How to Build a Better Brand

Creating a strong brand is more than selecting a pleasing color palette and an eye-catching font.

A brand is your identity, whether you’re a company or a community. Your branding tells people who you are, so creating that brand is a crucial early step. But how do you go about creating a brand that feels authentic and speaks to the people you’re trying to reach?

Throughout FHI’s history, our staff has provided a variety of branding services for projects across disciplines. Recent brands range from large-scale transportation efforts, such as the I-84 Hartford Project, to an element of the Plan of Conservation & Development, Plan Bridgeport, as well as for communities themselves. FHI is currently working with the Town of Windham to create a brand and marketing campaign to boost economic development. That experience has given us invaluable insight on the best ways to approach the creation of a brand.

Project Information Designed like a Menu for JC Walks

Begin by Asking Questions

When our designers begin the process of creating branding, they start by asking questions. What kind of project is this? What are the key themes? What story are we trying to tell? “A rebrand for a company is different from a rebrand for a community,” said Shawna Kitzman, a senior planner and graphic designer at FHI. Some common questions the design team asks: “What do you want to achieve with your brand? Are you trying to attract top talent? Are you trying to stand out in the market place?”

As part of our work with the Town of Windham, FHI conducted a series of focus groups, asking residents what they most want people to know about their community. Coupled with an online community survey, those answers will be the basis for this initiative. That input is crucial to the process of creating a brand that people will want to use, and without that buy-in, a new brand won’t be effective. “It’s our job as the designers to take that feedback and translate that into something tangible, into designs and concepts,” Kitzman said.

Brand Early

A key element of creating a successful brand is to undertake that effort as early in the process as possible. “Clients are asking for branding more and more, and we’re happy to deliver it,” Rachel Bright, Visual Communications Specialist said. “It helps set the stage for the project, both in planning and down the road in implementation. It helps clients to connect with their audience.”

Early in the process, designers collaborate with the client and team members to determine how branding will be used. Will the project include a website, social media, boards, flyers, a signage system, or all of the above? Answering these questions early means designers can create a brand that sets a cohesive tone for the project.

“An effective brand works just as well on a business card as it does on a billboard,” says Kitzman.

The design team cycles through a few rounds of revision with the client, eventually deciding on the final look and feel. Once finalized, they develop a Style Guide for use by all team members, including non-designers, to ensure everyone is working with the same visual toolbox. It’s helpful to make room in a project budget for branding creation, as well as an official style guide. “That’s a good way to make sure your brand is used consistently, even after our involvement ends,” Bright explains.


Keep It Simple

The most memorable brands are often the simplest ones. Kitzman cited the Nike logo as an example.

“It doesn’t show every different kind of sport you could play while wearing Nikes. Their logo is a symbol that has motion to it,” she said. “That’s enough, and it translates well across media.”

Our designers aim to create clean, uncluttered brands.

When it comes to branding, the “kitchen sink” approach can result in less-than-stellar results. “We encourage simplicity in logos, rather than trying to incorporate every aspect of a project,” Bright said.


Plan Bridgeport Project Logo

Don’t Forget About Translation

Designers also have to keep in mind the ability of branding to be translated into other languages. Often, FHI’s projects require outreach into communities where English is not the primary language. It’s important that the branding we create works in English and any other language it might need to be translated into, keeping in mind that the same words and phrases can be different lengths in different languages. FHI creates designs with all the necessary languages in mind, so all branded materials are polished and consistent, regardless of what language they’re in.

“It’s not good enough to just translate something,” Bright said. “It has to look good when it’s translated, and evoke the same feelings and tell the same story no matter what language is used.”

Strong Branding Breeds Trust

Creating a brand means creating professional quality materials, because when materials look amateurish, it takes away from the seriousness of the project. You don’t want to give your audience the sense that branding was an afterthought, or that it was thrown together.

“When it comes to building trust between the client and their audience, it’s important for the visuals to be really sharp and well done,” Kitzman said. “If we do our job right, it helps to build trust in the process. A strong brand helps our clients build trust and credibility among their stakeholders.”

For more information contact Rachel Bright, rbright@fhiplan.com

For more information contact Shawna Kitzman, skitzman@fhiplan.com