing sources of information. And to really listen to your body rather than to go simply by the word of some expert, whether they are an expert or not. To allow your body to tell you what exactly it needs. And part of also her mission is to return cooking to a simpler method, even though she's trying to move people along a conveyor belt, from how they eat now towards something that theoretically down the road might be more rigorously macrobiotic, but she's not trying to make converts out of anybody. She's interested in that education and also of helping people to feel empowered about the kinds of food choices that they're making. My research, of course, spans all media. So I go to books, I go to the internet. I have extensive conversations with the client about her cooking in general, her nutritional ideas. And I also read a number of the studies that she was referring to from other nutritionists who are in alignment with her. As a first part of this particular research, I actually presented a lot of research to my client in the form of what's called a competitive audit. Essentially, on a visual level, I was interested in finding out what is the stylistic or visual landscape that she's gonna be entering into? Essentially, what is the market? And what does the market look like? What kinds of colors are used by similar kinds of nutritionists or chefs or restaurants or farm to table merchants or green markets or macrobiotic cooking? What kinds of materials do they produce? When is the imagery something that you expect and something that's really unexpected? I provided an extensive presentation of hundreds of examples of visual material that related to this sort of area of concern. Dining, nutrition, food packaging, restaurants, restaurants' websites, blogs, blogs on nutrition, scientific studies and general design trends. So she could see what was happening around out in the world. What is contemporary? What seems historical? What seems a little bit too earthy? And so on, so that she could have a sense of what it was she was really getting into. And that way we could talk about what kinds of messages she really wanted to provide for her constituents, for her audience. How did she want to direct the communication in a particular way? Ultimately, the client is the source of those decisions right off the bat. I, as a designer, might offer suggestions. I might say, "Well, you could present "yourself as being very, very clinical "and very scientific, but that might "be a conflict with the friendliness "or the approachability or the accessibility "that she would like to project to her audience." The client, in general, is pretty much driving the bus in terms of informing the designer about what they really wanna talk about. How they want to be perceived. After that, I also began to research some visual material that was related to ideas that she had started to talk about. One of the things that she talked about was old world cooking, or getting back to basics. Cooking in a way that one would have before processed foods. I started to look at things like packaging for foods from the late 1890s into the early 1920s, as well as food branding for contemporary brands that were trading on that vernacular. I began to look at graphical details from different kinds of objects and materials that might impart a certain hands on, or handmade quality. Tickets, illustrations, packaging for certain kinds of objects in the home, stationary applications, packaging for other soaps and things of that nature. In terms of imagery, I was also drawn to the idea of engravings, right off the bat. And we actually, came to the same thought immediately when we were brainstorming together. The idea of the engraving is that it depicts, not only a time that is clearly in the past, that speaks about heritage and, to a certain degree, naturalness, organicism, authenticity in farming, but because the image form is produced using an archaic method, relatively archaic method, is that those messages are actually amplified. The sense of Morris looking back in the Arts and Crafts Movement to the Medieval period in order to move forward and to define a new modern sensibility, we thought we might look back to some other time as a reference point. I began to gather engravings from stock and clipart books that I have, from sources online. Looking at figures, looking at elements that are related to cooking. This is a soup taurine. And then I also began to look at symbolic ideas, so I was thinking about the reciprocal nature of things that grow, especially plants, is that they draw upward from the earth, they fruit and give out, and then they die and then they return to the earth and nurture themselves. So there's a sense of natural cycles involved. On a conceptual level, that seemed appealing, potentially very, very powerful, and these are some examples of tree of life elements. The similarity of the structure of the tree and its foliage above the ground, and the root structure below, in terms of, two halves of a circle joined by a conduit, seemed to offer some very powerful metaphorical ideas. I began to look for symbols related to non-Western traditions of medicine and spirituality, especially because macrobiotic cooking is essentially an Asian derived cooking methodology focused mostly on Chinese medicine, with a little bit of Japanese thrown in. I began to look at symbols related to, there's one there, this is the endless knot. This is an East Indian spiritual symbol, as is this one. This is the Om. You see a form of a lotus. The intertwining, again another kind of an endless knot. And this is also a flower of life. Where the form is created