When it comes to building a business, there are a ton of terms you’ll hear getting thrown around—”differentiators” and “KPIs” and “brand recognition,” oh my! But there’s one term that doesn’t quite get the attention it deserves, and it’s the granddaddy of them all—and that’s corporate design.
When we say “corporate design,” we’re talking about more than traditional graphic design; it’s a blanket term used to cover both the strategy (like your branding) and design (like your brand identity) side of your corporate identity. It’s the assets you create (like your logo) and the reasoning behind why you design them in a specific way. It’s both who you are to your customer and how you’re going to deliver your message. So, needless to say, it’s kind of a big deal.
But how, exactly, do you approach corporate design? What are the main components? And how do you create a corporate design that puts you a solid step above your competition and transforms your ideal customers into lifelong brand evangelists for your company?
If you want to know the answers, keep reading.
Why is corporate design important?
Before we jump into how to build the right corporate design for your company, let’s talk about why, exactly, it’s so important.
It acts as the DNA of your brand
Your brand is made up of your branding strategy and your design assets—or, in other words, your corporate design. How you choose to approach your corporate design essentially makes up the DNA of your company; it defines who you are, what you do, and why you’re doing it—and that’s pretty g-darn important, wouldn’t you say?
It gets you from where you are to where you want to be
Your corporate design is like a roadmap of how you build your brand from the ground up. It outlines who you are, where you are, and where you want to go. If you think of your company as a ship, then your corporate design is the captain; it steers all of your decisions, from what to design to how to design it.
It gets everyone on board with your vision and direction
When you clearly outline your corporate design (from both a strategy and design standpoint) it gets everyone on the same page—and will ensure whatever you’re putting out into the world, whether it’s a new product or an ad campaign, will be aligned with who you are as a brand.
A step-by-step guide to corporate design
Alrighty, so now that we’ve established why corporate design is so important, let’s jump into exactly how to make that happen. Here is your step-by-step guide to building your corporate design from the ground up:
Defining your brand
First things first—before you start building your corporate design, you need to define who you are as a brand.
If you don’t know who you are as a brand, it’s going to be dang near impossible to develop your corporate design. You need to define who you are so you can be sure your corporate design is ultimately in line with your brand.
Before you start delving into the strategy and design aspects of building your corporate design, you need to get clear on:
- Who you are as a company
- What you stand for (your mission and values)
- What makes you different from your competitors (and what makes your customers want to work with you)
Once you have those key elements of your brand down, you can start building your strategy and design around them—and your corporate design is born.
Just starting out and aren’t really sure how to define your brand? No worries! That just means it’s time to do a little corporate soul-searching.
If you’re having trouble defining your brand, ask yourself questions like:
- What does our company do better than anyone else?
- What is the best compliment we’ve ever received from a customer?
- Why would someone want to work here?
- What good do we want to do in the world?
- If I could describe our brand in three words, what would they be?
- If our brand was a person, who would it be?
Asking yourself these deep-dive kind of questions will give you insight into who you are as a brand—and can help you lock it in before you move forward in building your corporate design. If you want to learn more, here’s an in-depth article on how to build an identity for your business.
The strategy side
As mentioned, there are two main components to corporate design—corporate strategy and brand design.
We’re starting with strategy because it lays the foundation for the design process; once you have your strategy in place, you can use it to drive your brand design.
When we say branding, we’re talking about the marketing strategy of actively shaping your brand. Your branding is the blueprint for how you want your brand to be perceived in the marketplace—and it’s going to play a huge part in determining what design assets you need, what they should look like, and (ultimately) what you’re going to do with them.
Your branding is about your customers—but the rest of the strategy side of your corporate design is about you and your team, starting with your corporate culture.
How you connect with your team—and how they feel when they come to work—is just as important as how you connect with your customers. Even if you’re just starting out and you’re a company of one, it’s important to start establishing a corporate culture that feels true to who you are as brand.
Are you the kind of brand that encourages new ideas? Do you expect your team to roll up their sleeves and get things done on tight deadlines? Is connecting with your team on a personal level (say, at a weekly happy hour) a part of what you’re trying to build? Do you have a strong corporate mission that you want/need your team to get behind?
The culture you create for your business is a huge part of your corporate design—and will have a huge effect on the way you feel at work, the products or services you create, and how you’re ultimately perceived in the market. So it’s important to make sure there’s strategy and purpose behind your corporate culture.
Policies, procedures, and systems
Most businesses have a pretty good picture of what they want to do—but far fewer businesses have any idea how, exactly, they’re going to do it.
Having the right policies, procedures and systems in place is essential to your strategy. They’re the behind-the-scenes magic that ensures your business runs like a well-oiled machine—and without them, you’re prone to becoming the business equivalent of a chicken running around with it’s head cut off.
Now, keep in mind—your policies, procedures, and systems will change and grow as your company evolves, and that’s totally ok. But you still want to set the standard from the beginning and make sure you have the framework in place to set yourself up for success.
The design side
Now that we’ve covered the strategy side of things, let’s move on to brand design.
Here are the assets you’ll need to bring your corporate design together in a tangible way for yourself, your team, and your customers:
First thing you’ll want to choose is your colors. People have strong associations with colors, and you can use those associations to your advantage. The colors you choose will play a major part in how your brand is perceived in the market, so you want to make sure you choose wisely.
There’s a whole science dedicated to how to use color to influence people (aptly called color psychology), but here’s a quick overview of the different colors, what they mean, and how you can use them to support your brand identity:
- Red: Going for a loud, youthful, and exciting feel? Go with red, the color of passion and excitement.
- Orange: Orange is another exciting color, but it has a more friendly and playful feel. It’s also not as common as red, so it’s the more eye-catching option.
