How to Design Your Brand DNA From the Ground Up

Your brand must always convey a consistent message and have a recognizable image. Doing this effectively is critical since most people will remember the brand after seeing it several times without having to read the logo (e.i. do you read “CocaCola” every time you see it or do you just recognize the red script at glance?).

In finding a balance between being consistent and playful, there are few things to take into account.

1. Always go back to your 3 attributes to make sure that you’re “on brand”

In a previous blog article, Finding Your Brand Identity, I explained that there are 3-4 attributes that define your brand and will become your mantra. These three words will guide every initiative you take. Use these adjectives to design your brand communication, your clothing designs, material choices, and tell your brand story.

In deploying my children wear brand, PaperGirl Collection, I always keep these 3 attributes in mind: beautiful, simple, imaginative. These adjectives help me stay on message when I tweet, blog, or speak publicly. For example, I avoid discussing personal themes of interest that aren’t brand appropriate, which means they conflict with my brand attributes. Keeping the same criteria in mind when designing the actual clothing line, I don’t use complex fabrics like brocade or synthetic fabrics.

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2. Apply a consistent voice/personality across all brand copy

Today, designers have to write, talk and post more than anytime before. More than ever, people want to know the person behind the brand, which means you are your own spokesperson. In a way, you will be creating a “subset of yourself” when you are speaking about your brand.

Write and talk about the inspiration, the process, and the idea behind a brand. Talk about your team. Share a bit about your life history and your daily life as a designer. For example, in PaperGirl Collection, I take the parts of my personality that align with beautiful, simple, and imaginative so that I can write about playful things that have to do with curiosity and creativity. The more you practice writing and talking about your brand, the more you will create a consistent voice and personality.

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What about having others write and speak for your brand? Before trusting others with your brand communication (tweets, blog posts, etc.) make sure you walk them through your attributes and what they mean. Create some boundaries and easy to follow Do’s and Don’ts. Monitor their texts, guide, and adjusts their tone as needed. It is great to get help from others (social media managers, ghost writers, PR and marketing teams) but make sure they understand the DNA of your brand.

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3. Use your logo consistently and play around with other brand elements

Think of your logo as the leading actor and the rest of the elements (type, color, graphic motives, and photography) as the supporting actors, props, and scenography.

A. Keep some things consistent and in tune with the brand story.

The PaperGirl Collection logo always appears on linen texture or white backgrounds. Since the brand is about playfulness and positive childhood activities, it would never appear on dark backgrounds.

B. Protect your logo from noise.

Put your logo on simple solid backgrounds and avoid putting it on photos (unless it is on a solid area). Don’t crowd it with photos or messages.

C. Your logo may have variations (think Google).

Do this carefully and in stages. First use only your main logo, then use the variations only for special occasions. Later, when people are used to the possibility of variations, start including them more often.

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D. Keep some colors consistent.

The PaperGirl hot-pink, cream, and chocolate, will always be featured throughout my brand elements. Play with other colors within your secondary color palette or colors derived from your collection and photos. Be more conservative near the logo and be more adventurous near the photos based on the collection.

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E. Keep typography consistent

Once I choose a font for a brand, I keep it and use it all the time. Experiment with the variations within a font family (italic, bold, small caps, etc). Think of type size as voice volume, are you shouting? Go for large font, are you talking? Go for medium to small font, are you quoting?

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4. Experiment with visual brand elements

Photos on the other hand allow for more variation while keeping a certain level of consistency in style. Think about how you can recognize Martha Stewart’s photos from their perfect compositions, crisp details, fuzzy backgrounds and lovely color. Your photos may vary from one collection to the other because each collection is different. For example, the PaperGirl summer collection is about the oceans, so we have studio photos with blue backgrounds and some vacation style snapshots by the water. Next Spring will feature a garden theme, which calls for outdoor locations with a lot of greenery.

1. Create a dialogue between the design elements. Have the photo and the messages ‘talk to each other’.

2. Throw and accent here and there. It may be a graphic motive, or an icon, or color accent. This is just like putting a cherry on a sundae, just one is fine.

As you (or your graphic designer) play with the elements, you will discover the latitude that your brand allows for. Start tighter within the design style system, and as you get familiar and comfortable, add more variations. Just as you did with the messages, you will find your visual voice.

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5. Understand the nature of each brand touchpoint

Designing a lookbook, a poster, a hangtag, or a Facebook ad requires different techniques. The brand messages you put out are all consumer touchpoints. Brand touchpoints like postcards and social media posts are quick and simple to execute since they are based on being visual with few well-selected words. There are promotional brand touchpoints like lookbooks and posters versus practical brand touchpoints like linesheets, stationary, and tech packs. These touchpoints range from complex, website or a store/trade show booth, to simple, business cards.

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Regardless of what they are, take a moment to make them look and sound like they belong to your brand. Each form of communication will require a different variation within your voice and a different balance of the graphic elements. Some will rely more on a written message (blog posts, press releases), some will be closer to the permanent pieces of the brand like your logo and basic colors (hangtag).

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A lookbook/catalog has more variation from the basic brand style because it is telling the story of that particular collection. You may use new colors along with your usual brand colors. Dedicate a page to explain the inspiration behind the collection as well as an area to have the logo and a bit of the brand story.

There are also ‘unbranded’ assets which are the things that belong to your brand but do not have the logo. Think of the hangers for your clothes or the furniture in your tradeshow stand. All of these varied elements should also fit within your story.

Recap of main points:

  1. Practice asking yourself, “Is it ‘on-brand'” as you create and communicate your brand.
  2. Keep things simple but unique and pay attention to details.
  3. Let your logo lead your brand.
  4. Communicate your brand message in a simple and authentic way.
  5. Keep some things consistent and find ways to add variation.

Comment below with questions about your logo and brand voice!

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