Brand Design: The First Steps to a Better brand for Your Business


Ahoy Graphics DIY Branding, Brand Design, small business branding

When you first start to get those fleeting thoughts of starting your own brand or business, anxiety hits you like a ton of bricks and worrisome questions begin to fill your head. How do I make a logo design that gets noticed? How do I keep from making something so cheesy that it’ll make people click-off my site instead of encouraging them to click around. What if people think that my lack of design skills is a reflection of my customer service? What if my logo becomes outdated by this time next year?

These are all good questions that need answers. As an art educator, I strongly believe that anyone can learn the basics of good design and how to operate design-editing software. I want you to enjoy being in creative control of your business from start to finish so I’ve put together a summary of beginning steps in branding your business which are crucial to know prior to designing for your brand.

Ahoy Graphics DIY Branding, Brand Design, small business branding

First Impression Last

You want to make sure that you are never confused for someone else and that your work is always exceptional! So why not show it? We live in a visual age and whether we agree with it or not, people do make judgment calls about brands based on how well their brand is designed. It determines whether visitors spend very little or a whole lot of time on your site.

A Better Design, A Higher Standard

This isn’t a hobby, it isn’t a yard sale, and it most certainly isn’t “let’s play pretend shop.” This is your business, making you a professional. People will measure your level of professionalism and steadfastness in your job by your brand design. It lets them know how serious you take your job and that you have a standard to uphold.

Marketing to Your Buyer’s Subconscious

Anyone who’s worked in sales for at least a few years knows that visuals can help with any sales pitch. Children are drawn to primary colors, teens the bright colors, young adults the jewel tones, and mature adults the earth tones, and the elderly the pastels. Typefaces are even styled to attract certain buyer demographics. Every visual decision is communicating a message to your buyers and their eyes and brains are listening, even on a subconscious level.

Someone Your Buyers Trust and Recognize

Do you see Tide or GEICO changing up their logo and branding every 6 months? No way! They do their best the first time to create a look that passes the test of time so their buyers can gain a trust in the brand design they’re used to seeing and have always loved. Don’t believe me? Remember when Tropicana recently changed their look and the sales plummeted? When you change your look constantly, people really begin to doubt your brand and wonder about your longevity. Your branding message should be ever-changing, but not your brand design.

Good Design Sets Your Apart

Looking like someone else or having a designer copy a look for you is actually very harmful to the success of your business! Not only is it confusing to buyers but also you could be losing sales to those who think they are shopping with you when really it’s the other guy. When a buyer is comparison-shopping, what will separate you from “them”? You got to be confident enough in your own brand’s story. Anyone who runs into you or your site will leave feeling like they just had a breath of fresh air.

Quality Design Creates Value

Nothing can hurt your product value like using a bad font, the wrong color choices, or bad typography. You got to make your product scream more “Fortune 500” than “Lemonade Stand.” You may have a whimsically fun brand like a lemonade stand, but you’re not going to run it like it’s worth only 5 cents. You got to evoke that feeling of value because no one wants to pay a decent price for low-quality goods or have a gift fall apart.

What Makes Up My Brand?

Your brand is made up of many things: your company’s design, mantra, product line, services, personality, tone of voice, style, target market, marketing efforts, and even how you make your buyers feel. In this section, we will examine the inner workings of a brand. Knowing how the big picture looks will help you design your brand more effectively and efficiently when you know its role within branding.

Ahoy Graphics DIY Branding, Brand Design, small business branding

How Do You Appear?

Visual Identity—my absolute favorite part of branding and I think it’s more than just my biased opinion. Art is so enjoyable and many people love to plan out their logo like getting dressed for a special occasion. Brand design is made up of your identity (the logo), color scheme (main and secondary colors), font families (the typefaces chosen to work together for headers, body text, and fine print), and the graphical elements used when bringing all these things together (backgrounds, frames, illustrations, etc.). The designs you might create for your company can range very widely, but here’s what you’ll be designing for: logo, business stationery, product packaging, social media sites, online shop, website, promotional items, marketing campaigns, and events.

What Do You Offer?

