The Logo Comes Last: Developing an Effective Brand Identity

Juan Castillo
Creative Director

My design team and I recently had the exciting opportunity to develop the brand identity for a new product from scratch. When our client, Global Electronic Technology, approached us with this project, their new product didn’t even have a name yet. We just knew that it would be a payment processing platform (Think of the services that companies like PayPal, Stripe, or Authorize.net offer merchants and vendors–basically anyone selling stuff). It was up to Endertech to develop the name, slogan, logo, and accompanying style guide.

As a designer, I’m always eager to jump straightaway to the visual part of developing a brand identity. While a logo is indeed the linchpin for a brand’s visual identity, often serving as the basis for the color palette, typography, etc., it also encapsulates the brand’s spirit and values. These are things that can’t be defined by the logo; rather, they must be defined first and then inform the design of the logo.

To that end, my team and I followed what we felt was a logical, orderly process. First, we defined the brand with written Brand Statements. These statements then facilitated the process of coming up with a suitable name for the product. Together, the brand statements and name in turn informed the design of the logo. Finally, the logo then informed the other visual aspects of the brand identity–the color scheme, the font and typographic rules, and other guidelines.

Of course, not every branding project will entail this entire process; however I hope that the case study I outline below can serve as a template.

Brand Statements

Before even coming up with a name, we wanted to distill the concept, values, and other attributes of the new product into a few concise brand statements. We started the process with a free-form whiteboarding session. My design team and the client’s team wrote down adjectives and phrases that we wanted the product to embody. We started very broadly, coming up with dozens of words, which we then whittled down to what we felt were the most salient attributes of the product.

In subsequent sessions, the client went into further detail regarding the product’s functionality, its position within the market, as well as the desired customer impression and experience with the product. We synthesized our learning into three statements: Position, Promise, and Character.

For the product’s Position, we focused on its comprehensive feature set and customizability. We realized there is an intrinsic dichotomy in the product between the fact, on the one hand, that it will be used by a wide range of companies in different industries and of different sizes, and on the other hand, that each individual customer will experience the product in a unique way that is tailored specifically for them. One slogan idea to come out of the Position statement was “Made for everyone; made just for you.”

For the product’s Promise, we reiterated the product’s flexibility and customizability, while concluding that the product should also be state-of-the-art, secure, and both user- and developer-friendly.

Finally, for the product’s Character, we focused less on the hard functionality (facilitating taking payments) and market positioning and more on intangible qualities, like the kind of experience the user should have with the product and the kind of emotions the product should evoke. The client promised the product would offer a polished and seamless user experience. They wanted the product to exude feelings of friendliness, competence, and a forward-thinking attitude.

Brand Name

With the brand statements in hand, my team and I were ready to delve into the task of actually coming up with a name for the new product. In brief, the product would be a state-of-the-art payment processing platform that offered customizability and flexibility, and whose polished user experience would inspire confidence and exude reliability and security.

We once again did research individually and then came together for a group brainstorming session.

As with the brand statement exercise, we initially took an “anything goes” approach, throwing out dozens of keywords and concepts we felt reflected the position, promise, and character of the new product. We then took stock of everything we had produced, rejecting what we deemed to be the weakest ideas, and ordering and categorizing the best ideas.

We found that all of the names fell on a spectrum, with literal names on one end and figurative, or metaphorical, names on the other, with “transitional” names falling in between.

The literal names all had some reference to payment or money in them, for example Payable or EdgePay. For existing examples, we pointed to PayPal and Authorize.net.

The transitional names all still made reference to money, payment, or credit cards, but did so in a more oblique manner–for example Silvr, Green, or Plastic. Companies like Stripe (as in the magnetic strip on the back of a credit card) or Square (the shape of its proprietary card reader) go this route.

Finally, we offered more abstract names that again made reference to money or monetary transactions, but only in the most roundabout way. For example, Moneda is based on the word many romance languages use for “coin.” Another abstract name we proposed was Vesta, after the Roman goddess of the hearth and agriculture–the bounty of a good harvest being an analog to material wealth. The abstract category was represented by existing companies in BrainTree and Moneris.

We offered this range of options to the client because we felt each approach was equally legitimate and viable. We didn’t want to prematurely limit the options when we didn’t know what the client would respond to, or how conservative or adventurous they would be in their preferences.

