In the ever-evolving realm of design, the lines between branding and graphic design are often blurred, prompting us to ponder a fundamental question — Branding vs. Graphic Design: What Sets Them Apart? The conversation was sparked and brought to the forefront by James Greenfield, CEO, and founder of the renowned design studio, Koto, when Nationwide, a prominent UK building society, recently ventured into a rebranding endeavour.
‘Branding understands a company's identity has many components to consider. That the design is one part of the whole experience for the customer. That every brand needs a strategy. That a company identity never exists in the vacuum of a Figma artboard.
70% of the population are visual dominant when it comes to identifying and remembering the brand talking to them. You have to be able to boil a brand down to its icons and know they work in every situation.
One of the basic starter points in any branding process? The competition.’
While both play integral roles in shaping a company's visual identity, they serve different purposes and encompass distinct aspects of the branding process. In this article, we'll delve into the key differences between branding and graphic design, highlighting the essential elements that set them apart.
Understanding the Essence of Branding
At its core, branding is a holistic approach to defining and communicating a company's identity. It involves a multifaceted strategy that extends far beyond visual aesthetics. Here are some fundamental aspects that characterise branding:
1. Comprehensive Identity: Branding acknowledges that a company's identity comprises numerous components, including its values, mission, vision, culture, and more. It recognises that design is just one facet of the entire brand experience.
2. Customer-Centric Approach: Effective branding places the customer at the centre of the equation. It seeks to understand the customer's needs, preferences, and perceptions to create a brand that resonates with the target audience.
3. Strategic Thinking: Branding is strategic in nature. It involves developing a clear roadmap for how a brand will be perceived, both in the short term and the long term. It's about crafting a narrative that consistently communicates the brand's essence.
4. Holistic Perspective: A strong brand identity exists beyond the confines of design tools like Figma or Photoshop. It encompasses every touchpoint where customers interact with the brand, from website navigation to customer service interactions.
5. Visual Dominance: Research shows that approximately 70% of the population are visually dominant when it comes to identifying and remembering brands. While branding involves various elements, visual identity remains a critical component.
The Role of Graphic Design
Graphic design, on the other hand, is a subset of branding. It's the creative execution of the brand's visual identity. Here's what sets graphic design apart:
1. Visual Communication: Graphic design is primarily concerned with visual communication. It uses design elements such as typography, colour, imagery, and layout to convey a message, evoke emotions, and engage the audience.
2. Aesthetic Appeal: Designers focus on creating visuals that are aesthetically pleasing and aligned with the brand's identity. They ensure that the brand's visual elements are cohesive and consistent across various materials.
3. Tangible Deliverables: Graphic design produces tangible assets, including logos, business cards, brochures, websites, social media graphics, and more. These assets serve as the visual representation of the brand.
4. Artistic Expertise: Graphic designers possess artistic skills and technical proficiency to bring creative concepts to life. They use their expertise to craft visually compelling designs that resonate with the target audience.
Branding in Practice: Starting with the Basics
Having established a clear distinction between branding and graphic design, let's delve deeper into the practical process of branding. A pivotal initial step in any branding endeavour is gaining a comprehensive understanding of the competitive landscape. Here's why this foundational process is indispensable:
1. Contextual Understanding: In a marketplace teeming with competitors, a brand must equip itself with profound insights into its rivals. Delving into competitors' strengths, weaknesses, and market positioning offers a priceless backdrop against which a brand can craft its own identity. This contextual understanding serves as the bedrock for every strategic branding move.
2. Forging a Unique Value Proposition: By dissecting and evaluating competitors, a brand can pinpoint gaps in the market and untapped opportunities to offer something distinctive. This venture paves the way for the creation of a unique value proposition, setting the brand apart from the competition. It's about carving a niche and giving potential customers a compelling reason to choose this brand.
3. Leveraging Target Audience Insights: Examining the landscape of competitors is not merely about sizing up the opposition; it's also about gleaning precious insights into the preferences and behaviours of the target audience. This information is instrumental in tailoring the brand's messaging and design to resonate profoundly with potential customers. It ensures that the brand's identity aligns seamlessly with the desires and expectations of its audience.
In essence, branding is an intricate orchestration of multiple components that extend beyond the visual realm. While graphic design plays a pivotal role in shaping the brand's visual identity, a comprehensive branding strategy encompasses the entire journey, from market analysis to customer engagement. It's the synergy between these elements that ultimately crystallises a brand's unique identity and its capacity to forge authentic connections with its audience.