You’re probably familiar with the adage, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” Still, it’s something that many of us do—and not just with books. People can form first impressions in as little as 0.1 seconds, and these impressions can last for months—even in the face of contradictory evidence.
We are visual creatures who learn to connect what we see with meaning from birth, and we engage with visual content more than any other type of external information. It’s important to consider how the visual identity of your brand shapes a consumer’s impression of your business.
This guide will break down the elements of a visual identity and how it fits into brand identity, along with examples of winning visual identities and tips to help you build your own.
What is visual identity?
A brand’s visual identity is the distinctive set of visual elements—like logos, colors, fonts, and design styles—that consistently represent the brand across various mediums and help consumers recognize and remember it easily.
The main elements of a brand’s visual identity include:
- Color palette. A family of brand colors that will be used across channels and touchpoints.
- Typography. The style and appearance of the typefaces you use in communicating your brand.
- Logo. A symbol used to identify your brand.
- Imagery. The photos and imagery you use on your ecommerce site, social media profiles, and other communication channels.
- Graphics. The icons, shapes, patterns, and other visual elements that act as stylistic extensions of the visual identity.
When used cohesively, all these visual aspects create a strong and recognizable visual identity that helps your brand tell its story, stand out from competitors, build brand recognition, and connect with your audience emotionally. It’s the face your brand presents to the world and a crucial part of building a lasting brand presence.
What’s the role of visual identity in brand identity?
Visual identity is an essential component of brand identity, and the two work together to help build a distinct impression of your business within the mind of the consumer. Here’s how they overlap and differ:
If your brand were a person, brand identity would be akin to their personality, the way they talk, and their core values. Brand identity is built upon the tone, voice, values, and story you share with consumers about your brand’s mission and purpose.
Visual identity is akin to the visual impression you get from someone’s outward appearance—what their haircut, style of dress, and accessories might tell you about their interests and personality. Your brand’s visual identity makes an impression on consumers through its color palette, typography, logo, imagery, and graphics. Visual identity comprises the external-facing elements of your brand.
A strong brand needs both a clear identity and visual consistency. They work together to create a unified and memorable brand experience.
Examples of strong visual identity
Here are a few examples of brands with distinct and cohesive visual identities:
Gymshark is an ecommerce athletics apparel company that started in founder Ben Francis’ garage and has since grown to become a business worth more than $1.2 billion. It’s also a brand whose unique visual identity has evolved alongside the company and its customers.
While both the original and current iteration of the brand’s logo have some of the same elements, the brand’s visual identity grew as the company matured. The current brand logo is a clean and minimalistic design (much like legendary athletics brands Nike and Adidas), and it still incorporates the image of a shark, which sets the brand apart.
Gymshark’s original 2012 logo and its current iteration. Image source: https://1000logos.net/gymshark-logo/
SKIMS is celebrity and entrepreneur Kim Kardashian’s ecommerce shapewear, underwear, and loungewear company, founded on the core values of innovation and inclusivity. Aligning with those values, the SKIMS visual identity is minimal but bold, with a color palette that celebrates skin tones while the typeface pays homage to the human form. SKIMS also reinforces these core values through its imagery, which features diverse models and bodies.
Image source: Skims homepage “Shop the Feed”
The brand name might say it all, but that didn’t stop men’s grooming company Beardbrand from doubling down and letting people know exactly what the brand is all about with its logo design.
Founded by Eric Bandholz, Beardbrand’s creation is a story of self-actualization and personal empowerment, values reinforced through the brand’s clean and aspirational imagery consistently found across channels. The brand’s identity is also supported through the family of stylish yet approachable typefaces it uses, which are right on target for a grooming brand’s audience.
Image source: Bearbrand PDP
Tupperware is one of those brands—like Kleenex and ChapStick—that have become so emblematic that people often use its name to refer to an entire product category. Still, in 2018, the brand wanted to update its visual identity to become more relevant to a younger generation of consumers. With a bold, modern typeface and a vibrant color palette, Tupperware now leans on people-focused imagery and a cleaner aesthetic to resonate with its target audience.
Image source: https://rebrand.com/distinction-tupperware/
How to build a solid visual identity
- Have a clearly defined brand identity
- Know your audience and your competition
- Build upon design principles and color psychology
- Be consistent
- Iterate and evolve
If you’re ready to start building the face of your brand, here are five high-level steps to help you get started:
1. Have a clearly defined brand identity
You can think of visual identity as an extension of brand identity—it’s how you communicate brand identity in visual language. Your brand identity and brand story help you build emotional connections with consumers, and your visual identity is a powerful tool in fostering those all-important connections. When they feel connected to a brand, 76% of consumers will buy from that brand over a competitor, and 57% will increase their spending.
Build your visual identity around a well-defined brand purpose, personality, voice, tone, and story.
2. Know your audience and your competition
Knowing your target audience is crucial for most aspects of your business, including your visual identity. Having clearly defined buyer personas that illuminate how old your customers are, their income, preferences, hobbies, and interests will help you develop a visual identity that resonates with their aspirations, cultural references, and emotional triggers.
Understanding your target audience empowers you to craft a visual identity that speaks directly to them. It’s like speaking their language, inviting them into your brand world, and making a meaningful connection that drives engagement and brand loyalty.
Similarly, survey your competitors’ visual identities to gain insight into what might resonate with your ideal buyers and help you differentiate your visual identity to stand out.
3. Build upon design principles and color psychology
Whether you choose to do it yourself or hire a professional designer, foundational elements of design are essential to successful composition, be it a logo or a print ad. Not only that, but the colors you choose can significantly impact how consumers receive your visual branding.
Color psychology tells us that most people associate blue with peace, while orange can bring about feelings of optimism, for example. Research suggests that an initial assessment of a product is heavily influenced by color alone, while a unique brand color used consistently across channels can improve brand recognition by 80%.
4. Be consistent
Consistency in your visual identity is key to creating a unified and memorable experience for everyone who encounters your brand. To support brand consistency, create brand guidelines to keep everyone who uses your brand’s visual elements (from marketing teams to PR firms and even contractors) on the same page.
In addition to containing all elements of your visual identity—logo, typography, color palette, imagery, and graphics—a style guide will have rules and templates for how your visual identity should look across channels and mediums.
5. Iterate and evolve
Seek feedback from colleagues, potential customers, and design experts while designing a visual identity, and be ready to evolve. Just as a person changes throughout their life, so too might your brand’s visual identity.
Brand identities may evolve for many reasons, and your visual identity will likely grow alongside it. While you can go several years (even decades) without rebranding, keep tabs on your brand’s competition, relevance, reputation, and market share to know when it might be time to tweak your brand’s image.
Visual identity FAQ
What comprises visual identity?
A brand’s visual identity consists of its color palette, typography, logo, imagery, and graphics.
How does a visual identity benefit your business?
A strong visual identity can significantly impact your brand’s success. The elements of visual identity work together to reinforce brand identity while helping you build brand recognition and foster an emotional connection with current and prospective customers. Your brand’s visual identity can also help differentiate you from competitors.
What is the most important aspect of visual identity?
The design elements comprising visual identity—color palette, typography, logo, imagery, and graphics—should work together harmoniously to reinforce brand identity in a visual medium. No element is more important than another. With that said, a successful visual identity is:
- Memorable and distinctive
- Relevant to its target consumers
- Consistent with the brand’s personality and brand values
- Easy to apply across all channels