One of the best ways to ensure that your brand’s look and feel is cohesive is to maintain a living identity board that everyone on your team has access to. A brand identity board is just a summary of the main guidelines to take into account as you design visuals for your audience. These visuals can take the form of stationery, ads, blog content, catalogs, sales collateral, submarks, and various other applications.
Design is your not-so-silent seller. It speaks volumes when potential customers are trying to figure out what your brand stands for. Your color, type, imagery, and layout choices reveal what your brand is all about even before people get a chance to read any text. Ideas like your values, mission, and vision are reflected in the design decisions that you make early on in the process.
It is absolutely essential that your brand feels cohesive across all of these customer touchpoints. Think about it: how would you feel if every time you saw a brand it looked entirely different? Your relationship would seem disjointed, and you might even have problems recognizing it among a larger group of brands. It simply hasn’t shown you any kind of distinctive visual character. Fortunately, though, we are fixing that today.
And we’re doing it in two steps:
- Part A: Defining your brand’s visual character
- Part B: Summarizing it on a board
Part A: Defining your brand’s visual character
Before we even start building your board there are a few components that you’ll need to define:
- Your brand’s color palette
- Typography scheme
- Logo variations
- Textures and patterns
While there are many other building blocks in your visual identity, we will address these five throughout this guide. I will share some general pointers and the very best external resources I’ve found. You can always go back and modify the brand board to add any missing elements.
1. Designing your brand’s color palette
We are visual beings and color consistently sends us silent messages. Warm hues like yellow and red create a different ambiance than the cooler blues and greens. Warm displays passion, while cool conveys efficiency. Highly saturated colors reflect a vibrant brand personality, while more muted tones represent a sense of constraint. Going for a palette with many different colors speaks volumes about the brand’s energetic, extrovert character, while choosing one or two (a monochrome palette) can project minimalism and exclusivity.
I’ve found the following to be useful when selecting a color palette:
- Get inspired by real-life scenes. Start with photos of nature, travel, fashion, or any other space that relates to the product/service your brand represents. These photos already include a color palette that you can extract to build your identity. Choosing colors while sitting in front of a screen has never worked for me. There’s something about looking at them in isolation that makes assembling the palette much more difficult. Real life already contains millions of inspiring palettes!
- Look out for color conventions in your space. If you’re a beauty brand, chances are many of your peer brands are steering toward the same color themes. Don’t look at this as a restriction, but an opportunity. Of course you can be innovative in the types of colors you bring in, but it’s worth looking at the hues that your potential audience is already being exposed to. There might be some value in leveraging those existing color associations as you build your brand from scratch.
- Avoid pure blacks and pure whites. This isn’t meant to be a rule, but I would highly suggest that you consider the many alternatives to #FFFFF and #000000. There are interesting off-whites and grey/blue blacks that you can experiment with. Perhaps you’ve never thought about this before, but pure blacks and whites do not really exist in nature and our eyes aren’t quite used to seeing them. That makes intermediate hues much more comfortable, organic, and pleasing.
- Curate and save what you love. I’ve built a Pinterest board with appealing color palettes over the years. I found that finding the perfect color palette, much like the perfect “anything else”, is always difficult when you’re pressed for time. Save your favorite palettes as you go and you’ll have a great library to look at when the need arises. Feel free to follow mine for inspiration:
2. Choosing your brand’s main and supporting fonts
Different types of fonts can help convey brand character traits. Font designers gather inspiration from very specific sources that inject a certain mood and context to the type families they create. Here are my main tips when choosing your brand’s font palette:
- Go for two main fonts, where one works great for headlines and displays and the other one is better suited for longer pieces of text. You will find a quick overview of the main font types below. It will help you understand what to look for when you’re creating these combinations. A common practice is to go for a sans-serif font for headings and a more legible serif font for body text — but this is by no means mandatory.
- If your brand incorporates hand-drawn elements, add a third handwritten font to create variety.
- Gather inspiration from font palettes used by other brands. I regularly pin great combinations in my typography board on Pinterest. Feel free to follow it:
- Make sure the fonts you are selecting can be used in your brand’s website (i.e. a webfont is available). If not, you’ll have to consider choosing alternative webfonts to replace them in web assets. While desktop fonts come in OpenType (.otf) and TrueType (.ttf) formats, you can easily recognize webfonts because they use extensions like .woff, .svg, and .eot.
3. Selecting suitable logo variations
I’ll assume that you already have a logo for this component. If you don’t currently have one, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll reach out with logo design resources. To create your brand board, at the very least, you will want to have:
- A main logo that works well when there’s plenty of space. Two versions: one for dark and one for light backgrounds
- A minimal symbol that works well for smaller spaces (your favicon, app icons, etc)
- A watermark/badge version in case you need to lay your logo over a busy background.
