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For years designers have been confused. For years we’ve claimed to do something we simply do not do. We do not design brands. We don’t do branding. We build identity. We create the flesh that goes around the brand. But identity is NOT brand. They are distinct. While they are often dependent on one another, let’s not confuse them as the same thing.

Think of it this way: The brand is the skeleton that supports, the muscles the move, the organs that sustain. Identity is the flesh, face, makeup and clothing of the brand. Both are essential but they are not the same thing. Brands are made of differentiation, products, supports and attributes. Identity is the visual expression of the brand. So while both are important, a brand must exist first to create the guidelines for the creation of the identity.

Let’s explore this in action. Jacob Cass wrote an excellent post on the logo design process of top designers that will serve as our model. Using a copy and paste directly from his post; my notes are in red italics.

  1. Design Brief: Conduct Questionnaire or Interview with client to get the design brief. Set expectations and concepts that the client may have. This is your moment to establish yourself as an expert.
  2. Research: Conduct research focused on the industry itself, on its history, and on its competitors. Understanding the industry is the backbone to the creativity that comes in step 4.
  3. Reference: Conduct research into logo designs that have been successful and current styles and trends that are related to the design brief. By finding out what others are doing, you can find out what NOT to do and get an idea for the visual differentiation.
  4. Sketching & Conceptualising: Develop the logo design concept(s) around the brief and research.
  5. Reflection: Take breaks throughout the design process. This lets your ideas mature and for you to get renewed enthusiasm. Receive feedback. An important part of reflection is constantly referring back to your research and the brand.
  6. Positioning: Position yourself as a contractor or build a long lasting relationship. ie. Client orders you what to do OR You guide client to the best solution. If you’ve positioned yourself correctly in step one, this will be a lot easier. If you are the expert, the client will more often than not listen to your input regardless of whether it is a project or long-term relationship.
  7. Presentation: Choose to present only a select few logos to the client or a whole collection. My personal rule is no more than six designs, or 2 variations of 3 concepts. Anymore and your work becomes clutter. Ruthlessly choose what you and your colleagues think are the best of the best. We use a rating system of 1-6 (6 being favorite) and then add up for a total tally. The rest we discard.
  8. Celebration: Drink beer, eat chocolate, sleep, start on next logo design. Or a combination. I recommend beer.

In the end, a great identity is essential and is most often the brand element that is celebrated the most; it’s the tangible of the intangible brand. What steps do you take to make sure your identity work is on mark for the brand?

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Posted 09/25/2009 7:52 am // brand, identity. // // Trackback.


  1. Polprav »

    Hello from Russia!
    Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?

  2. Eric Dunne »


  3. The Greatest Blog Post Ever Written » découverterre »

    [...] Thirdly, I was intrigued by the idea of ‘identity’ versus ‘brand.’ Spurlock seems to use the terms interchangeably, which I think is a easy thing to do, considering that he was comparing his own self to a company. He was becoming a ‘brand.’ However, they are not necessarily the same thing. I like this explanation from Beauty Before Brand: [...]

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  • many words

    I love brands. I have specific ones that are favorites but I just like the idea of branding and differentiation.

    So I wanted to begin a discussion about the need for a more thoughtful brand-first mentality in the design field. My thesis is once we understand and know the brand, our creativity will flow naturally, easily and even predictively.