Nine Attributes of a Successful Brand Identity

Posted on Apr 8, 2013


What makes a good brand identity?

A good brand identity design is a visual interpretation and personification of your brand values. Using shape, colour and typography as his primary tools, the designer’s job is to imagine something that is both pleasing to the eye and endears the viewer with a positive user experience. In addition to answering the creative brief, a successful identity should share all, if not most, of the following attributes.

  1. It should be uniquely identifiable to help distinguish it from the competition. Think of how many brand messages you are exposed to each day—for instance on a public transit ride, in a grocery store or surfing the web. Remember it’s not necessary to make your identity represent exactly what your company does. This will avoid your identity resembling the competition and not limit areas of future growth.
  2. It should be simple enough to be instantly recognizable. Can you easily picture in your mind’s eye the Apple logo? When we can easily recall and remember an identity, we form positive reactions to it that lead to feelings of comfort and trust.
  3. It should draw the viewer in with pleasing aesthetics that appeal to the intended audience. While the culmination of a neutral colour palette, elegant typography and beautiful photography can create a tasteful and sophisticated look for a developer of luxurious homes, this same look is likely not appropriate for an apparel brand aimed at a youth market into extreme sports.
  4. It should use shape and colour to enhance recognition and emotional response. The Nike swoosh creates an image of energy and dynamic power and Coca Cola uses red to suggest energy, life and vitality. It’s hard to imagine either of these identities without their signature shape or colour. We would not have the same reaction to them, nor would they be as successful, otherwise.
  5. It sometimes has a hidden element or meaning that demands attention. Have a careful look at the FedEx logo. The negative space between the capital E and the lower case X form an arrow shape. This subtly portrays forward movement and is ideally suited to a shipping company. We naturally want to try to figure out the meaning of these kinds of identities and the more time we spend with them, the more familiar they become.
  6. It must be culturally relevant. Certain symbols and colours have very specific meanings to different cultures. For instance, in the Western world we are very familiar with the Red Cross Society. In other parts of the world, the cross is replaced with a crescent and the name changes to the Red Crescent Society to be more sensitive to followers of the Islamic faith. Make sure you do some research ahead of exploring a creative direction that could cause problems in an increasingly global marketplace.
  7. It will stand the test of time and not date itself quickly. The CN logo is an example of an identity that is timeless in appeal and not be subject to changing trends or fashion. Most companies or organizations would do well to follow this route, but there are always exceptions. For example, certain product brands will be more fashion-forward in their approach to capitalize on the latest fad or trend.
  8. It should be easily reproduced across a variety of media, both in print and online, and at a variety of sizes. What is legible on the side of a truck may not work as well when reduced to the size of a favicon in a browser address bar. A complex identity with gradients and transparency may work well on a web page, but may prove difficult to embroider on branded apparel. A well-designed brand identity system is flexible enough to easily accommodate different methods of reproduction and sizes.
  9. It should work as part of a complete brand identity system. Brand identities are rarely reproduced or presented in isolation. Other brand elements — often derived from the identity itself or designed to work along side it — are required to create the complete visual language of the brand. A Brand Identity Guidelines document outlines the proper usage and reproduction of all elements in the the system including the logo, colour, typography and other brand elements. Consistency in adhering to the guidelines leads to higher brand recognition and credibility.

A logo or brand identity can’t make a bad product or company better, but a well-designed identity will help position a product or company to realize its full potential. A professional identity becomes the face of a company or organization and is often the first connection between the brand and its target audience.

How does your identity measure up?

*All logos represented are registered trademarks of their respective owners.


  1. Marnie Hughes
    April 11, 2013

    Lots of valuable insights here, Val! Thanks for the post. Loving the new website, by the way 🙂

    • Val Sanna
      April 11, 2013

      Thanks for your kind comments, Marnie. Much appreciated.