After some deliberation, both among the client’s team, and between their team and ours, EdgePay emerged as the winner. They liked the inclusion of the word “pay” in the name, and liked that “edge” reflected the product’s state-of-the-art and forward-thinking qualities.

Logo (and Style Guide)

With the brand defined verbally, and the product given an actual name–EdgePay–Endertech’s design team was at long last ready to dive into the visual aspects of the branding.

Similarly to the previous phases of this project, my fellow designers and I first cast a wide creative net, quickly sketching out dozens of concepts and exploring many different paths. We knew that many of these paths would turn out to be dead ends, but initially, we didn’t want to reject any idea before giving it full consideration. Even a weak logo could contain one strong aspect that would find its way into a better logo.

In successive internal rounds, we gradually winnowed out the concepts we felt were weaker, while incrementally refining the stronger ones. Eventually, we were left with the final ten candidates (with some variations) to propose to the client. We made sure that each logo in the final batch was one we’d be happy with if the client chose to use it. Each logo had its own strengths, and the group overall was varied–as with the name proposals, we wanted to give the client a range of options.

During the presentation, we made a case for each logo, pointing out how it embodied the brand values and how it might be expanded into a full suite of visual brand elements. Some logos were more conventional, incorporating classic corporate colors and staid graphics and typography, while some were more avant-garde and adventurous, with more striking graphics and type and color choices.

To our surprise–and pleasantly so–the client was rather decisive in picking a winner. They chose the first concept in the presentation outright, requiring no further revisions. The winning logo was on the more conservative end of the spectrum of options, but was nevertheless a strong choice.

The final logo features a customized version of the Avenir typeface, a classic geometric sans-serif font. Avenir is part of a style of modern fonts developed in the early 20th century that use the circle as the basic shape underlying their letterforms; unlike other similar fonts such as Futura, Avenir is not slavishly geometric, incorporating “humanist” or organic elements from traditional fonts to improve legibility, such as an “o” that is not perfectly round, or a lowercase “t” with a tail. We tweaked the font slightly to match the slant of the logo’s graphical symbol, a stylized “EP,” and created a custom “y” character that matches the curved tail of the “g.” Avenir also became the primary typeface in our branding guidelines. It is a strong choice owing to its timeless modernity and cleanness; it is neutral but nevertheless friendly, and lends itself to a wide range of applications. Companies as varied as Apple, Best Buy, and Walt Disney theme parks have used them in their corporate identities.

Another strength of the logo is that it works both as a full logo with symbol and wordmark, and as a standalone symbol. The symbol is distinctive and memorable. Its simplicity allows it to be rendered at small sizes (for example, on business cards), or blown up to become an abstract graphical element of a design. It is our hope that as EdgePay becomes an established brand, the client will be confident enough to use the symbol exclusively on its own.

Finally, the logo incorporates a classic corporate color–navy blue. The specific hue and shade we chose felt stylish and modern, conservative without feeling stuffy or boring. Additionally, navy blue is considered a neutral color, so it can complement brighter, more vibrant and saturated colors–thus EdgePay’s brand identity does not necessarily have to be pigeonholed into the traditional “corporate” look-and-feel.

Conclusion

When we finally got to the logo design phase near the tail end of this project, we found that the design process was fun, stimulating, and resolved quickly–both the client and our team were happy with the outcome, and there was no hint of contention along the way. All of the iteration happened internally within our team, with no back-and-forth with the client that in my experience can bog down a project and create friction that hinders creativity. However, I believe things would have gone much differently had we jumped the gun and delved straight into the visual aspects without first developing the brand statements and therefore having a strong sense of the values and concepts the brand should express visually.

My experience with this project affirmed one of the fundamental principles of design that I have learned–that effective design is 90% ideas, and 10% actual visualization. Of course, a design should be aesthetically pleasing and well-executed; however, a strong concept is crucial to an effective design. What separates design from art is that design is not an end in itself, but rather is a vessel for an idea–whether it’s a sign at an airport that must clearly convey important information to travelers, or a logo such as the one we designed for EdgePay which sells a product by embodying the brand’s values and evoking specific emotions and cultural associations in the consumer. An attractive design with a weak concept behind it is just a pretty picture, but a polished design with a well-considered conceptual basis is more than the sum of its parts.

- Juan CastilloCreative Director | 

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