- Yellow: It should come as no surprise that yellow—the color of sunshine—is associated with happiness. If you’re going for a cheerful, fun, and accessible-for-all vibe, yellow’s a great choice.
- Green: When people see green, they typically think of two things—nature or money. If your brand is in any way associated with either of these two things, using green in your brand design is a no-brainer.
- Blue: Blue is the most universally appealing color on the planet, so if you want to appeal to a wide demographic, this is your safest bet. Blue is also associated with stability and trustworthiness, so if you’re trying to establish trust with your audience, blue can help you get there.
- Purple: Purple, the color of royalty, is a good choice if you want your brand to be viewed as high-end or luxurious.
- Pink: Pink is a color traditionally associated with femininity, so if you’re targeting the ladies with your products or services, you’ll at least want to consider this color.
- Brown: Brown isn’t a color that’s used very often in brand design… but that can be a good thing! Daring to be different can help you stand out from the clutter. Brown is also a good choice if you want to be perceived as rugged or masculine.
- Black: Black is all about class and sophistication. If you’re going for a sleek, modern feel, black is a great choice.
Next up, typography. Typography is just what it sounds like—the type (or font) you choose to incorporate in your brand design. There are four major types to consider, and each will give a different look and feel to your brand design:
- Serif fonts have an anchor (they look like little feet!) on the end of each letter. This type is definitely more traditional, so it’s a solid choice if you’re going for a more classic feel for your brand design. Times New Roman is a timeless example of a serif font.
- Sans serif fonts (like Helvetica or Franklin Gothic) don’t have the little feet that serif fonts have. This type is categorized by smooth edges and lends a sleeker, more modern feel to designs. Helvetica is a classic example of a sans serif font.
- If you ever spent hours in elementary school trying to perfect the cursive “Q,” this next type should look familiar. Script typography emulates cursive handwriting and is a great choice for making your brand design feel more luxurious, feminine, or sophisticated. Allura is a classic example of a script font.
- Display fonts are the renegades of the bunch; each font has their own specialized element that defines it, whether it’s a specific shape or a hand-drawn feel (think the lightning bolt “P” in the Harry Potter logo). These fonts are great when you want to make a unique statement and set yourself apart from the competition.
If you want more info on how to choose the right font, make sure to check out our guide to selecting fonts for your brand.
Once you’ve locked in your color palette and typography, it’s time to bring them together to design the most important asset of your brand design—your logo.
Your logo is the face of your company. The crown jewel of your corporate design. It’s the single design asset that people will come to associate with your brand most—so it’s super important it’s an accurate representation of who you are and how you want to be perceived in the marketplace.
Your logo should:
- Clearly communicate who you are as a brand;
- Be easy on the eyes (when it comes to logo design, simple and uncluttered is always best)
- Stand the test of time (the last thing you want is to hop on board a design trend that will feel dated a year from now);
- Make sense for your business and industry;
- Make a real and lasting impact on your audience.
Make sure you put plenty of time and effort into developing a logo that feels on point for yourself and your brand. For more on logo design, be sure to check out our ultimate guide on designing a logo.
Once you’ve got your logo design locked in, you can start building other assets around it. The assets you’ll need will vary depending on your business type and your goals, but might include:
- Business cards
- Marketing materials
The key to brand design is consistency. You want your customers to have the same experience of your brand when they visit your website as they do when they rock one of your t-shirts or read through a marketing pamphlet. If your brand design is all over the place, it’s going to confuse your audience—and ultimately hurt your brand.
Corporate design: your options
Alright, so now that we know what corporate design is and the steps to build it, let’s talk about your options for making that happen.
When it comes to the strategy side of corporate design, it’s important you’re in the driver’s seat. You know who you are and where you want to go, and hiring someone to develop your business strategy for you is not only a waste of time and resources, but it’s also a fast track to a strategy that doesn’t feel like you. Do yourself a favor and do it yourself.
Options for getting your corporate design done
Strategy should be a strictly internal process, but when it comes to design, you have a few more options.
If you’ve already got lots of design experience and a good eye for design, you could go the DIY route and create your design assets on your own. Keep in mind this is only recommended if you come from a strong design background (design isn’t easy, people!).
In-house design team
If you have a lot of design work, you can hire an in-house designer or design team to build your brand design from the ground up. While this works in some business models, it can definitely be a challenge—if you don’t have a specific project for your team to work on, you’re going to be paying them to twiddle their thumbs. Which is why a lot of companies go with the next two options…
Hiring a freelance designer can be a great way to get the design work you need without committing to hiring someone full-time. It’s more affordable and flexible, and once your project is over, you don’t have to worry about overhead.
However, hiring an independent freelancer only works if you know exactly what you’re looking for and can explain that vision to your designer; if not, you’re going to waste a lot of time going back and forth trying to come up with a concept and design that suits you. If you’re not sure what you want, we recommend going with the final option…
Brand identity design contest
A brand identity contest is the perfect option for businesses that aren’t sure how they envision their brand design coming to life. With a brand identity design contest, you put out a design brief and top designers from around the world put together their ideas, concepts, and designs for your brand. You review the samples, choose the best of the pack, and only pay for the design you choose. It’s simple, it’s easy, and it’s the best way to get a lot of ideas without having to pay for large chunks of individual designers’ time.
If you’re looking for an all-in-one, get-it-done-for you package, you might want to consider a design agency. Design agencies typically have ah-mazing designers and can handle everything from ideation to strategy to actual design—but that kind of service is definitely going to cost you. Design agencies may be high quality, but they’re also extremely expensive, so if you’re on a budget that’s definitely something you’ll want to keep in mind.
Wrapping things up
Corporate design is one of the most important concepts in the business world—and now that you know what it is and how to build it, you’re well on your way to developing a corporate design that not only feels true to your brand, but makes a lasting impact on your audience.