by these interlocking circles. There's this idea of continuity and connectedness. Being connected to food, being connected to the earth, being connected to one's choices, being connected to the path that the food travels from farm to where you're getting it, or from source and so on. And then this overlay of Asian spirituality or philosophy that could be useful. I began to also look simply at vegetal or floral pattern elements, from a variety of sources. Again, some clipart books that I have, some prints that are around. I have an archive of different kinds of image sources from different styles or periods. Some of these are also of Asian derivation. And some of them are things from the early period of the Americas. I began looking very specifically at some Japanese iconography. These are forms that are used typically in fabric printing. But I was drawn to the boldness of them, and to a certain degree, the geometry, which speaks about a certain sense of power, of totality, of confidence. And because this sense of being relaxed and allowing the body to tell oneself, being confident in how one is feeling based on what one is eating, seemed to suggest maybe a bold form that was also somehow related to food could be interesting. Even if it eventually turned out to be very abstract. I also started to pull samples of typeface designs that were no longer available. Things that have not been digitized and are not available for use anywhere else. Because one of the things that is very, very important about branding is proprietary sense of the form. Is that it's somehow ownable by that client, by that organization, and only by them. Because a lot of typefaces that are very beautiful are very popular, sometimes choosing a typeface as a starting point, whether it's gonna stand on it's own as a logo type or a word mark, or it's gonna be paired with some symbolic element, or details from it might influence a manipulated form of an existing typeface. It's very difficult to find a font that nobody has used before. So I began to go through some old type specimen books from the 1890s and 1910s, 1920s, to find some things. And this one happened to have this floral motif involved. There's an interesting medieval quality to it that I also responded to, and it did carry an Arts and Crafts quality to me, which I didn't interpret as necessarily an irrelevant read, because that socially progressive philosophy of that period, and its respect for nature in its form making seemed relevant. And then I found some other faces that were a little bit more neutral. Things that had been used for text in that same time period. I scanned them, and I was looking at how organic they were versus how sharp. Whether or not there were some interesting details. For example, here the cross strokes in the E and the S, as well as the cross stroke in the H, began to suggest these organic forms. A certain leaf like quality or twig. That might be useful in word mark itself, if those letter forms are there. It could be that something like this could be extrapolated or translated into some treatment for altering of a form if I was going to go after a monogram mark. Something that was based on the letters of the client's name: the G, the N, and the C. Or it could be something very, very usefully in headings where it's incredibly recognizable as being different from other things. This one in particular was very casual. I began to look back and forth. When I work, especially on a logo, I have all of my research essentially out, flooding the space everywhere around me. So that at any given moment, as I'm sketching, as I'm working through these very, very rough ideas, is that I'm constantly in touch with and in tune with the various things that I'm attempting to be influenced by or that I'm trying to draw some knowledge from. This is a rough sketch. In this case, I worked with ink, actually a specific kind of ink. It's a tempura in black and white. Which I often do in order to be able to determine, very quickly and very immediately, what the relationship of positive and negative are to each other. Pencil sketches carry a lot of extra detail, a lot of energy that sometimes dies when you suddenly transfer something that looks really cool as a pencil sketch, 'cause it's got all this texture and gestural marking and so on, and suddenly it becomes very, very flat and undesirable. I very often paint logos, logo concepts. Plus I have much greater control with a brush than I do with anything else. But I also work digitally. I began to also look at kinds of floral motifs, mostly based on the idea of a lotus, given the Asian influence and a reference to zen, central, becoming centered and so on. I began to also look at, on a semi-abstract level, textures and patterns that related to food. Nothing really directly representational, but ideas that might be tendrils of a mash, or chunks of rice or curlicues from, I don't know, corn kernels and such. Just looking at those textural possibilities, and was there anything in there? Would I use it to make a shape? Would I combine different textural forms together and create a cluster to show the variation of nutrients in combination? The rich bounty of the garden? As essentially, her dietary philosophy is plant based. I also looked at typographic work marks, that is using the name, full on, spelled out, and bringing to bear some of the typefaces that I had found in my research. Sometimes very, very directly, as here these are two of the examples that I showed. I also took this particular typeface, I set the type and then traced it with a rough tool, a China marker, in order to generate a different kind of a texture