How to Design a Brand Identity System That Works for Your Clients

There’s a difference between having a simple, run-of-the-mill brand identity, and having a flexible brand identity system that really works.

If you’re building a new brand, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Simply having a logo doesn’t guarantee your brand identity system is going to work for you.

Why is that?

There’s a difference between having a simple, run-of-the-mill brand identity, and having a flexible brand identity system that really works.

What’s the difference?

The key word is system.

A great brand identity is a system of elements working together to provide unity, consistency, and flexibility. This system of elements can be broken down into three main pieces of your brand identity:

Visual Brand Identity

Because it’s visible to the outside world, your brand identity is what people tend to focus on first. This includes:


Your logo should be the core of your brand identity system. It’s the combination of words, symbols, and design elements that helps identify your product or service. You logo need not literally show your audience what you do, but rather become a symbol for your unique offerings.

You should be able to use your logo consistently. It should work well large (like a sign or billboard), small (think social avatars and favicons), in color, black and white, in print, and on screen.

And in almost every instance, the more simplified your logo, the better.

2. Alternate mark

To add even more flexibility to your brand identity system, consider utilizing an alternate mark. Your alternate mark could be as simple as removing the words from your logo. Think Nike or Target. Or your alternate mark could also be a rework of your design elements – picture a horizontal, all-type Starbucks sign, compared to the badge version of their logo that surrounds their siren mark.

This doesn’t have to be a completely different design from your main logo. However, many professional sports teams have secondary logos—like a monogram, patch, or mascot—that differs from their main logo.


3. Color palette

One of the fastest ways to create a recognizable brand identity system is to own a color.

Most brands utilize anywhere from one to three main colors. As such, if you’re limited to just one color for a marketing piece, you should probably lean on your primary brand color.

To provide even greater flexibility, consider developing an expanded palette of complementary, secondary, and tertiary colors.

Although your brand hierarchy will likely focus on your main colors, these secondary color palettes can help keep your marketing pieces feeling fresh and unique. Depending on your color needs, you may want to consider building out a deeper palette of optional colors using tints and shades.

4. Typography

Not to be overlooked, a great brand identity system needs an equally strong family of typefaces.

Similar to selecting your color palettes, first select a typeface that will be a strong complement to your logo and other design elements. And in addition, you’re likely to want secondary typographic options to provide contrast and hierarchy across various media.

Consider using your main display typeface for headlines, a lighter serif or sans-serif for body text, and perhaps something with a little more character for pull quotes or other call-outs.


5. Extended visual language

Although some brand identity systems may end there, your system may include other elements that make up your visual language. This may include the content or style of your photographic elements, or the approach to the design of your icons. What other design elements does your brand need?

6. Your brand voice

What does your brand sound like? What does your brand talk about? What does your brand know? What does it not know? Between marketing materials, sales scripts, and online content, your brand is going to be saying a lot of things. It’s important that you understand what that voice should sound like.

This E-Book from Distilled does a great job of walking you through the basics of establishing a voice for your brand identity. Make sure that your voice and tone align with your brand’s style and essence.

7. Brand identity standards

Lastly, consider codifying your brand identity system in an easy-to-reference brand identity standards manual, also known as a brand book, or style guide.

This guide should have a section for each of the categories above, providing enough direction to ensure unity and consistency, while allowing enough wiggle room to discourage every piece from feeling identical.

One system to rule them all

So clearly, a great brand identity system requires much more than a logo. But if you’re willing to take the time to create standards and consider how the system will work with your logo and other elements, you’re guaranteed to have more flexibility, consistency, and unity across your entire brand identity.

What other elements would you include in a great brand identity system? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Subscribe to
The Spark!

Join brand managers everywhere getting smarter about marketing each week.

Oops! There was an error sending the email, please try again.

Awesome! Now check your inbox and click the link to confirm your subscription.