Category Archives: Graphic Standards

Colorful Branding – Number 1 in a series

Without doubt, color is a vital element of branding. Except for a powerful brand name, color is the most important branding element, in my opinion, because of the emotional power of color.

Color invokes associations and set moods. It may be a “subliminal” element in that most people will not consciously be aware of a brand’s color(s) or the associations it evokes. In fact, unless a color is absolutely prominent (and may even have the color’s name in the brand name – GreenThumb, Selsun Blue), most people could not name a color associated with a brand unless its been around for years – think Kodak, Scott’s, Tide and UPS.

The emotions elicited from colors can be greatly influenced by the context in which it appears. For example, green is the color of money and suitable for financial service businesses. But it is also the color of trees, lawns and shrubs so environmentally-conscious brands will probably opt for green. Green is also associated with “green light”, “green horn”, Kermit the Frog and a Jolly Green Giant.

Then, too, colors may signify different associations in different cultures. For the Japanese, white is associated with death, whereas in Western culture it stands for purity and beginnings. Care in selecting colors for a global brand is almost as important as selecting a brand name that “translates positively”.

HGB color wheel

Another factor: most brands have multi-colored visages. So what happens when two colors tend to “contradict” each other? What affect does the FedEx  purple and orange have on target audiences, if any? Just another factor to consider when establishing the elements of your brand.

Then there are other ways to combine and contrast colors based on color theory and the color wheel. These techniques will provide cohesion, harmony, vitality, tension, serenity, and any number of other reactions to  the brand.

So this series will tackle color. I’ll start with blogs about each of the major colors, then speak to color combinations and then to color theory as it pertains to branding.

So please keep coming back to explore colorful branding facts, ideas and opinions, and please let me hear from you about your experiences with color in branding.

Branding Basic – Step 11

Now you have your name and logo, and possibly a tagline.
Now the challenge is to use these elements in a consistent and professional manner whenever you have the opportunity to display and promote your brand.
This can become difficult. Particularly when you’re under the gun.
The media salesperson, bless her/his heart, volunteers to “recreate” your logo for their ad so you won’t be late for the meeting. You give this Samaritan your business card as an example and thank him/ her with great sincerity. Until you see how they butchered the logo in the final ad.
Over time it gets worse. You mislay the repro sheets, or your assistant accidentally deletes the logo file for 2-color reproduction. You forget the PMS color for your logo. The recommended proportion for logo to tagline disappears. With more employees needing to imprint the logo and the brand “look” to more and more materials, one or two will take matters into their own hands and “redesign” on the spot with the resources they have handy. Your new graphics designer decides you should be using the type face Americana because it’s now all the rage.
All these “little” course adjustments add up and you find, like so many small businesses do, that they are sailing “off the edge”. Their brand has no consistent personality. Their brand has become unfocused and diluted.

I’ve taken four fairly long paragraphs delineating the problem because it’s so insidious and niggling.

The answer is relatively simple if you’ve taken my advice about hiring an experienced logo designer. A veteran designer will want to develop graphic standards for your brand.

A graphic standards document, usually in the form of a .pdf file, will display and describe accepted use and variations of the logo itself, identify colors for the logo for use in printing (PMS) and electronic applications (RBG), provide specifications for stationery, recommend compatible type faces, possibly recommend a color palette for promotional materials, describe the placement and proportion of the logo with a tagline and/or a descriptor, and finally, set down rules (policy) for all to follow – employees and suppliers alike.
Accompanying this document will be the files of the various accepted logo variations and formats, with recommendations for acquiring the preferred accompanying fonts. Make two copies, one on a CD, and another for day-to-day use. Also make copies of the standards and distribute them to all graphic arts vendors and tell them to use it. Make copies for your employees, too.

This would be a minimum, though probably all that’s required for a start-up company, to assure consistent and professional logo usage.

Martin Jelsema

Naming Tips: Number 12 in a Series

In a previous entry in this series, I mentioned exploring the words that define colors (i.e., red, blue, etc.) in brand names because they invoke emotional responses just like the hues do.

Now comes another source of large lists of brand name candidates.

Many paint companies name their various shades and hues of paint with compelling and descriptive names. These same names can be inspiration for product names, and yes, for company names as well.

You can venture to your local Home Depot or Lowes and pick up some sample color strips, or better yet, visit the web sites of the following paint companies:

Now here’s another tip, but this one’s not about naming.

You can use these websites, as well as those of Dutch Boy and Benjamin Moore, to view and select color combinations you might want to use for logos or packaging. You get to select and match colors on-line. And if your brand is web-oriented, you’re seeing the colors as they’d be on your web site.

Just download the graphics containing your selection, open the jpeg in your imaging software, use the color-picker feature and there you have your palette. Then if you’re into trade dressing, you’ve also identified paint colors for your walls and fixtures.

Pretty neat if I do say so myself.

Martin Jelsema

Branding Basics – Step 9

Now the brand needs a logo.

