Beware of ‘brand designers’

Back in the day, when I started as a freelance logo designer in 2008, my way of ‘designing brands’ was all about putting together a fancy brand presentation and mockups as a ‘brandbook’.

Along with the logo itself, I’d usually include some logo usage guidelines, typography rules, colour schemes and basic colour psychology notes. I’d even use the brand statements and brand values the client would tell me, to personalise the brandbook a little bit more.

I’d throw in a few mockups with the logo slapped on a billboard, t-shirt and a car, using some standard templates that I could re-use for all my clients, to help convince them to accept the beautiful new ‘brand’ I’d created. If my client was excited enough about the visual side of the ‘brand’, I’d have a happy client and another successful project.

But I always found the work of coming up with fancy branded statements and values to be very difficult, and somewhat pointless. It always felt forced and awkward. At the time, I thought this was down to my inexperience, but now I’ve learned that my intuition was in fact correct….

Because a brand is not just about visuals

Brand is not a logo

The common misconception is that a brand is a logo. But that’s not true at all. The logo is just one part of the brand’s visual identity, which is in turn just one small part of the brand as a whole.


According to The Lean Brand (a great book that I’d strongly recommend):

“A brand is a relationship between an organization and an audience… Branding is the aggregate effect of both the intentional and unintentional activities taken by the organization or the audience in establishing and maintaining their relationship”

Let’s think about how your company’s activities might alter the relationship you have with your audience:

As with any relationship, if we wish to be viewed in a certain way, we have to earn this position. You’re still allowed to set a target or a goal for how you want your brand to be perceived, but just because you define a value in a brandbook doesn’t mean you can magically force your customers to feel that way about your company. Just because my business card says I am “The world’s best brand designer” doesn’t make it true! As The Lean Brand says:

“A brand is what people say about you when you leave the room”

If you want to claim a value for your brand (‘trustworthiness’, for example), then the only way to sustainably achieve this is to put a lot of effort into building relationships with your customers that live up to that value.

These brand values I was dropping into my brandbooks are massively important, for sure, but a designer who is creating a logo for you can’t create these values by herself.

So who is responsible for branding?

We’re starting to see how much work goes into building a brand and how far it goes beyond designing visual artefacts. While designers might not have the power to build a whole brand by themselves, they can definitely contribute to brand development, especially if we’re talking about their role in visual identity design. Another great quote from The Lean Brand explains this:

“Graphic designers, UX/ UI designers, and web designers can be excellent at creating visual artifacts that point back to your brand . . . but they do not create brands. They simply reflect them.”

So it’s definitely a good idea to find people who you can bring in to help you with this huge task, but you can’t consider branding as something that can be fully outsourced to a visual designer who calls himself ‘brand designer’.

Instead of looking into ‘brand designers’, imagine yourself to be one. Because really, you are the one who has the control of how your company’s brand appears. You’re the one who not only has that right to call yourself a ‘brand designer’, but actually the power to design, build and develop your brand.

I’d advise caution: think very carefully when you’re looking at branding activities you might want to outsource. There’s still a great role for a skilled designer to help you build your brand, but that role should be alongside you, as the ‘brand designer’. Bring those designers in, to help you add the most value to your brand at the right place at the right time. But beware the expert ‘brand designer’ who promises to take care of the whole job by themselves!

Related reads that might be interesting for you:

And take a look at our Playbook for more information about how Hanno approaches visual identity and branding for startups, businesses and products.