Launching company brand guidelines is always exciting.
It's the first time that your logo and colors are freed from the confines of stationery or advertising collateral, and they're allowed to go wild. Unless, of course, you work in a very small company – then it can be downright terrifying.
We recently embarked on this journey at Apparate Design for our client Vantage, a new company which creates hardware and software for the manufacturing industry. Their mission is to make their customers' jobs easier and more efficient by bridging the gaps between data streams in manufacturing plants, supply chains, and beyond. They're an ambitious team with big goals – so we knew that a visually strong brand was crucial from the start.
The client's product is deep in techy-land, but their brand needed to appeal to a wide range of people beyond the world of machinery. We wanted it to be approachable and relatable while still showcasing what makes them unique. The end result was kind of like an adult version of Lego – sleek, smart, adaptable, with just a splash of whimsy. Check out the source files for this project on Creative Cloud!
Setting the stage
The fun starts even before you create your first piece, by defining what will be allowed to be awesome in your brand's world. It turns out that lists are powerful things – if you make one right from the start and keep it handy, you're halfway there to building a consistent brand. We created a "no-fun" list and a "yes-fun" list for Vantage's initial branding launch:
No fun: cliché colors like orange and yellow; cheesy stock photography or clip art (seriously, avoid it if you can); any photos with people in them
Yes fun: bold colors and graphics; contemporary typography
This type of exercise is an important part of nailing down your brand voice. Here are some more things that we initially decided would be off-limits for the Vantage brand:
Cutesy animals or people – no anthropomorphism allowed!
Crazy fonts, especially script and calligraphy (goodbye, Gotham)
Generic stock photography
Setting up the sandbox
This is probably the most important step. We were lucky to have a really involved client who was up for anything and had already done a lot of the legwork in terms of research, but you should still try to understand your target audience before you start designing. Who is Vantage's customer? How do they feel about things like color and typography? What do they expect from a brand in this industry?
We spent a lot of time on the big questions like this, but also had conversations about other aspects of the design that you might not think about right away – for example, what would be the most effective way to show Vantage's "product" to our audience in marketing materials? Obviously an image of some sort was necessary, but what could possibly sum up the product, and how would it be used in a practical way? Would it be more effective as an illustration or as a photo? How do you even illustrate tech products? We didn't have answers to all of these questions, but at least we were asking them.
When starting this process for your own brand, think about all of the ways you'll encounter your design in real life – beyond just websites and print collateral. Will you be using it for social media? How will it look on a business card or piece of office equipment?
Once you've thought everything through, start building out your sandbox. If there's something that doesn't fit with the overall ethos or misses out on some crucial bit of fun, get rid of it and try again. Remember that your brand's voice is unique – you'll make mistakes along the way (it's okay!) but don't be afraid to do things differently than every other company in your field.
Pay attention to what catches people's eyes. What makes them smile? Is there a pattern among the things that get attention, or is each one totally different from the last? How many of those things involve people or animals (or both!) and why do they work so well for me?
Creating your own typeface
When you're first starting out in branding, it can be tempting to "go with what you know," and reach for commonly used typefaces like Helvetica, Arial, Frutiger or Futura (or even a trendy new one that just came out). It can be easy to think of these as safe choices: your audience might recognize them, but it would also be difficult for them to read the text without making an effort.
But there's no reason your brand can't be as unique as your voice! If there's a font out there that you want to use for your brand, put in the time and make it happen. Even if it means spending some extra money, or taking weeks of work to design something from scratch, don't be afraid to go with something unique.
For Vantage, we decided to create our own typeface from scratch. With all of the products and technologies this brand would be working with, it just seemed like a fun challenge – plus, we thought that if we were going to spend so much time designing around every detail of this company, we might as well go all the way and make sure that our typeface is something special too.
How to design your own typeface
Here's a quick rundown on the steps for designing your own typeface:
1. Before you start laying down typography, it's important to have a good idea of what you're making. If you're designing a typeface to represent the brand voice of your company, make sure everyone on the team is on board with that direction before you get started – otherwise you might find yourself with some angry copywriters who have just realized they can't use your font for anything!
2. Once you've decided what kind of mood you want the type to convey, start thinking about what kind of font you're going for. Are you looking for something technical and minimal? Or is a more ornate design better for your product? If you're stumped on where to start, try checking out this site: http://www.typography.com/
3. Once you've got a feel for the overall aesthetic, start creating some basic shapes. Spend time thinking about how you'll indicate things like uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, punctuation and spaces. Is there anything you want to do differently than other fonts out there? Will the typeface be more ornate or minimalistic?
4. Once you've made your basic shapes, it's time to fine-tune! Make sure your counters are properly drawn and adjust the overall curvature of the line. If you look at fonts like Helvetica or Futura, you'll notice that they're very uniform in their thickness; up until this point, you should strive for that!
5. Now that you've got your basic shapes, it's time to get a little fancier! Fill in all of the details and flourishes that will complete your typeface – this is where those fun details come into play. You'll want them to be consistent across all versions of your font (you don't want one version to have serifs and another not to, for example).
6. Lastly, you'll want to make sure that the font is properly documented so that others can use it correctly. In order for your typeface to be usable by anyone, you'll need a full alphabet with upper and lowercase letters (and possibly numbers and punctuation), as well as a basic guide for how to use your font correctly. If you're feeling ambitious, you can even include things like sample images or a custom character set!