Take a second to think about one of your favorite brands. A logo, storefront, color, or memorable ad campaign will likely pop into your mind. That's because a brand's visual identity is a powerful tool for telling a company's story, building customer affinity, and increasing revenue.
If done effectively, visual identity can communicate a particular feeling or message without words. But a poorly-designed identity can confuse customers with lackluster messaging and disjointed graphics. So it's no surprise that consistent brands are 3.5x more likely to have strong brand visibility than inconsistent brands.
Visual identity plays an essential role in branding, so it's important to understand what makes up an identity and how to create one. We'll cover all of that and share examples of successful brands that have developed a strong visual identity.
What is a visual identity?
A visual identity is the visible representation of a brand, from the logo and colors to the website and design of physical stores. It encompasses everything you can see in connection to a company.
Visual identity can be made up of many elements:
- Animations, icons, buttons
- Color palette
- Store design
- Digital and print ads
Developing a strong visual identity comes with a number of benefits. It helps create an emotional connection with customers, which leads 57% of customers to increase spending. Consistent visuals unify a brand's messaging so people instantly recognize the company across all channels.
They can build brand trust by informing potential buyers about products or services. And a well-designed visual identity can boost brand awareness and make people more likely to purchase, especially since 64% of people want brands to connect with them.
Although visual identity sounds similar to brand identity, its unique benefits and elements set it apart.
Visual Identity vs Brand Identity
If brand identity is the personality of your business, visual identity is the visible expression of that personality. Think of a person who's outgoing and creative (brand identity) and is known for wearing eccentric outfits and jewelry (visual identity).
Brand identity gives customers the feelings they associate with your company, and it's made up of everything that creates the brand as a whole. It includes your values, mission statement, tone and voice, style guides, brand persona, unique value props, visual assets, and more.
Visual identity is a part of brand identity, but its focus is on how a brand is visually represented. It requires a separate approach from brand identity, yet it needs to complement the brand. This is why designers and creatives are usually in charge of visual identity, whereas marketers and branding teams are in charge of brand identity.
5 Companies with Strong Visual Identity
When a brand takes the time to craft a strong visual identity, it becomes easier to attract customers and drive the business forward. As you look through the following examples, consider how every element works together to form a cohesive visual language.
On a mission to improve the health and happiness of the world, Headspace takes a quirky approach to visual identity. The meditation app is full of charming characters, bright colors, and memorable moments that aim to establish its unique identity in the world of wellness. Even the animations add a sense of connection and humor while explaining mindfulness concepts.
The art collective Meow Wolf is out to inspire creativity through art, and their visual identity is chock full of imaginative graphics, installations, and images. The psychedelic color palette instantly draws you in, and the extraordinary characters hint that you're in another world. It's easy to get lost in a realm of fantasy and immersive art just by scrolling the brand's Instagram.
From flexible dates to unique stays, Airbnb's visual identity highlights the brand's willingness to embrace adventure. Their pink logo, playful graphics, and incredible imagery encourage people to explore places beyond conventional options, which is exactly what you can do by booking or hosting a homestay through their platform.
Listening is everything to Spotify, and it's clear through the brand's visual identity. A bold color palette and clever ad campaigns, like #SpotifyWrapped, showcase the company's passionate and playful brand across the app, online platforms, and print ads.
Visual identity is more than logos and ad campaigns — it's the feeling people get when they see your brand. Yeti is a great example of how to make brand and visual identity work together to create a specific feeling for customers, which the brand does with Yeti Presents. These short films inspire adventure in a way that's more authentic than other outdoor brands and fits the company's laidback, active identity.
How to Create a Visual Identity
Creating a strong visual identity shows people who you are, why they should interact with you, and helps establish an emotional connection to your brand identity. Whether you're creating a visual identity system for the first time or looking to revamp your identity, just follow these steps to come up with an eye-catching visual language.
1. Define your brand identity.
Your brand identity is the core of your company personality, and it informs your visual identity. If you don't have all the aspects of your brand laid out, your visual identity can flounder from a lack of direction and cohesion. Before designing your visual identity, make sure to have the bare minimum brand requirements decided, such as values, voice and tone, persona, and mission statement.
2. Understand the principles of design.
When starting my own business, I decided to create my logo and website. But when getting feedback on my visual identity from a graphic design friend, it was clear I wasn't trained in the principles of design. Visuals play a major part in how people perceive your brand, so it's important to get them right. You can learn the six elements of design yourself, or hire a graphic designer to help bring your visual identity to life.
3. Create a story.
People remember stories more than facts, which is why visual identity must focus on telling a great story. You can draw people in with characters and conflict, or incorporate your values into your visuals. The Swiss paragliding company, Advance, uses storytelling to highlight the quality of its products and the adventures that are possible because of them. The key is to show, not tell.
4. Stay consistent.
Consistency is simple when your company is small and you review every asset before it goes live. But the bigger the brand, the less likely it is to stay consistent. From ad campaigns and conference decks to social media posts or sales one-pagers, it's easy to let visual style slip. But creating a brand style guide, and outlining the specific visual identity systems and styles, can help your team combine existing visuals with new elements as the company grows.
5. Keep the medium in mind.
Visuals look different on every channel — a printed logo can appear darker than on a screen. So it's crucial to cater your visuals to the medium you're using to promote your brand. A graphic designer or branding designer will understand how to adjust visual assets for each medium to ensure all elements, from colors and fonts to images and animations, appear consistent across channels.
Once you outline your visual identity and create graphics, you're ready to share your visual language with the world. With time and consistency, people will be able to recognize your brand at first glance.