Design Dictionary: Logo + Identity + Brand
Through your business journey, you'll hear a lot of terms tossed around that you may or may not be familiar with. For us, these are things like "standard deduction," "straight-line depreciation," and "capital expenditures" – tax terms that our kind and amazingly patient accountant defines for us at least twice a year when we inevitably forget between meetings.
But for some of our clients, these are "logo," "identity," and "brand." If you're in this camp, read on! (If you're also confused by the tax terms that befuddle us, all we can do is sympathize).
Logo (noun): The single visual mark that represents your company.
This is where many businesses think branding begins and ends, but there's a lot more to it. Any professional design firm understands this, and that's (one of many reasons) why we always recommend hiring professionals who are trained and educated in design. Your friend's sister's boyfriend with a copy of Photoshop could throw together a logo for you for $50, but that doesn't mean his logo (1) measures up to any design or branding standards, (2) is a good representation of your business, (3) will effectively reach your clients, or (4) fits into the larger picture of who you are as a company.
Your company's logo needs to be able to scale up and down in size without losing its readability (in some cases, you may be provided a modified version of your logo to use for different size ranges). It should also be as effective in a one-color version as it is in full-color. You may sponsor an event where your logo will be printed in white ink on the back of a tee shirt, and if your logo has four colors and a gradient and everything overlaps with each other, you're seriously out of luck.
Note: your logo doesn't have to include a symbol. There are pictorial marks (like Apple's logo) and there are logotypes/wordmarks (like Coca Cola, where the name of the company is the logo itself).
Identity (noun): All of the coordinating visual and written elements that represent your company.
Stick with me. I know this sounds a lot like the definition I gave you for "logo," but your identity is more than your logo. It is your logo plus your color palette plus the typefaces you use plus any icons or illustrations, etc.
Think about how Tiffany & Co uses a specific shade of blue as part of their identity, and this has become so synonymous with the jewelry store that it's now commonly knows as "Tiffany blue." This is an example of a company whose identity is well-defined.
Along similar lines, you can differentiate a Spotify ad from a World Wildlife Fund ad without seeing the logo or any information about the product being advertised. This is because Spotify's identity involves bright colors and round fonts, while WWF uses full page photos.
Brand (noun): the overall experience that a customer has with your company.
This is your logo plus your identity plus your website plus your physical location plus YOU plus EVERYTHING. In the Tiffany & Co example we mentioned earlier, think about the "Tiffany blue" boxes and white ribbons. This packaging is part of their brand.
Every touchpoint that a person has with your company contributes to your brand. If your logo visually makes you seem soft and approachable, but a customer drops by your store to buy a gift for her great grandma, and your employee is abrupt and rude, then the best logo in the world can't fix your brand by itself.
Your brand is built over time. Because it involves your customer's experience and impression of your company, you have a huge role in establishing your brand. Your designer will build the identity and visual elements that spark a customer's association with your company, and then whether that association is positive or negative is largely up to you, your products or services, and your employees.
Now that we've explained the difference between three of the most common (and confusing!) design terms we know, we hope you can use these definitions to encourage a larger dialogue during your next big design project.
If you're hiring a design firm, ask what they specialize in and how they will approach your project related to all three aspects we've defined. If you're a designer, perform a mental checklist to ensure that you're approaching your project to the fullest extent it deserves.
Still have questions? Comment below! And if you enjoyed this post, check out our next Design Dictionary post about image file types.