Nuts & Bolts

Step 3: Translating Brand into Visual Identity

Here we are at the point where the rubber hits the road in the brand development process. We’ve learned all about your company and described your brand in detail. This is the arty part: creating an identity that reflects all the chatter.

Between the core values and the personality we’ve defined for your brand, we usually have an idea of the general direction the creative needs to go. In the case of Green Jay below, we knew we wanted to do something very specific — utilize a bird, which reflected the company name as well as the concept of “ecological landscaping” from the brand frame. We offered one option that diverged from this idea, if only to show that our concept was the right direction. And we wanted to use green to reflect the sustainability value of the company. Anything else felt “off-brand.” In the case below, we nailed the logo on the first round and were able to complete the identity design very quickly.

Example of Logo Development

First Round of Logo Concepts for Green Jay Landscaping

How does the design process work? I usually start by writing down keywords that must be incorporated into the design. They will reflect the brand frame, of course, but go a little beyond so they are more aspirational. I will also do some visual research at this point, to get inspiration from images across the Internet (see our post about And then I play around with the typography and experiment with color until it just feels right. Next come sketches of the logo, combined with some vector work in Illustrator until the logo options feel real enough to present to the client. We shoot to present three to five initial logo design options. Sometimes there are more if they are coming very easily. We never want to overwhelm, but we do like to share a variety of looks for our client to react to.

From here, the client chooses one direction. We’ll iterate on that a few times until the logo is finalized. Then it’s time to move on to designing the stationery and marketing collateral. Easy!

See all the posts in this Brand Series »

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Working with Images: Hi-Res vs. Lo-Res

Lots of times, we get sent images that are too small, or “lo-res” (short for low-resolution) to use for print. Here’s a helpful guide to understand the difference between using lo-res and hi-res images.

The first step to knowing the difference between high-resolution and low-resolution images is to understand what DPI means. DPI stands for ‘dots per inch’ which is a measure of the individual dots that can be placed in a line within the span of one inch. When viewing an image on your monitor, the dots are referring to “pixels”, or “picture elements”, which are the smallest visual elements (tiny little rectangles) on a display screen. When viewing a printed image, the dots refer to the actual dots of ink on the page. The more dots per inch, the higher-resolution the image. Think of it this way; what would make a clearer image? Ten dots of color per inch or 100 dots per inch?

Lo-res to hi-res

Low-resolution → high-resolution

So, when does an image become high-res?

300 is the magic number! Anything under 300dpi is considered low-res and anything 300dpi or above is considered high-res. 72dpi is the standard for low-res.

Keep in mind…

When you have a seemingly large image (dimension-wise) that is lower-res, the dimensions decrease greatly when bumping up the resolution. For example: If I have an image that is 10×10” at 72dpi and I resize it to 300dpi, the dimensions decrease to 2.4×2.4”.


Why shouldn’t I just use high-res images all the time?

High-res images are great and designers love them. They’re clear, sharp, beautiful files and when you are printing anything it should always be high-resolution. But believe it or not, there are some reasons to use low-res images.

Internet browsers

The standard resolution for internet browsers is 72dpi, so anything you see online is automatically low-res.

Smaller file size

It makes sense that low-res images are smaller file sizes than high-res images; they have so much less digital information. This means they take up less space, load much quicker, and are easier to send through email.

How do I tell the difference?

If you know how to use Photoshop you can check out an image’s size under Image>Image Size. Otherwise, generally, the larger a file size is, the higher-resolution it will be.

What’s the deal with vector art?

Vector based files are information based, rather than pixel based. They use points, lines, curves and shapes that are based on mathematical equations to produce images. Because they are not made up from pixels, the dots per inch measurement is not applicable for vector files and they can be scaled up to any size without losing quality. Vector files are typically used for line art such as logos, digital illustration and typography, whereas photography is always pixel based.


When in doubt, always send your designer the high-res image.

These can always be cropped down to the correct dimensions and dpi, whereas a low-res image’s resolution cannot be increased any higher than it currently is — once an image size is decreased, that digital information is lost. You cannot create a high-res file from a low-res file.

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Step 2: Creating a Brand Frame

So far in our investigation into your brand, we’ve done a Deep Dive into your company — learning about your core business, mission, vision, and culture. This included our R&D process (reviewing your collateral, conducting interviews with key stakeholders, checking out your competition), and the very interactive Branding Workshop.

Next we move on to creating a “brand frame” for your company. The Brand Frame is a description of the gems we uncovered in our R&D process, distilled into a narrative that’s meant to capture the essence of your brand. This is a simple, internal document to use as a guide for building the brand over time. It’s also a living document, so it can evolve and grow as does the brand. Adherence to this document is what creates a consistent, recognizable, authentic brand.

I’m happy to open the kimono here, and share the Brand Frame I’ve developed for my little company. [Yes, even a teeny little design agency should have a brand frame. It’s how you know what you are all about — not just what you think you are all about.]

1. Mission & Vision

We start with defining the purpose of the company, and your big audacious vision for the future.

2. Core Values

We determine what are the most fundamental guiding principles of the brand. These are distilled down from a much more exhaustive list. The test is this: if you remove one of these values, it will not be the same company. Distilling down to just three is probably the most challenging part of this exercise.