Your product offering or services can also translate your brand to your buyers. I’m a graphic design brand who caters to businesses so you won’t find me offering baby shower invites or calendars. They don’t fit my brand even though they fall into the realm of graphic design. If I offer add-on services, I try to make sure to provide something that coordinates with and adds more value to my niche within graphic design.

What’s Your Style?

You can take your brand’s home decor shop and take it many different ways, just in style alone. Are you modern, classic, vintage, contemporary, urban, country, coastal, rustic, or eclectic? Knowing what style you want to have can really help in the design process, but it also helps you focus in on your target market. You can assume offering many styles will get you the best results because you offer more but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. There have been so many statistics about the most successful companies have brands that focus in on a specific, target market.

What’s Your Tone of Voice?

Just like your brand can have a particular style for their visuals, your brand can have a particular way of phrasing its words. Is it commanding, influencing, brash, quirky, editorial, fiction-based, educational, or humorous? Do you want to be known for long, thorough articles or quick tongue-in-cheek comments? Just like style, people like to listen to and read a certain kinds of books, advertisements, videos, blog posts, and magazines. Think of what is natural for you to say and type based on your personality and your company’s brand.

What’s Your Personality?

My brand’s personal style and tone are the fruits of my own personality. Personality can help you to relate and to connect to your audience and target market on a level that most other areas in your company can’t. Your brand can have the same personality as yourself or it can have it’s own personality. No matter what you chose, select one and stick to it to attract others with the same personality and character.

Ahoy Graphics DIY Branding, Brand Design, small business branding

Your brand has unique needs and only you, the business owner, know what is needed because only you know your business the best. You know your vision, your product, and your brand’s style better than anyone. Below is a list of items that each of my design clients to help give them ideas for what they might need to design for their brand. Your own list of items to design is only limited by your own creativity, so plan according to how you make your goods, how you ship, how you network, your left-over materials in your inventory, and so on. There will always be things you won’t for see but getting a good grasp on the basics to get as much done as possible will definitely make a big difference later on.

Identity Design

  • Logo
  • Color Scheme
  • Font Families
  • Branding Guide

Website Graphics

  • Favicon
  • Background
  • Banner
  • Navigation Menu Buttons
  • Sidebar Titles
  • Buttons
  • Grab Badges
  • Social Media Icons
  • Slideshow Images for Home Page
  • Product Listing Images
  • Advertisements

Product Photography

  • Product Photos
  • Model Photos
  • Watermarks

Social Media Sites

  • Twitter Avatar
  • Twitter Background
  • Facebook Page’s Profile
  • Facebook Page’s Custom Splash Page
  • Background
  • Blog Graphics

Business Stationery

  • Business Cards
  • Letterhead
  • Envelope
  • Postcards
  • Greeting Cards
  • Shipping Labels
  • Invoices

Product Packaging

  • Paper Sashes
  • Hangtags
  • Clothing Tags
  • Tissue Paper
  • Shopping Bags
  • Gift Boxes
  • Ribbon
  • Stickers
  • Backing Cards
  • CD/DVD Cases/Folios
  • Care Instructions
  • Special Discount Offers
  • Gift Certificates

Promotional Items

  • Car Vinyl Decals
  • Pens
  • Thermos
  • Car Door Magnets
  • Sticky Pads
  • Notepads
  • T-shirts
  • iPhone / iPad cases
  • Totes, screen printed, monogrammed, or made with custom branded fabric from Spoonflower
  • Calendars
  • Key Fobs, monogrammed or made with custom branded fabric from Spoonflower

Marketing Materials

  • Promotional Postcards
  • PR Kits
  • Samples
  • Campaign Brochures
  • Portfolio Presentations
  • VIP Client Offers
  • Campaign Posters
  • Shareable Campaign Graphics
  • Print Advertisements

Event Booths

  • Booth Banner
  • Booth Table Signage
  • Price Tags
  • Guest Book
  • Invoices
  • Shopping Bags
  • Gift Boxes
  • Tissue
  • Ribbon


If you enjoyed this post, be sure to pre-order your copy HERE for the rest of the book, DIY Branding | Part 1: Brand Design, launching this November 2011. Sign up HERE for updates on the book launch via email and receive a free sneak peek!

Kristen manages Ahoy Graphics, an online design studio offering creative and fiercely fresh brand design for small businesses and indiepreneurs.


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