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One of the easiest ways to accelerate the process of becoming recognized, remembered and trusted is to create consistency in your brand. When it comes to this, nothing is more important than your brand visuals because this is the information that’s processed the fastest (within milliseconds!). To create that consistent visual style — enter the brand board to make it all easier.
The brand board defined: Simple but powerful, a brand board is an at-a-glance arrangement of all of your most essential visual branding elements (logos, fonts, colors, etc.) that you can refer to be inspired, and let’s be honest… to jog your memory. 😎 By referring to your brand board and staying within the guidelines you see there, you’ll begin to establish a distinct brand identity.
We humans have identities that help other people understand us and it’s no different with your brand. Your visuals, in fact, are what humanizes your brand and attracts people to you before they even have a chance to get to know you better. Powerful stuff!
Just take a look at the three personal brands below. Can you tell just by glancing at them which one is daring, which one is warm, and which one is quirky? Of course, you can. I’m willing to bet each of these ladies possess all of these qualities, but they’ve honed in on the qualities they want to become FAMOUS FOR and that’s what you want to keep in mind.
(If you’re not 100% sure exactly what a brand board is, take a quick peek at my brand board inspiration file on Pinterest before we dig in.)
Whether you’re a designer looking to learn how to prepare a brand board for your brand identity projects for clients or you’re a branding your own blog or business, I’m going to break down exactly what goes into a great brand board and the easiest way to create yours!
Elements of a Brand Board
Depending on the branding project, there are usually variations for what I include in a brand board. For example, sometimes the logo I design allows me to create patterns from the elements and sometimes not. But generally speaking, these are the common elements I include:
Logo & Variations
These days, it’s pretty uncommon to get away with just one version of your logo. That’s because we usually need our logo to work horizontally for things like website headers and we also need it to work in a square (or “stacked”) for use on social media.
(Imagine the avatar you use on Facebook, for example — a horizontal logo won’t cut it, and I’ve seen many business owners find this out the hard way and need to redesign their logo! You can learn more about how to design an effective logo here.)
I also recommend showing it in one color (if it doesn’t work in one color, it’s not truly functional). Clients don’t always understand this, but they “get it” when they need to do low-cost printing, get something embroidered, or create a stamp… so it’s important to always give them that option.
If you’re designing your own logo, something for you to think about as well (how would it look if you could only print it in just black ink?)
Problems often happen when you’re putting text on TOP of a graphic element or you’re using color, textures, transparencies and gradients (all the fancy things). They can look fantastic in full Technicolor but turn into an ink blob otherwise.
Here’s an example of such a logo that uses lots of color. It’s for an online community and I knew it wouldn’t be a problem, but I still made sure it would function in one color *just in case.* The client isn’t interested (lol) but it’s still important to make sure you’re not setting them (or yourself) up for problems down the road.
You can demonstrate the one-color version by showing it as an overlay or watermark on an image if you want to get fancy. Or, what I often like to do is put it on a colored background (the logo is still one color even though you’re technically using two colors in the presentation). You can also use a mockup and do something like this to make it a bit more fun…
Don’t forget the submark!
What are you going to use for your favicon? For your social media profile pictures? It’s important to make sure you’ve thought that through in advance or it could get awkward. 😉
What’s a submark?
A submark is an element that pulls from the original logo that can be used in a condensed space. My logo is easy because I use a standalone icon…
But what about when you don’t use an icon? I design a lot of typographical logos, for example. In that scenario, what I almost always try to do is do something creative with the first letter of the brand name (that’s just me).
In this example, the “g” can stand alone as a submark…
In any case, it’s something you want to think about as you’re designing the logo. If you’re freelancer or one-person consultancy, you can use your photo for favicon and avatars, so you may not need to worry so much about it. 🙂
In summary, logo information you’ll want to include in your brand board:
- Stacked or Square Logo
- Horizonal Logo
- One-Color Logo
I like to include the color palette as well as the HEX code and RGB/CMYK values so you can quickly refer to the board when using color.
An easy tool to grab your codes is https://coolors.co/.
Now, if you’re planning to use spot color (e.g. Pantone colors), you’ll need to get that information from an analog swatch book. HEX and RGB are for digital use and CMYK is for print (typically low-cost Digital printing). For higher-end printing and precise, absolutely-accurate color matching (for print), you’ll want to also include Pantone swatch colors.
If you don’t sort that out in advance and you ever want to use spot color for printing, you’ll need to match it as close as you can to the CMYK value.
I don’t usually include the font(s) used in the logo design although some designers do. I don’t really see the point because your logo fonts don’t need to be (ideally shouldn’t be) the same as your other brand fonts and once your logo is done, you shouldn’t ever need to “typeset” it again.
I mean you can include it, but it doesn’t serve a functional purpose. Not only that, but I personally put a TON of time and attention on font selection and even customization when I design logos, so I don’t necessarily want to make it easy for other people to “borrow” those ideas when I share my brand boards online. (Again, that’s just me.)
The most important thing is to provide the fonts you’ve selected to pair with the logo to round out the identity: fonts for body copy, headlines and subheads, and any accent fonts that are allowed.
You can learn more about choosing and using brand fonts here, or grab my swipe files that will make it fast & easy for you to choose the right fonts for your projects (all high quality and free for commercial use!).