3. Brand Essence

This is probably the most critical part to get right, as everything is built upon these few words. The question is: what does your brand boil down to?


Can you guess which big brands these belong to? (answers at bottom of this post)

Authentic athletic performance = ?

Rewarding everyday moments = ?

Magical fun = ?

4. Brand Promise

This is basically the mission, stated in a more meaningful way. I like to think of starting this statement off with Above all else, we promise to…


5. Strategic Targets

We also like to include the Strategic Targets in the Brand Frame, so we know who we are talking to. These are usually potential (and existing) customers, but they can also be others like press or staff.

In my case, I like to develop brand for small business owners and non-profit organizations, but I also like to work with other marketing consultants to help their clients build brand. So these are who I’ve determined are my targets.


6. Brand Metaphor

This is where the words begin to form into a more creative concept. The brand metaphor is a visual or symbol that captures the essence of the brand. While you should be able to explain why you used this, you also should not have to explain, Caterpillar.

I wanted my metaphor to express beauty, the concept of making perfect sense, and symmetry in good design. I also like the concept of scalability in this image and that it’s “pure” and of nature.


7. Key Brand Attributes

These are more practical adjectives that describe the brand. These are key attributes that draw your Strategic Targets to your brand and thus what the key messaging in your communications will be built on.


8. Code of Conduct

The code of conduct is where the rubber hits the road — where your brand syncs with your company culture. These commitments are a guide for how you and your staff behave to strengthen the perception of the brand internally and externally. It’s sort of the table of contents for your Brand Bible. You should be able to respond to “Why?” for each one. There can be as many of these that make sense.


9. Communication Style

You can see that we are getting into more and more realistic applications for the brand at this point. The further you get into the Brand Frame, the more these tenets can evolve as they are tested and the brand evolves. These guide the tone of the writing and the look and feel of the design for the brand.


10. Proof Points

And finally…why should your Strategic Targets believe all that the brand promises? These are actual “company sparklers” that are measurable and provable. They should support everything you are saying about the brand. This list can also be exhaustive, and can be a resource for your communications content.


You can see that all the parts of the Brand Frame work together to tell the story, so the words should not be re-iterative, but descriptive. We spend a great deal of time mulling over the words that are chosen for these 10 “simple” ideas. You can see how important it is to say more with less, so that deep understanding of your brand can grow from within.

Interested in learning more? Contact me.

Authentic athletic performance = Nike

Rewarding everyday moments = Starbucks

Magical fun = Disney

See all the posts in this Brand Series »

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2014 Pantone Color of the Year!

“Radiant Orchid” ~ Pantone #18-3224

Why? “It’s a color that encourages us to innovate,” says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute which chooses the color each year. “It’s in the purple family… it’s complex, which intrigues people…”

The symbolism of purple is that it’s magical, draws you in and enhances creativity. Not pink, not blue, purple is unique — and wearing it will imbue you with a sense of uniqueness. Magical? Maybe. Purple definitely has a beguiling charm within its range of hues.

“The captivating, magical and enchanting Radiant Orchid. An invitation to innovation, modern and versatile Radiant Orchid encourages creativity and originality. Imbued with a harmony of fuchsia, purple and pink undertones, Radiant Orchid inspires confidence and its rosy undertones emanate great joy, love and health.”

2014 Pantone Color of the Year

The moods of Radiant Orchid

Keep your eyes open for purple on the web, and on the rack of your favorite shop! Read more about Radiant Orchid and see past colors of the year here…

Here’s Leatrice herself speaking about Radiant Orchid (refresh the page if you don’t see a video below)…

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Design Basics: Aesthetic-Usability Effect

Aesthetic designs are perceived as easier to use than less-aesthetic designs

I chose this principle as the first post in this new series because it’s the basic answer to the question “Why design?” Design is much more than making something look pretty. Studies have shown that designs that look good have a higher probability of being used — whether or not they are actually easier to use. And even if the design is not easier to use, that first impression fosters such a positive attitude toward the good-looking design that it stays over time. Feelings of loyalty, affection and patience are evoked by good design, making people more tolerant of design problems and thus increasing the likelihood of success for the design, whether it’s a product, website, or fashion.

“Positive relationships with a design result in an interaction that helps catalyze creative thinking and problem solving. Negative relationships result in an interaction that narrows thinking and stifles creativity.”1

As an example, see the difference between what Apple and Microsoft were selling in the early 2000s. In my experience with both, the Mac interface was a joy to use not just in the way that the interface was organized but because it felt far more intuitive…so it was more intuitive. Looking at the boxy grey of the Windows interface was not only frustrating but exhausting.


Apple’s Aqua interface, release with OSX in 2001.


Windows 2000 – Microsoft hustled to release WIndows XP in 2001 with a much improved interface in order to keep up with Apple.

The take-away is this: we do our best to create crisp clean communications. Admittedly, functionality should always come first. But it’s the aesthetic of the design that will make it truly successful.

1Universal Principles of Design, by William Lidwell, Jim Butler, and Kritina Holden. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers, 2003.

Universal Principles of DesignA book has been sitting on my desk for about a year now — a really great book called Universal Principles of Design — I’ve been browsing through it during breaks and lunches. I love this book because it breaks down 125 principles of design into simple chunks that are well written and easy to understand. I will be sharing the contents of this book with you over the next few months. Learn more here »




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