Here is where many entrepreneurs stub their toes. Here they have a momentary lapse of judgment.

Since their sons or daughters are pretty good on the computer, and there’s software named “Logo Creator” or “Business Logos in Minutes”, they believe they can cut corners and do-it-themselves.

I’ll stir the pot a little here by saying: “how can a novice create a powerful logo when most graphic artists can’t create powerful logos?”
Non-designers (and I include here design students and other acquaintances without logo design experience) will make a lot of unprofessional mistakes that are just “nits” to most entrepreneurs. They don’t consider such things as: kerning and line spacing, proportion of graphic to logotype and of logotype to tagline, color selection for consistency in all media, typeface selection that’s relevant to the brand story, need for variations in different media and context, scalability, legibility, need to document specs for future applications, and a myriad other details that surround the main theme of the logo.
And main theme problems abound, too. They include reverting to cliché, rendering the name illegible through “gimmick” technique, over-designing so it won’t convert to very small or very large display, using an icon no one understands or appreciates, introducing extraneous and distracting elements, considering how the logo will interact with other brand elements, selecting an inappropriate type style or piece of clipart.

Another favorite approach designers take is to take initial caps from the brand name and somehow make that their logo. Now IBM and GE made that work, but especially for a start-up company, I believe the entire name should be part of the logo. Initials in and of themselves have no personality let alone meaning. Unless you’ve plenty of money and time, relying on initials to establish a brand is pretty tenuous. (Incidentally, “logo” used to mean the name rendered uniquely, but common usage allows the graphic elements accompanying the name to be considered part of the logo.)
Now, convinced you should seek help, where do you go? I suggest you go to an established graphics designer with credentials in logo design. You might ask for references and ask those references about how the designer approached the project based on the discussion presented here.
Then provide the designer with direction, including your brand platform (Step 5), your brand story (Step 6) and your naming brief (Step 7).
There are four reasons many graphic artists have a problem creating powerful logos:
1.   They weren’t given direction about the logo’s function within the brand.
2.   They become enamored with the design aspects of initial caps.
3.   They tend to think beauty before function.
4.   They tend to follow the latest trend in logo design (now it’s arches and arcs
So have discussions about your brand and share your branding story and vision with the designer. Then give them direction. Don’t worry, a competent designer will appreciate getting direction based on strategy. It will not curtail the “creative process”.
Tell them you do not want a logo based on the initials of the name – you want the entire name as part of the logo. Tell them how you anticipate using the logo. Tell them how it should interact with other elements like taglines, product/divisional designations, logos of partners. Also, give them your personal “sacred cows” and “taboos” up front.
Then, make sure they know they can call you anytime to test an idea they may come up with. They’ll almost never call, but make sure they have permission, and that they understand the importance you attach to the logo as part of the brand.
In addition to the logo, I also suggest you find out from your preferred designer how they intend to document the use and reproduction of the logo for various applications. We’ll cover this in more detail in the next step.

Beware of Complicated Logo Designs

I recently offended the proud owner of a brand new logo. She had just paid a lot of money to a well-respected design center for a logo in full-color with gradients, fine line work and copy-over-icon.
Even though it passed all the designer-important standards (good use of contrasting colors, relevant imagery, proper proportions, a distinctive typeface), it was too limiting for real-world applications.
There was no way you could have used the logo in a black & white ad. If it were reproduced smaller than an inch wide, it was illegible. There were no allowances for reproduction as jewelry or ad specialty applications. It had been designed to look good on fine paper and on the website, and without regard for any other application.

When I pointed that out, the owner accused me of being jealous and walked out. Sorry, she wouldn’t leave me a copy to show you.
Here’s another example of pushing an original logo design past its limits. Just south of Denver is a relatively new community, Highlands Ranch. It’s a planned community developed by big money. They went all out in designing streets, neighborhoods and, yes, their brand..

But their logo stinks.

They’ve taken a dramatic piece of art depicting an eagle (I think) taking off into the wind. Its feathers are in disarray just as they would be in nature. Quite dramatic. But then for almost every sign in the community – from major “entering” monolithic displays to street signs, they display the logo in silhouette as shown here.

Highlands Ranch logo - b&w

Without the explanation, I’ll bet you too would be hard-pressed to identify this icon, this symbol of a city.

A note: look at the small logo from Todd’s And Top 150 below my signature. In larger sizes, it’s a colorful, unusual and relevant logo. But look what’s happened to it when shrunk to a smaller size. You can’t read it or identify the Lego blocks as Lego blocks. Oh, well.

The moral is to ask your designer to design a logo that can be used in a variety of applications, from one-column “help-wanted” newspaper ads to four-color 24-sheet posters. Also ask them to sacrifice their “artistic” mind-set for something both relevant to the project and intelligible to viewers.

There are certain criteria I apply to logo design, but that’s the subject of a future blog.
Martin Jelsema

Power 150: ranked 118