over it. And then I also explored some very, very direct script handwriting. Given the qualities that are embodied in the name Good Natured, there's a casualness, a friendliness, an openness. And a free spiritedness that a handwritten solution could potentially provide a really nice access for a viewer, for an audience. I also began to look at very, very strong monograms or letter form base marks. Sometimes, looking at, for example, some of these very, very classical, very high contrast and bold serif forms, where there's nothing really literal at all, or even remotely related to the subject matter in these forms. It's more about the feeling. And that in itself is a message about what. A certain kind of confidence and precision is projected by these extremely close and critically considered lapses in the continuity of the stroke, how much attenuation in the curve to this point out of the mass, and then extreme contrast. There's a whole lot of energy in that form that's being very tightly controlled. It really speaks about a certain kind of an analytical thinking, a very thoughtful or considered approach to something. Even though there's nothing that has to do anything with food. I also looked at making a G form, for good out of Good Natured, out of some reference to rice or some food element, with the spoon acting as a cross bar. I went on then to other kinds of utensils. Here, a very highly reduced, very simplified, very contemporary, we could even say almost Scandinavian in quality, iconic form. Essentially, flat, planar silhouettes with just a little bit of linear detail to add some punch. And then I looked at replicating the spoon again, with this sort of script tool. Basically a calligraphy pen, as I had written the other type treatments with. Just to see what that would do. I was very, very interested in the endless knot. Initially, I tried to draw it. First, the original reference was this geometric, angular formation that you saw earlier. That seemed a little bit too direct of a lift. And also, not particularly friendly, not fluid. And fluidity in a mark, generally has to do with interconnectivity. Of processes being natural and effortless. I wanted this very complex form to resolve itself in a way where it almost seemed like it just appeared. I tried initially, drawing it digitally, and in a number of different ways, but it was still too stiff. So I ended up also painting that one, working back and forth with black ink and then white ink to adjust the curves so that they weren't weirdly awkward. That they would float into each other. And to really look at where were the points of crossover and how much space in between. Just as a starting point. I gathered together, after a couple of weeks, a large selection of some of the ideas that I'd worked on. There's some other ones here that I didn't show earlier, 'cause it created sort of rice. Here's a translation of that Eastern Indian symbol of the intersecting triangles that I showed earlier. Here is another use for a spoon form that had grown out of this one. As you start to develop more concepts, sometimes elements from those inform other ones. And you start to cross pollinate. Very often it's because as you develop this wide variety of stuff, is that you have a lot of interesting opportunities to bring disparate elements together that you might not necessarily have thought about combining before. And that's where you start to really find ideas that are not necessarily expected and that hopefully, you haven't seen anywhere else. This also was one that was very interesting. This is based on the tree of life idea, with this reciprocal relationship between the growing element and the root structure, but in this case, the element had become a fork holding food. So it was above a fork in a tree. And also, a very historical, almost period piece. Sort of an English tin packaging idea. Again, looking at a historical element.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with RSVP

Syllabus - Graphic Design Fundamentals.pdf

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Ad+Poster-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Book+Web--Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Color-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Form+Image-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Identity-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Intro-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Layout-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Typography-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf

Ratings and Reviews


This is more about all of your courses - It would be really nice for instructors to answer questions during break times or even after the class. There a lot a fabulous questions that I see that never get answered. I would like to go back even the next day and see a short note for at least some of those questions. Just an idea to help out this wonderful format that you have going. I am sure to make use of the promote question when I see an interesting one.


I LOVED this class! I learned so much and since I had the foresight to purchase it, I can go back for a refresher anytime I want. Plus, the downloads are spectacular! Almost a book's worth and so helpful! Thank you Timothy, you are great teacher!

a Creativelive Student

This was an outstanding course, would love to see a more in depth typography course from this guy. I'm a proffesional photographer with a formal education in design, I hardly ever use it, so I forget things, this was great both as a review, and to pinpoint things I didn't know or thought I knew. thanks once again! well done!!

Student Work