4. Picking brand textures and patterns
This part will seem much easier once you have defined points one and two. Your color palette will help you select a series of textures, graphic elements, or patterns to complement the brand’s look and feel. I have found the following to be useful in selecting those:
- Go to and arts & crafts or fabric store. Seriously. Get outside and interact with textures physically. If necessary, buy fabric scraps or other materials that remind you of the types of surfaces that work well for your brand. You can always snap a photo with your phone and add to your virtual brand board, or create a physical one and pin the physical object into it. We will get into ways to create that brand board below.
- Browse through styled stock photos and flatlays. The advantage of looking at styled photos is that you can appreciate someone’s thoughtful composition choices behind the camera. There’s a reason they paired X material with Y book, or cappuccino foam with that weekly planner. Certain products and services are natural matches for the visual side of our brains.
- Print out your logo and lay it over real-life scenes. This is a technique I only discovered very recently. I took a cutout version of the logo I was working on and took it with me throughout the day. I cannot explain how much easier it was to find fitting patterns! It’s like playing with layers in Photoshop, except your background layer is real life.
5. Defining what on-brand photography looks like
Building a brand’s visual identity will require thinking like a photographer sometimes. What kinds of props and environments go well with our brand’s look and feel? How can we leverage filters, color correction, or light balance to preserve that look? The simplest way to go about this is to collect photos that display the aesthetic you are looking for. As you piece different photos together, you’ll start seeing similarities and hopefully be able to articulate what it is that sets them apart from other photos. A few more pointers:
- Follow brands and photographers that share your style. You want to remain in constant contact with creators that share out images within your aesthetic. The reason is simple: the online space is too crowded, and that can cloud your judgment. One day you are keen on applying a certain look to your photos, and the next day you start questioning that decision because of something you saw. Evolution is fine. Change is more than welcome. However, when you are building what should be a sustainable brand identity, it’s crucial that you stand by your decisions for a reasonable amount of time.
- Browse through Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets that create that look. Sometimes we can’t really see that we’re going for “a look” until we find photographers that have built add-ons to recreate it. Trust me, if your “photography look” has a name, you want to know what that is! Here are some examples that you may have heard of:
- Film style
- Grainy matte
- Soft pastel
- (The list goes on)
Part B: Summarizing it on a board
You’ve done all this great work and now it’s time to summarize it. Why? Because having a clearly defined brand aesthetic is of no use unless you can consistently refer to it to make design decisions. You can create the most appealing color, font, and pattern combinations in the world and your brand could still lack cohesion in the eyes of your target market. That’s why I’ll introduce three ways to turn these decisions into a true reference board, in order of difficulty:
- Create a physical brand board
- Create a digital, shareable brand board using Canva
- Create a digital, shareable brand board using Illustrator
1. Create a physical brand board
To be perfectly honest this is something you might want to have even if you’re going the digital board route. It is just a completely different experience to physically surround yourself with a resource that lives and works with you. Imagine you’re sitting in your office working on your brand and boom: there’s your board to remind you of what it looks like, 24/7 — even when you’re offline. That’s some powerful inspiration, and in my opinion this type of board deserves to be created regardless of how you plan on sharing it online.
To create a physical brand identity board, just buy a corkboard and print out the elements we discussed above. Pin each of them following any of the suggested layouts below, or come up with an entirely new layout that works for you.
2. Create a digital, shareable brand board using Canva
You don’t have to know your way around complex design software to take your brand identity board online. Just use this Canva template and modify it to include your own elements. Signing up for Canva is free, and the app works on any browser — no software installation required. You can download your board as a PDF, JPG, or share it directly with the team. If you feel like this method is working for you, take a look at Canva for Work. That paid version of the app will allow you to add a color palette, upload custom fonts, and assemble a brand board easily.
Here’s a recap of the steps involved:
- Tweak this Canva template
- Share the link with your team
- Optional: download and print
3. Create a digital, shareable brand board using Illustrator
So Illustrator is your thing. Download this simple template and add the elements you’ve chosen above. If you’re wondering why I’m suggesting Illustrator rather than Photoshop for this, there’s a very specific reason: your brand assets are better off stored as vectors for easy copying and importing. In most cases, you’ll want to have assets like your logo in both formats (.psd and .ai), but it is much easier to manipulate them directly in Illustrator. If you don’t have access to Illustrator, open this layout in Photoshop and tweak it by overlaying shapes and text as needed.
Over to you!
Do you feel ready to create a brand board? Have you already designed one and want to share how it went? Let me know in the comments area below.