This article was featured in the issue 24 of Brand You Magazine, April 2023. Click here to view the article!
The thing I find truly fascinating about visual branding is the layers of meaning that can be brought into the design work.
Layers of meaning and symbolism can of course be used in all types of visual art, but in my opinion, it’s an especially important part of branding.
What do I mean by Symbolism?
To be clear, what I mean when I talk about symbolism here is the use of imagery like the illustrations in your branding to represent ideas or qualities.
Symbols can come to mean something in retrospect, and that will be true for imagery used in your branding, that’s true for many big brands and was certainly true for my own logo design. Sometimes the image comes first and it gathers meaning as the brand grows.
But it’s also wonderful to make design decisions from the outset based on what has meaning for you as a business owner, and also what will have archetypal meaning for your customers or clients too.
Again to be clear…
“An archetype is a term used to describe universal symbols that evoke deep and sometimes unconscious responses. Archetypes are defined as recurring patterns of situations, characters, or symbols existing universally and instinctively in the collective unconscious of man.” Citation
Why is adding meaning and symbolism to my brand identity design useful?
When we use imagery that has universal meaning behind it we’re holding up little green flags for our audience that show that we’re the same as them, we think the same, we care about the same things. This is the very start of building up that ‘Know, like, trust’ factor with your audience.
When we add a layer to our branding that has deep meaning for us as the business owner, it means it’s more likely to feel right for us long-term. We do it once, we do it well, and we do it with meaning.
How can symbolism play out in my Brand Identity design?
Take this Moth design for Helena Rose Photography; There is a layer of archetypal meaning with the design that like minded people will be drawn to.
The style of drawing, the witchy vibe of the elements, the Moth being a creature that is drawn to the light. This last point makes sense for a photography business where working with light is part of the skill of the art form. These are things that we intuitively understand as humans when we look at imagery, without really thinking about it.
And then we uncover the symbolism of what the design means for the business owner. It’s a deeper layer that might not always be apparent at first glance, but it’s important none the less.
Here the Moth represents the ethical and sustainable businesses that Helena works with; they are drawn towards the light in the sense that they are conscious of the how they impact the world.
If possible, we’re looking for something that works on more than one level, but you can always combine symbols together or weave meanings into other parts of your brand identity.
Tips for how to start creating symbolism in your design
- You can start by noting down any imagery, things, symbols that you’re drawn to. You need to love the imagery you’re using in your branding as well as it holding meaning.
- Think about any imagery that holds meaning specifically for the industry you work in, or for the specific services or products you’re offering.
- Think about what imagery, if any, is evoked by your business name.
- Symbols could be really simple, like a triangle, or it could be more complex imagery that would be more of an illustration, like a type of bird, animal, or plant.
- It’s important to research any symbolism you intend to explore in your brand identity to make sure it’s culturally appropriate for you to use. You also may need to sift through the many meanings one symbol alone can have to make sure there isn’t anything negative that might come up for people.
- The internet is obviously a great source of information, but books are even better and often more reliable. Try the Signs and Symbols Sourcebook by Adele Nozedar as a starting point.
- Reference meanings of imagery in different places to make sure you have a good understanding of all the meanings.
- Can your symbol link back to your business in more ways than one? It’s ok if not, you can add layers of meaning with other branding elements, combining symbols in a design, embellishments on typography, pattern designs, your colour palette, even photographs. Don’t force multiple meanings, lean into your intuition about what feels right.
- Remember that your brand identity is not your logo alone in isolation. Everything should work together to form a multi-layered, meaningful design for your brand.
If you’d like to explore weaving symbolism into your brand identity with me you can apply to work together via my Unfurl Your Brand package.
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