Designing for digital throws up a host of challenges. Our panel of pro designers share their top tips for mastering truly cross-platform branding
When it comes to branding, client demands are continuing to increase – and the majority of the extra work put on designers revolves around digital, whether that’s for a website, app or other digital consideration. Clients want the latest technology and all the goodies that come with it, while assuming the rules of the game haven’t changed. This can pose some interesting challenges and test even the tightest working relationships.
The merits of digital platforms – ubiquity, access, scalability, continuous development – can also be the very same aspects that present the biggest challenges for designers. How does a brand stand out from the crowd? How do you retain control? How do you design for multiple devices and sizes? How do you future-proof?
Some of these questions don’t possess simple answers. However, we’ve spoken to a broad cross-section of design-industry professionals to find out how they deal with the day-to-day challenges of digital branding and logo design. These pro tips will provide you with a unique insight into one of the most imposing, yet rewarding areas of design.
1 THINK ABOUT THE MEDIUM
Ensuring brands work in a digital context is no longer a choice. Peter Knapp, global creative officer at Landor Associates, explains: “Brands have to work across multiple channels because digital is part of our everyday lives. The responsibility for us as designers is to ensure that brand personality is expressed appropriately for the medium on which it resides. Have you thought about how the user will interact with each iteration?”
2 DON’T JUST BOX-TICK
As a designer, the temptation to box-tick sometimes raises its head. Don’t do that. Instead, try and help clients understand the new digital challenges they face. “As trusted partners, we have a duty to advise and provide insights to client challenges, not just choose an easy execution route,” Knapp continues. “Listen to client problems. Understand what expectations they have, and deliver a solution that solves the problem rather than just ticking a box.”
3 PLAY WITH SHAPE
“A tip I give to anyone using Illustrator is spend time playing with basic geometric shapes and the tools,” recommends Dan Moat, designer and director at Tahninial. “Many people find a way to do something and stick with it, but the shortcuts tucked away can be surprising.” He suggests the Pathfinder, panel and Shape Builder tool to start with.
4 MAKE IT SCALE
One of the biggest challenges designers face when they first embrace digital is the relinquishment of full control. The media is no longer a fixed dimension and you have to address this head on. “Digital means multiple devices, big and small,” explains Fadi Shuman, CEO at creative digital agency Pod1. “So your logo must scale appropriately without breaking.”
5 FEWER COLOURS AND SHADES
The K.I.S.S. methodology applies to so many areas of design – and logo production is one of them. “Just like the print days, a simple logo with fewer colours and shades is best,” Shuman continues. “Load times on digital devices and the bug differences in screen resolutions could impact how your logo looks. Keep it simple.”
6 CONSIDER THE URL
It sounds like a simple aspect, but whether to integrate a URL into your logo is vital to consider at the start of each branding project. So, should the URL be included as part of the logo or not? “There’s no single answer,” adds Shuman, “as each brand has different objectives, but this question will always come up – and should always be addressed early on.”
7 KEEP IT STATIC
Does anyone create animated logos for digital campaigns? Clearly they do, because Shuman concludes with this common-sense tip for anyone with a moving mark: “This might seem obvious, but animated logos must have a static version for use outside digital. You would be surprised...”
8 THINK BEYOND THE LOGO
“A brand is everything your company or service does, and it affects how it behaves – both internally with staff and externally with customers,” says Lea Alcantara, creative principal at Lealea Design. Therefore, while it’s often easy to become preoccupied with a logo when you’re working on a branding campaign, it’s essential to communicate how a brand goes far beyond a logo – especially with a digitally focused client.
9 WHAT’S THE STORY?
Creating a story around your visual identity – according to Alcantara – is what will elevate it above an aesthetic trinket. “In terms of visual identity, there are definitely more technical and visual boundaries to explore: brevity is a virtue,” she tells us. “However, make sure a story is part of your logo, otherwise it’s just a pretty mark.”
10 MULTIPLE APPLICATIONS
Sagmeister Inc’s celebrated Casa da Msica rebrand offered up a number of marks and could be applied to numerous applications – something Alcantara believes is vital today: “In order to make a logo work for multiple platforms, consider forms that can have multiple applications, shapes and colours,” she continues. “Consider how you can translate that logo beyond just a mark to place in a corner.”
11 HOLD ONTO THE PRINCIPLES
While digital will throw up its own set of challenges, the basic principles of good branding always remain true. And this advice is worth remembering: “The platform and the medium are irrelevant,” says Dan Clarke, a designer at Lancashire-based collective JP74. “I believe the principles of creating a good brand and mark are always the same, it’s only the application and implementation that change.”
12 THE 16X16 RULE
The favicon test is the Marmite of digital design, and is guaranteed to divide opinion. Paul Lloyd, an interaction designer at UX consultancy Clearleft, is a proponent. He says: “The versatility of any logo can be judged by asking this question: can it be reduced down to a 16x16 pixel favicon and still be recognised? If the answer’s yes, then the rest is easy.”
