I'm a branding expert and graphic designer based in Brooklyn, New York. Need help with branding?—Just Get in touch
First, of course, you need to learn how to do brand strategy and run your first brand strategy workshop, but once you've got that, then the big questions is:
How to translate those insights into visuals?
You might want to make the brand look smart, professional, clean, or whatever it might be—but how to actually do that?
To answer this question, I will show you how I went from strategy to design on a real case scenario.
So, first I run a brand strategy workshop with my client, so that way I gain some understanding of the business.
I'm looking at the strategy as a whole, but there are 4 elements that are especially important: Target Audience, Market Analysis, Brand Personality and Tone of Voice.
I use my 9-step brand strategy framework, but you can use any other framework, as long as it covers these basics.
You simply need to know what questions to ask, and then combine these answers with your own research to develop some ideas.
Once you have some ideas, then you need to pick words that are visual and narrow down you exploration by creating mood boards.
Finally, together with the client we make some decisions then I dive into creating design concepts.
So my client, Medihuanna, asked me to rebrand their business in late 2020 and they just launched early this year 2021.
Here's exactly how I went from strategy to design.
In order to translate your strategy into visuals, you need to start with your Target Audience in mind (4th exercise).
Your brand design must resonate with your target audience.
This is because everything you create is for them, not for the liking of the CEO or to impress other designers.
So you start with your target audience and define their demographic and especially psychographics.
You need to figure out what kind of problems they have to deal with, and what emotions they go through.
Based on this information, you then create a customer profile to be able to step into their shoes and see what what they would like to see.
For example: The ideal target audience for my client (Medihuanna) is a 40 years old general practitioner who works in a clinic treating patients with chronic pain.
I'm not going to go into details here, but here are some of the things we found about my client's target audience.
They're physicians that have high patient demand, so they're generally often super busy and therefore stressed out.
Does that mean the branding should look cluttered and with too much going on?—Totally the opposite!
Since they are busy and stressed out, they probably need simplistic, clean and legible website that is easy to navigate and understand in an instant.
We also know that they want to expand their knowledge about prescribing cannabis.
This can lead us into thinking that the brand needs to look knowledgable, established and trustworthy.
So I simply draw some insights and highlight keywords that I can use later on to fuel my creativity.
By doing so, I can maximize my chances of connecting to these people with the right logo, business cards or web design.
Later on in the process, I will use these insights to create visuals that can attract that target audience.
The next important exercise you should do is to analyze your competitors (5th exercise).
Your design must be differentiated from your competition.
We look at our competition and what they do, because the main goal of brand design is to differentiate and stand out, not to blend in.
That's why you need to look at your competitors and analyze their aesthetics, but not to copy.
The last thing you would want to happen is to create something that is too close to your competitors and you end up getting sued.
You also don't want to cause confusion in the marketplace or get mistaken for another brand, especially for one with inferior products.
In the 5th exercise of my strategy framework, we plot competitors on the grid, so that I can look them up on Google and take some notes.
I noted that Medihuanna's competitors use shades of green and make references to the cannabis leaf.
I also look at the positioning statement and especially at the part "end-benefit" where I find some keywords.
When you look at these words "credible", "confident", "knowledgable"—as a designer, you might have some ideas on how to convey that visually.
For example: "Credible" could be expressed by using a certain color palette that feels established.
When it comes to typography, as designers we know that by using classic serifs we can help create that kind of "credible" look.
So again, I look for words that would capture some ideas about the brand, so that I can use them later on to fuel my creativity.
Another element of your brand strategy that can inspire your designs is your brand personality (7th exercise).
You brand design must project the right personality.
You see, a brand is like a person, they have characteristics and traits just like we people do.
So you could cherry pick some personality traits like fun, friendly and approachable for example.
But the problem is that you will end up diluting your focus and therefore confusing your customers.
A better way to define your brand personality is by selecting an archetypal mix.
Archetypes are patterns of human behavior that span thousands of years.
They're successfully being used in movies, books and in branding of course.
For example: The archetypal mix for Medihuanna is 60% Sage as the primary, and 30% Caregiver plus 10% Creator as secondary archetypes.
In the design phase you can then Google each archetype to find more information about them—what they like and dislike, that would be attracted to, what are their desires etc.
Here, i also recommend checking out Kaye Putnam's courses, where she put together excellent resources about each of the 12 archetypes.
That way you can make more informed decisions as to what color would appeal to them, what fonts would speak to them and so on.
For example: Sage, likes to be: factual, decisive, authoritative, intelligent, well-researched etc.
I take notes on that, so I can use this information in the design phase to capture that kind of "smart, expert look".
Another component of your brand strategy that should be considered in the design phase is your tone of voice (8th exercise).
You messaging must be filtered through your tone of voice.
Tone of Voice is essentially, an extension of your personality and it sets guidelines on how you want to sound to others.
Basically, your personality and voice will work together, to represent the HOW—how your brand message is delivered.
Your tone is not only about how you speak, but also the words you use.
Are you trying to be funny, or is the subject approached in a more serious way?
You will be able to use those findings in the design phase, especially when it comes to crafting your message.
For example: Medihuanna's brand voice is primarily professional and respectful.
This is because they're dealing with well-respected and well-educated (or aspiring to be) health professionals.
Of course, a big part figuring out your tone of voice is looking back at your Target Audience.
