An Introduction to Storytelling Through Your Visual Branding

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What your visual brand identity does is it helps you to express your values, your ethos, what you are all about in a way that is easy to absorb quickly.

Creating a brand identity really is simply telling your brand story through typography, imagery, illustration, if that’s what you need, and colour, all that stuff.

And if we’re talking about a brand as a whole, you’re telling the story through your words and actions too.

Back in the day before I knew anything about branding, when people would say “we’re trying to tell a story” it used to confuse me because that kind of means like a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

It’s really linear and in writing when you are writing for your brand, that might be the case. But telling a story with visuals for your brand is different.

Storytelling with visual branding isn’t linear.

Think of it as telling a story with layering instead. Layering up different elements in your brand to build up a technical picture.

Brand Identity Assets – what role does each play?

Okay, so we’ve talked about what brand identity is and what its function is. So next up, let’s get clear on all the different assets within the brand identity.

The Logo

We all know what a logo is, but what’s its real function? Logos can take lots of forms.

Most often they’ll be simply just typography or typography and some kind of icon or illustration, but really there are just two functions of your logo.

The logo should one clearly state your business name in a way that is easily readable. And number two, it should be an identifier and have something that makes it recognisable as yours.

We can weave some lovely things into the logo, like symbolism and meaning, but really you don’t have to. This is something that my clients and I like to do, so that their branding is imbued with their energy and the energy of what really inspires them, and then they can really get behind it.

That’s really the beauty of working with a designer. You can start to bring layering into the actual logo design in a way that feels balanced.

I usually make sure that we have typography that can stand alone and an illustration that can be used with it as well as in other places in the brand identity.

Secondary Logo

Okay, so secondary logo, or sometimes they’re called alternative logos. In many of the brand identities I create, we have a main logo like we’ve just talked about, and then we’ll have secondary or alternative versions. You can have one or more alternatives.

It really depends on your brand. These logos are variations in layouts so that the logo will work in more places.

In this day and age, there are so many places your logo needs to be used, so don’t get bogged down with having one logo to rule them all.

You can create alternative layouts for those other places.

So the function is really the same here, clear and legible and something that makes it recognisable as yours.

And it’s hopefully the same font and the same sort of recognisable features as the main logo so that it all feels cohesive.

And here is an example for the Forest and Cove brand. So with this one, the main logo is quite tall. It’s got a few different features in that one logo, and then the secondary logo is a bit simpler. It takes it less space height-wise, so it can be used in places where the main logo isn’t necessarily going to fit. It’s really useful to have different layouts like this.

Sub marks, maker’s marks, monograms, oh my!

Now, moving on to Sub marks circular marks, maker’s, marks, monograms. I’ve grouped these together because they have a similar function and you definitely don’t need all of these. It depends on your brand and what needs to be branded up.

For example, if your work is mainly based online, you might simply need one sub mark, and also these names can be interchangeable as well. Some people use the word sub mark, some people literally call them what they are.

I work with a lot of jewellers and they always have makers marks, it’s basically the same thing as a monogram or a sub mark. It’s a simplified version of the logo that fits into a smaller space. So, there are these interchangeable names for them, and it depends on the industry that your brand is in.

If you are a product-based business who needs to brand up packaging, then you might have all these different versions. You might have a circular logo and also a monogram and all these different things. They’re extremely useful for printing onto stickers, labels, turning into patterns for tissue paper and all of that kind of thing.

Here’s some examples of the different versions that I did for a Forest and Cove. So we’ve got another little alternative logo layout, then we’ve got just the typography, that’s a sub mark. We’ve got circular logo, and we’ve got another little illustrated mark with the brand name inside.

There’s really no hard and fast rules with what you call these really. And then we’ve used some of the details from the illustration and the circular mark and turned that into a pattern so that can be really effective.

Colour Palette

And then moving on to colour palette, and I’ve got a quote here at the top from the Little Book of Colour by Karen Haller – such a lovely book.

So the quote is:

“Colour is light, and light is energy. When that light strikes the eye, it is converted into electrical impulses. Those electrical impulses pass through the same part of the brain that processes our emotions.”

When I read about this years ago, it was just such a light bulb moment in my mind, and I find it fascinating that a colour is not just a colour.