13 16X16? WHAT?
However, opinion is split about whether a logo should scale down well – and some creatives believe that it isn’t necessary for a logo to ‘work’ as a favicon, because many great logo designs simply can’t be reduced to such a small size. “Creating a logo that works as a favicon is too restrictive and can limit creativity,” says Andrew Kelsall of Andrew Kelsall Design. “However, a logo needs to be part of a wider branding scheme that should always include a favicon for digital use. Both must work well and even complement each other.”
14 HIP TO BE SQUARE
It used to be the case that a good logo could be reduced down to black and white – be that to reduce costs, or for use on fax cover notes – but that’s no longer a primary concern. “Today, I see the main limitation being the square,” says Paul Lloyd. “Whether it’s application icons or social media avatars, if your brand can’t make the most of that space, your efforts may be wasted.”
15 AN ICON? A LOGO? OR IS IT BOTH?
“In this modern age of digital application, you have to consider what the difference is between an app icon and a logo. Are they one and the same?” asks Andrew Kelsall. A logo needs to be part of a wider branding scheme that includes app icons, but – according to Kelsall – you also have to consider the following: “When an initial design for an app icon is sought, how will this work as a logo too?”
16 BE DRAMATIC
If you want to stand out, then injecting a bit of attitude can go a long way to overcoming the challenges that you might face. “Perhaps the most important consideration is that the world is not short of brands,” muses Landor Associates’ Peter Knapp. “When adding a new brand to the commercial battlefield make sure it has a really engaging story and a dramatic aesthetic. If not, it’s just cannon fodder.”
17 DO A GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH
With start-up launches increasing, so, too, do the number of logos vying for attention. So, the question arises: how do you create a logo that is unique? “One crude method you could use is this: when you think you have a great logo idea, create a simple graphic, save it as a JPEG and run it through Google Images,” Andrew Kelsall continues. “Sure, this is not entirely bulletproof, and is not good for every design, but it will provide a useful start by discovering if another company – especially a competitor – has a similar logo already in use.”
18 MAKE IT MEMORABLE
“Logo design in the digital era is a key factor in the representation of companies and the services behind them,” explains Claudio Guglieri, art director at production company B-Reel NYC. “In virtual stores like Google Play or the Apple Store, users are forced to select a specific app based on how their icon looks.” So, when all your hard work as a developer and designer sits behind the icon of your app, you’d better make sure that it’s memorable.
19 DITCH THE COMPLEXITY
In the context of digital, simplifying your designs and colour usage is an important factor, according to Claudio Guglieri. “The need for scaling well on different devices and screen resolutions should push designers to reduce the complexity of shapes or colour palettes used a lot,” he continues. “The Google Chrome logo is a great example of simplicity in terms of structure, colour, and extremely fine-tuned details through subtle gradients or shadows.”
20 CONSIDER BRAND TRAITS
Logos don’t need to tell you everything. A logo must distil what a company or product is all about. And they need to do this at a glance. Simple, huh? “Designers should consider what traits or services are most important to the brand and have that come through in the design,” Seth Weisfeld, creative director at Huge, tells us. “Does the brand believe in simplicity above all else, or excellent friendly customer service, or do they use the utmost quality materials? Find the core essence and let that drive the branding.”
21 OPTIMISE EXPERIENCE
Savvy marketers can build affinity for their brands simply by updating and optimising new digital experiences. “I’m always impressed when a brand goes out of its way to create smart or beautiful mobile experiences,” adds Weisfeld. “If a brand took the time to truly understand what someone might want from their brand in the context of mobile, the chances are their product or service is better than the rest, and I’ll give them my business or loyalty.”
22 YOUR JOB IS TO WORK HARD
“I believe the designer now has to ‘work harder’, not the brand, to make sure the latter translates well across multiple media, as the platform landscape is more varied than ever,” opines Grace Smith, creative principal at Postscript5. What can we say? You knew this one already.
23 REMAIN CONSISTENT
Capturing attention is one of the main challenges of working across digital platforms. One simple way to make this recognition stick is consistency. “A logo drives brand-recognition across multiple platforms so consistency is key, from colour to typefaces,” adds Smith. “It’s imperative to maintain consistency to create memorability.”
24 INCLUDE RGB REFERENCES
“As much as Pantone’s colour bridge tries to mitigate against colour inconsistency, that Pantone you specified for that beautiful uncoated stock isn’t going to translate to screen,” says Jason Bye, production director at MoreSoda. “ensure your brand guidelines include specific RGB colour refs alongside your Pantones and CMYK rather than relying on the Photoshop colour space conversion.”
25 FIX UP, LOOK SHARP
As pixel densities continue to differ across devices, it’s imperative that you are aware of target devices and platforms – and of their differing system specs. “Understanding how to design each brand to take advantage of the finer details of each platform and their individual densities is essential,” Smith continues.