All elements of brand strategy are interconnected, so that ultimately is about that big brand idea.
Once again, I'm trying to distill here these thoughts and ideas into just a few, preferably visual keywords.
Those words will be used later on to inspire my creative thinking.
Once you've highlighted those ideas, then it's time to put this all together on one page (9th exercise).
Create a mind map with all ideas on one page.
Start with the brand name in the middle, then draw branches that symbolize different ideas or thoughts related to your brand.
Here we want to simply put everything on one page and see if patterns will emerge.
Then we look for other words and synonyms that would expand on these ideas.
Once you start seeing some patterns, then you can try to cluster them into groups of ideas.
These ideas will serve you in the next step—creating mood boards.
in this step, I start looking for visual references: colors, images, and other graphics that could represent these ideas.
Develop mood boards that capture your ideas.
Here, I simply use other people's work that would make for a great inspiration (with due credit of course).
I create mood boards so that they can just navigate me towards the right direction—I'm still in research, not design.
You could also start searching for visual references in many different places, just like The Futur recommends.
However, Researching photos, illustrations, fonts and colors can be vary time consuming.
Moreover, you will never achieve such a uniform refined look, if you just scraped some pieces from the internet.
So I browse Behance or Dribble in search for designs that would be close to what I'm looking to achieve.
I simply type in these keywords (or synonyms) that came out of my strategy, like "credible" or "growth".
Let's take "credible" as an example—we all know that universities and colleges try to project that kind of look.
So I search on Behance in category "branding" for "university".
I found the work by José Augusto Hykavy that I want to use as my first mood board, so I call it "Credible" (image above).
Next, I do the same thing with other keywords, trying to ultimately cluster them into three big ideas to create three mood boards.
Here you just need to be creative and think about what other words or categories designers could use to describe their work.
That way it will be easier for you to find the kind of look and feel you're aiming for.
For example, for the next mood board (Innovative), I picked the work by Aditya Chhatrala.
Here I was looking for minimalist, clean style that those busy health professionals would be attracted too.
Fo for the third and last mood board (Natural), I picked the work by Laezza Studio, which is all about that kind of natural, organic look.
I though it would represent "career growth" and "natural treatment" which essentially is what medical cannabis is all about.
Remember, we're not designing anything yet, it's more about visual research and seeing what's possible.
It keeps you in check and it eliminates a lot of unnecessary work.
You will also get feedback from your client before you move onto actual design.
Next, I discuss these mood boards with my client and together we decide which direction (or a mix of them) we should pursue.
My client said something along the lines "We would like the 'innovative' style but with some 'credibile' mixed into it".
With that feedback, I step into the actual design process where I start creating brand identity concepts.
I'm not going to go into details here on what the logo design process looks like—that's not the purpose of this tutorial.
Here I just want to show you how I translate strategic insights into designs in general.
So I'm looking at the strategy and considering the client's feedback on mood boards, and then I start designing.
My goal is to design three different concepts, but all of them must be aligned with strategy.
They all must be relevant and appropriate, but can vary in style: different shapes, colors, fonts, etc.
For Medihuanna, the first concept I designed revolves around simplicity.
The wordmark is set in a bold, confident typeface, with a subtle leaf symbol over the"i" that stands for "career growth" and cannabis.
Remember to test your logo concepts on different applications relevant to the client—here're how a book cover could look like (images above).
The second concept revolves around simplicity as well, but with a different twist to it.
Here I created a stand alone symbol with the cross at its center (symbol of health) in negative space.
High contrast colors give it confidence and authority, while clean and minimalist font gives it clarity (for the busy target audience).
And in the last, 3rd concept, I use the symbol of Caduceus (symbol of health) in a university-like shield.
Combine it with professional looking color palette and we end up with a pretty "credible" look and feel, don't we?
Remember to only present concepts that can work effectively for your clients, don't show anything that you don't truly believe in.
However, if you follow my steps, then your design process will be that much more efficient and effective.
You will be able to judge you design concepts early on, based on the strategy and the agreements you've made with your client.
But of course, there's always more than just one way of doing things, so that's why I show my clients 3 different concepts..
Finally I present the work and discuss it with my client to pick the winner (or we make revisions).
Learn more about presenting logo and identity work to clients in my other article.
My client loved the first concept, so I polished the designs and delivered the artwork.
When it comes to translating brand strategy into visual design, the key is to smoothly navigate yourself (and your client) into the right direction.
You need to commit to words in order to remove the subjectivity of whether something works.
This process will allow you to:
Anchor your decisions and be more deliberate in the design process.
You will be taking smaller steps together with your client, instead of having a big reveal and then dealing with a lot of pushback.
Your client will be engaged in the process from the start, and therefore they will understand why you make certain decisions (color, font, style).
Decisions that you would have to make anyways as a designer, but you would probably do so more unconsciously.
If you stick to the process, you will be able to come up with design concepts that are deeply rooted in strategy.
This is my way of translating strategy into design and I hope it will inspire your process as well.
And don't forget to check out my strategy guide if you want to learn how to run brand strategy workshops with you clients.
You can see the my final work for Medihuana here, and also visit their website at Medihuanna.com
Have any thoughts?—Leave a comment below.
I'm a branding expert and graphic designer based in NY. I specialize in the development of brands: brand strategy, identity & web design. Need help with your project?—Get in touch