Green is really not just green, it’s blue is really not just blue. When we look at a colour, it can change the way we feel. And I find that really fascinating and really useful knowledge for branding when we’re looking at colour palettes.

So really recommend this book if you want to understand colour from an emotional impact perspective. It brings together the work of various people and sort of ties it together in a lovely way. It’s just a useful book to dip in an it dip in out of often, and it’s not just applicable to branding either.

I really like to use resources that aren’t just about branding so I can understand things from a wider perspective. I think that gives you more well-rounded knowledge.

With colour for your brand, this is where that layering starts to come in. The colour palette can bring in a layer of personality, it can create emotional impact and emotional connection. But it doesn’t need to say everything. It doesn’t need to tell them the entire story.

When you’re trying to tell the whole story with each and every piece in your brand identity, this is where things start to feel busy. I may feel counterintuitive, but it doesn’t make things feel cohesive, it just makes things feel messy and muddled because there’s too much going on with each piece.

We want to build in that layer of personality and leave room for other layers to tell us more. With each layer, we’re inviting people deeper into the brand. Exciting, huh?

Typography hierarchy

Typography hierarchy just means our heading fonts, our subheading fonts, and the, the rest of the text. I’ve found that a bit of contrast for the heading fonts particularly works really well.

So for example, say the logo font is quite thin and refined, and then the heading font is something slightly more chunky – that contrast works great.

The reason I say contrast works firstly is because we want the logo to stand out as being the logo, we don’t want it to blend in. We don’t want it to become invisible.

And secondly, so that we’re starting to bring in like another layer of personality. Again, I’m gonna keep talking about these layers because I feel like it’s the key to everything. Layering, contrast, balancing out opposites. These are the things that are at the root of all of this from my perspective.

Textural backgrounds, icon designs, illustrations, photography

Moving on to things like textural backgrounds, icon designs, illustrations and photography. I’ve grouped all of these together because they are supporting elements.

It’s nice to have one or two of these different things. Most people will have photography, whether that’s photography of your products or lifestyle photography, photography of you as the business owner, or it can even be stock photos, that’s absolutely fine.

Having one or two of these different things usually can feel like enough layers. They’re all supporting elements that deepen the emotional impact of the branding. So it’s where you can really start to have fun and bring in those contrasts and those opposing themes. Build in those like real true to life paradoxes.

Let’s show you some examples here for Forest and Cove. The typography here, we wanted to keep it luxurious because of their tagline – Luxury, handmade treasures.

The typography, we kept it really luxury. And then with the textured background that’s painted, it’s got lots of energy in it, it’s very earthy. That brings in an opposing theme and just makes it feel really interesting. Rather than having the background as a flat colour or having something else that also feels very luxury, that would make it starts to feel kind of one-dimensional.

Bringing it all together to tell a story with visual branding

I’ll just talk more about the Forest and Cove branding, and remember this is just one example. I chose this branding to illustrate my points here because they are a brand that had all of the different assets that I’ve been talking about. They’re a bricks and mortar shop, so they needed to have lots of different moving parts.

I also chose this one because of immediately opposing themes in the brand name. We needed to bring both Forest, and Cove themes into the branding in a way that felt balanced. I also wanted to show you that forest doesn’t always mean greenery and the ocean or the coast doesn’t always mean like sea foam blues and turquoises. And like I mentioned before, luxury can have its place balanced with earthiness.

You can see the shop front here and the textural background with the typography layered over that. They painted that textured background on to the back wall as well. We brought in some nice textures with the the bags that they used.

This is the mood board that we began with, and because we used quite literal illustrations of leaves in the logo, it was important to balance this out with other parts of the brand story. Rebecca was inspired by these red cliffs in the sea coves that she visited when she was younger. So this was an important thing for the palette, to get these beautiful red colours in there.

It also kind feels like falling autumn leaves, which brought in the idea of the forest as well. The teal side of the pallet is a literal opposite on the colour wheel. The colour wheel by the way is a very handy tool and it means that the teal is a perfect contrast to those red and orange colours.

Final Thoughts

All the time we are playing with contrasts and opposites. And in my humble opinion, this is what brings a brand to life.

Just like your personality in real life has paradoxes and contrasts and that’s what makes you unique, this is what a living and breathing brand should have as well.

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