Originally published on Brands Journal.
Good style’s subjective, right?
When it comes to brands it is, anyway. Because they’re facing the awkward balancing act of visualising what’s inside with who it is they’re trying to attract.
A unique formula for everyone.
So, it’s a tricky proposition. Especially when they’ve got one eye on “the next big design trend”, while the other’s wincing at the prospect of following the crowd.
Well, relax and fear not, we’ve got all your design needs covered.
Here are four digital branding tips that will not only work for 2022; they’ll stand the test of time forever.
- Don't be content to stay in your lane
- Subtly not towards the past
- Tweak the style to reflect your new priorities
- Ensure your designs are aligned across every touchpoint
- Discover four more digital branding tips we swear by…
#1. Don’t be content to stay in your lane - search for distinction
According to Richard Shotton for Marketing Week, distinction’s what matters when it comes to popping off the page against like-minded competitors.
In ‘Death metal and rainbow balloons: why it pays to break conventions’, he reflected on how the band Party Cannon used their curvy, colourful logo to stand out from the other black metal bands at Bay Area Deathfest 2.
It’s a tactic as old as time called the ‘von Restorff effect’, named after postdoctoral student Hedwig von Restorff. Through her experiments in the 1930s, she discovered that it’s the things we notice that we remember.
Seems obvious, doesn’t it?
But despite being a known bias for over 90 years, Shotton believes many brands are still missing a trick.
“At the moment, many marketers cling to category convention. That’s exactly the wrong thing to do. If you behave conventionally, you’ll become invisible and it’ll do little for your standing,” he said.
After all, digital branding is a creative task. And no one ever created a masterpiece by copying what already exists, did they?
“Far better to stand out. You’ll be remembered. But more than being remembered, breaking category norms can boost your status too. Just check that you hold a degree of status in the first place,” warns Shotton.
But that level of insight usually comes from one thing: a thorough trip through time.
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#2. Subtly nod towards the past (whilst still looking forwards)
OK, so nostalgia and marketing have always gone hand-hand-hand. And when it’s used properly by brands, this rose-tinted tactic’s a powerful tool in transporting us back to carefree times.
Or how they appear in our collective memory, anyway.
A byproduct of the 30-year-cycle, we’re seeing a slow shift now away from 1980s nostalgia and towards the 90s.
But this doesn’t mean you should get all Fido Dido with your designs; this type of digital branding resonates best when it references its own past, connecting with consumer memories of the product in the process.
And there are recent examples where brands have nailed it.
Warner Bros. is no stranger to a style change. In fact, according to Fast Company, the brand reiterated its logo over 200 times in the past 15 years alone.
However, the one that’s worth mentioning is WB’s most recent update. When design consultancy firm Pentagram debuted the logo, it included a 3D-looking shield - nodding towards the 90s emblem that’s most fondly remembered by its current key demographic - and a flat design version. The latter ensures Warner Bros. is brought in line with current trends; the former strikes a chord with 90s kids turned parents - those who are now buying the tickets for their families. Clever.
But while brands blend old and current elements into their designs, they’ve also got to ensure their own values reflect the priorities of our future.
#3. Tweak the style to reflect your new priorities
This year and going into next, brands are not just going to have to think about working with a clearer, greener conscience; in masses, through the power of social, consumers will simply demand it.
But brands must ensure what they’re broadcasting to the world - how they’re perceived by audiences - reflects their values. Otherwise, it’ll fall on death ears.
Take Pfizer for example: after releasing its covid vaccination, the company revealed that it would be making a shift from commerce to science.
“Pfizer is no longer in the business of just treating diseases – we’re curing and preventing them,” said Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO.
And the company’s new logo and supporting visual assets reflect this. The wordmark now sits alongside a pair of blue-toned interlocking forms: DNAs universally recognisable double helix.
From new, human-focused photography to updated typography, Noto Sans - a font developed by Google to “internationalise the internet” - every part of Pfizer’s digital branding has been carefully considered to reflect its changing place in the world.
But when you’re making visual changes to the brand, you’ve got to make sure they’re working everywhere - and for everyone.
#4. Ensure your designs are aligned across every touchpoint
It was a smart move when Coca-Cola unveiled its “One Brand” strategy a few years back.
Customers were confused about the difference between the multiple varieties - and things were starting to feel messy.
Bringing the look of the original and diet packaging in line with Coca-Cola Zero last year was the latest move towards brand consistency.
But this is only one piece of the puzzle.
Both digital and physical branding need to work in harmony to ensure your brand not only feels consistent across all touchpoints but makes sense to customers, too.
However, it isn’t always easy; to do so takes discipline from various stakeholders in the business. Sure, it’s great to have a solid set of brand guidelines - complete with every size, shape and style of your logo marks, typography and tone.
But what good are they if there are multiple versions flying around? Or, worse still, nobody can find them in the first place?
A Digital Asset Management (DAM) solution like Asset Bank or Dash can help with the admin side of things. They’re designed to ensure everyone is using the right images, logos and other assets. Not only does it keep digital branding consistent, taking care of version control and image sizes for social, but it also frees marketers and designers for more creative pursuits too.
And when it comes to creation and ideation, many organisations are now embracing design systems to keep their teams aligned on the brand’s visual identity and up-to-date with the latest trends. If you’re unfamiliar, this is an updatable online platform that includes every visual element, code and accessibility standard that a modern design team needs.
“In order to quickly iterate with confidence, design teams need access to a single source of truth that allows for a scalable UI language and streamlined UX guidelines. With brand touchpoints reaching over multiple channels and platforms, consistent user experience can be assisted by leveraging a central design language,” says InVision’s Jess Thoms in ‘Designing at scale: How industry leaders leverage design systems.’
Because when it comes to digital branding, consistency’s one tip that will forever endure.
4 more digital branding tips we swear by…
- Embrace geometric patterns - this is a great way to extend the brand using your visual language.
“To truly use this branding trend to its fullest, have your pattern mimic an element from your logo. If your logo is minimalist, you might even be able to use it as the pattern source,” says the team at 99 Designs.
- Keep iconography simple - these are easy for your customers to recall and make for a more intuitive user experience. Predicting this growing trend for 2022, Callum Humphreys at Tech Moths said:
“...we predict that designers will focus on providing clean and beautiful images by eliminating all of the unimportant elements that are not necessary for the brand image. We can also expect that simple shapes will incorporate bright colors to logos to help promote the brands and increase customer interaction.”
- Keep accessibility front of mind - try not to use colour alone to convey meaning and consider contrast for better readability.
“As designers, we need to remember that the same is true of color and all visual abilities. It’s estimated that 4.5% of the global population experience color blindness (that’s 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women), 4% suffer from low vision (1 in 30 people), and 0.6% are blind (1 in 188 people). It’s easy to forget that we’re designing for this group of users since most designers don’t experience such problems,” says Nik Babich at UX Booth.
- Don’t design in a silo - we don’t mean creating the brand’s visual language as a team; obviously, that’s the designer’s job. But feedback from other stakeholders who are close to the brand is crucial. Copywriters will know whether the visual identity speaks to the brand’s tone, whilst the brand manager will have valuable insight into the company’s heritage and customer sentiment. As marketers, we’re all designers in disguise - so cross those streams and reap the benefits.