An Event Apart: Practical Branding

by Luke Wroblewski April 3, 2017

At An Event Apart in Seattle WA, Sarah Parmenter shared her thoughts on the current state of visual design on the Web and its impact on brands. Here's my notes from her talk: Practical Branding

  • Designers used to have their own style, which was often on display via personal redesigns. Agencies also had their own strong styles. But after many years of Web design & technology changes, we've forgotten about design and brand. We're just filling in boxes instead.
  • Every company now is a media company. We need to care more about our brands.
  • Websites have become homogenous because we have become complacent. We're in an era of boring and predictable designs. We don't all need to look the same.
  • Instead we need to ask if these patterns are right for the task we're working on. Know what your brand is and don't copy what others are doing.
  • Branding is the product of deliberate conception. Many decisions come together to become a brand. It is not a pattern library or a mood board. Considerations like tone, message, and how your product is viewed are a much bigger part of your brand story.
  • Research can help you understand what's happening in the market but a big problem with research is that is can be swayed by strong personalities/ideas. Be mindful of biases that exist/emerge through the process.
  • We need very definitive answers about our brands. Designers need to be able to answer these clearly.
  • Key elements that you can focus on to deliver a consistent brand story: logo, color, tone of voice, social ecosystem, typefaces, art direction, authentic story-telling, and company values.
  • Logo is a great foundation for your brand but it isn't the full story. Great logos can be drawn in the sand with your toe. Think in terms of memorable silhouettes.
  • Tone of voice needs to be defined by a company and only refined by a copywriter. Not the other way around. Tone of voice applies to not only your content but your social channels, support, and more.
  • You don't need to have a presence on all social channels, pick the ones that are most appropriate for your brand/message and do a great job there vs. an ok job everywhere.
  • Typefaces: you want to build an ownership (a typeface equity) that stems from your consistent use of a font pairing. Fonts in Use helps you find what other brands are using.
  • There‚Äôs no excuse for using stock photography any more. Between the cameras in everyone's phones, you can source/get very authentic/appropriate imagery for your company.
  • Every brand has a story, tell it. Talk to people about company histories; those that have been there the longest know.
  • If you're using a slogan, it's a red flag that need to tell your brand story in a better way.
  • Find your authentic story within your company, this will be a great inspiration spark. What equity can you create from type, color, and art direction? Can you source some of this from your customers? Can you create tension through contradictions?