These past couple weeks I’ve been working with one of my first official freelance design clients, making small updates to the original brand and website I created for her 5 years ago.
As I’ve revisited fonts and tweaked colors, I’ve found myself subconsciously using designer tricks that I’ve learned both in design school and by experience.
I haven’t been shy in sharing these design secrets. In fact, you’ll find many of them scattered throughout past Elle & Company blog posts.
But I’ve never compiled them all in one place.
Whether you’ve designed your own brand, hired a designer to create the elements of your brand for you, or you’re a self-taught designer trying to improve your design skills, implementing these insider tricks will help you create a more cohesive, professional brand.
1 | Don’t use your logo font elsewhere
A logo is one of the most recognizable elements of a brand. (And rightly so, because it’s probably the most frequently used!)
It’s front and center on your website, business cards, and any other touchpoint you have with prospective clients and customers.
And if I had to guess, your primary logo font is probably distinctive.
You (or your designer) most likely chose a logo font that stood out so that you could (a) create brand recognition among your audience and (b) differentiate your brand from many other brands in your industry.
For the sake of being cohesive, you may have used that same logo font for things like website headers and blog post graphics.
But the more you use that same font outside of your logo, the less distinctive it becomes.
For that reason, trained designers often refrain from using their logo font anywhere else.
Consider some of the most recognizable brands like Coca Cola or Nike. Do you see them use their logo fonts on any of their other graphics? Very rarely, if ever.
Or take a look at the Elle & Company logo.
The serif font and script ampersand aren’t used anywhere else on my website or collateral items.
Does that make it any less recognizable? No! In fact, it makes the logo stand out even more.
The brand fonts for headers and body text are consistent throughout the rest of my brand, but the Elle & Company logo fonts aren’t used anywhere else.
The same should be true for your primary logo font. Make it stand out more by refraining to use it anywhere else!
Are you interested in learning more about logo design? Check out these related posts:
2 | Use a range of values in your color palette
One of the biggest mistakes I see among amateur brands is a lack of contrast in their color palette.
A well-balanced color palette includes a good mix of light, dark, and mid-tones, regardless of the type of color scheme it uses (monochromatic, analogous, or complementary).
Take a look at your current color palette.
Do you have at least one dark neutral in the mix? If not, add black to one of the colors to create a darker shade or replace one of your existing colors with a darker color.
This darker shade will be great for things like text and headers that need to be very legible.
Do you have at least one light color in your palette? If not, add white to one of the colors to add a lighter shade or replace one of your existing colors with a lighter color.
This lighter shade will be helpful for backgrounds, borders, etc.
Make adjustments to your palette to ensure that the colors you’re using include an array of light, medium, and dark tones to not only add contrast, but to give you more versatility when you implement your brand into your collateral items and website.
Are you interested in learning more about color? Check out this related post:
3 | Choose contrasting fonts
Knowing which fonts pair well together all boils down to one major component: contrast.
(Do you see a recurring theme here?)
The best font pairings are usually those that are very different from one another, either in category, size, or weight.
The contrast doesn’t need to be extreme, but it does need to be noticeable.
Your body text should either be a simple serif or sans serif font that’s easy to read.
You can have a little more fun with header fonts by pulling in a display or script font, increasing the weight of the font, or making it all caps.
These contrast rules (category, weight, and size) aren’t just for your headers and body text; they also apply to the fonts you include in your logo.
Are you interested in learning more about fonts? Check out this related post:
4 | Create one stand-out feature
This insider tip has been etched in my memory since design school when a professor shared that a good logo is one that anyone can draw fairly accurately from memory.
You could have no drawing skills and still manage to draw the Nike check, McDonald’s arches, or Kate Spade spade.
This tip implies two important things about your logo: It should be simple and distinct.
For that reason, you should include one unique, memorable feature within your logo. Just one.
The tendency for most people is to go to one extreme or another.
They either keep their logo too simple (i.e. a hand-lettered logo in a style that’s similar to hundreds if not thousands of other hand-lettered logos out there) or they throw in everything but the kitchen sink.
Does your logo have one distinct feature that could be easily recognized (and even drawn) by those who’ve come into contact with it?
5 | Utilize hierarchy
Our brains are naturally wired to rank items of importance when we view a design.
Every time you look at a website or a menu, you look at the elements of a page in a certain order based on visual cues, probably without even realizing it!
This ranking is called hierarchy, and good designers intentionally use it to call your attention to the things they want you to look at first, second, third, etc.
There are five primary design principles that help create hierarchy in a design:
Color - Our eyes are immediately drawn to bold, contrasting pops of color.
Scale - Larger objects attract more attention than smaller objects.
Proximity - Objects that are close in proximity are often related.
Contrast - Dramatic shifts in color or size signal a change and in turn, grab attention.
Alignment - Order is created through alignment; our eyes naturally follow lines.
Anytime you’re designing anything for your brand - whether it’s a blog post graphic, content upgrade, or a page of your website - consider which items you want people to see first, second, third, etc.
Then, use at least one of the five principles above to call more attention to the most important elements of your design.
Are you interested in learning more about hierarchy? Check out this related post:
6 | Pay attention to negative space
When designing graphics for your brand, there are many instances where you’ll need to place text on top of an image.
Placing your text in the negative space of an image (the open space surrounding the subject of your photo) makes your design look professional.
Not only does it make your text easier to read, but it helps your text stand out.
It seems so simple, but paying attention to the negative space in your design can make a big difference in creating either an amateur or a stand-out graphic.
7 | Maintain consistency
Don’t frequently switch up the core elements of your brand.
You might get the itch to add in a new brand color or change up your fonts, especially if you’re in a creative field. But brand recognition is formed by using the same design elements over and over again.
So make up your mind and stick to it. You’ll have a much more cohesive, professional brand as a result!
Design is all in the details.
Seemingly small changes like utilizing hierarchy and negative space may seem insignificant, but they can have a big impact on how your brand is perceived.
Now that you’re in-the-know, which designer secret surprised you the most? Do you plan on making any changes to your brand after reading this post?