Patterns are lovely to show so you or your client know what kind of patterns will fit with the overall brand personality and tone.
Sometimes I make my own patterns from scratch and sometimes I just show inspiration so my clients know what to look for to stay consistent.
Icons & Brand Elements
Icon styles are incredibly helpful to include if you want a stylized or specific look to be maintained. Other graphic elements that enhance the brand such as call outs, elements pulled from the logo, and visual devices such as borders can all be included and even demonstrated on your brand board.
This is something I don’t see a lot of designers doing with their brand boards but I find it to be really helpful. I take three or four adjectives that describe the brand personality and write those words right on the brand board.
I call these words “brand anchors” because it anchors your thinking when making design decisions. When you or your clients are looking for patterns or stock photography for example, those words will help you choose wisely.
I also like to include a few images for inspiration so it’s easy to see the types of images that will be in alignment with the overall visual strategy.
A brand guide would go much more in-depth and provide instructions (i.e. “Look for images that [have this quality] and avoid images that [have that quality]”), but including inspirational images on the brand board can really help you stay on brand when using stock or creating your own photography.
Brand Board Examples
Here’s a brand board example so you can see how it all starts to come together…
Tools to Create Your Brand Board
Brand boards can be created using any graphic design tool you feel comfortable with — Canva, Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign.
Personally, I use Adobe Illustrator because it’s by far the easiest for creating simple layouts like this. I know some people — even professional designers! — feel uncomfortable with using Illustrator, but it’s really only intimidating when you’re just starting out if you need to draw something.
For quick layouts? Its the best! One of my best-kept secrets for creating quick graphics and even short documents, actually.
I’ve seen loads of brand board templates for Photoshop and even as a pretty expert Photoshop user, I find it clumsy — Photoshop is the best tool for working with photos and raster images, but this isn’t what this is.
THAT SAID, I know I’m a weirdo and some people work fastest in Photoshop. If that’s you, check out Creative Market — there are some really sweet brand board templates ova’ there.
Canva is most beloved amongst DIYers and it’ll definitely get the job done if you’re creating your own brand identity or it’s what you’re used to using for client work. The only thing is, you need a pro account to really take advantage of their branding tools (upload your brand fonts, store your color palette, etc.).
I like to hook my clients up with their Brand Kit and templates on Canva and creating brand boards with it is super easy too!
I literally just decided to create a brand board for myself (because believe it or not, I didn’t have one lol) and it took me about 10 minutes…
First, I uploaded all of my logos and set my fonts and colors in the Brand Kit area in Canva. That made it super easy once I started creating the document.
Then, all I needed to do is drag and drop my logos, drag and drop a few circle shapes from their “elements” panel and change the colors, and then upload a few more images for inspiration.
The typography was already set in the Brand Kit too — so all I needed to do was drag and drop their text elements and type out the letters. 🙂
You can still create a brand board using the free version of Canva, but you won’t be able to upload custom fonts or store your branding stuff…
Honestly, if you’re not planning to design things for clients or yourself in a hardcore way, Canva pro is the way to go. In terms of maintaining brand consistency and creating the graphics and documents you need, it’s not as powerful as Adobe software, but for the non-designer it’s the easiest thing out there and you’ll get a lot of mileage out of it.
My clients who use Canva to create their branded graphics and documents after our work together is through really like this toolkit of professionally-designed templates. Just apply your branding graphics, fonts, and colors and what they produce goes fast and looks super profesh. Included in the kit are branding templates (including a brand board!).
Now. If you really want to use the best tools out there and learn about design, or if you’re a designer or someone who is planning to offer design services as part of your offerings (marketers, virtual assistants, etc.), Adobe is definitely the way to go. There’s a bit more of a learning curve but you can do so much more with it.
(And, you get the whole suite — Illustrator for vector graphics like logos, infographics, short marketing pieces, etc., Photoshop and Lightroom for Photos, Premiere Pro for video editing, Indesign for Document layout, etc. For learning your way around software quickly, nothing beats the Lynda.com trainings, I’ve been using them for 20 years!)
What I love about Illustrator is that while you’re working, you can assemble all of your elements on your “artboard” and drag them on and off the document and play around with what looks best… This way I can make decisions about what to include by looking at everything at a glance.
No matter which tool you choose, it’s helpful to start with a template.
But, you may need to move things around a bit in order to create an aesthetically pleasing composition — that’s why Illustrator is my go-to for this: you don’t need to monkey around with layers or smart objects, you just drag things around.
I was explaining this to an artist friend yesterday and I said, “Imagine your canvas is the artboard and the gray space around it is the table where you set your paints, brushes, and other supplies.”
I like working that way — being able to spread everything out like a big old kitchen table, and to not have to worry about taking the time to make and label layers and yada yada yada. Once you get in the groove, using Illustrator for things like this goes FAST.
The key is to think of your brand board like a “grid” — you’ll want to make sure everything lines up. Use rulers and guides and the “align” tool to make sure everything is pixel-perfect.
Download the FREE Brand Board Template for Adobe Illustrator
You didn’t think I’d leave you hanging, did ya? You can download my brand board template below. You’re free to use this both in your personal and commercial projects! Enjoy!
Taughnee Stone is an award-winning designer, brand strategist, and location-independent business owner for over 15 years. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, she now lives in Croatia with her husband, energetic Samoyed, and three bossy cats.