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Unveiling the Distinctions: Brand Designer vs. Graphic Designer

Design is one of a business's most powerful tools for leaving a lasting impression on its customers. As the demand for innovative and visually appealing content continues to soar, so does the need for skilled creative professionals who can bring these visions to life. While both brand designers and graphic designers are essential components of the design ecosystem, they operate in distinct realms, with brand designers showcasing the specialized expertise crucial for creating a powerful brand identity.

Brand designer vs. graphic designer: what's the difference?

Brand designers stand as highly skilled specialists in the graphic design world. They excel at the art of crafting compelling visual brand narratives and establishing a profound emotional connection between a company and its target audience. They possess a deep understanding of brand strategy and positioning, allowing them to develop a cohesive visual language that reflects the essence of a brand across various touchpoints.

In contrast, graphic designers excel in the visual representation of ideas, employing their artistic talents and technical proficiency to create aesthetically appealing designs that adhere to established brand guidelines. While graphic designers can play a role in shaping individual marketing materials and communication assets, brand designers focus on the bigger picture, masterfully weaving together each design element into a captivating narrative that leaves a lasting impact on the audience.

Collaboration is key.

Brand designers also often work in more collaborative creative environments, working closely with cross-functional teams, including strategists, art directors, copywriters, and other marketing experts. Their role goes beyond mere visual aesthetics as they delve deep into understanding the brand's values, mission, and long-term objectives. Through active engagement with strategists, brand designers gain invaluable insights into the target audience's preferences and market trends, enabling them to craft a brand identity that resonates authentically with consumers.

"Brand design is a team effort," says Quill senior brand designer Karen Patten, "From start to finish, we have a brand strategist, creative director, art director, and a designer involved in the brand process. With brand design, you are also creating a handful of both digital and print collateral during the project that showcases the brand's overall essence."

By collaborating extensively with different stakeholders, brand designers can capture the larger essence of the brand, turning it into a cohesive and compelling visual narrative that forges lasting connections with the audience, ultimately contributing to the brand's long-term success.

How does a brand designer approach a branding project?

Both brand and graphic designers bring distinct perspectives and methodologies when approaching a design project. A brand designer's approach revolves around the in-depth analysis of the brand's identity, market positioning, and long-term vision, with deep consideration for how each design element contributes to the overarching brand narrative.

"Approaching a project as a designer is like doing a puzzle," explains Karen, "You are provided with the pieces that you then have to fit together to make something visually exciting. With a brand design project, you can't start fitting the pieces together right away. You must first research, strategize, ideate, and conceptualize the general aesthetic based on a brand's mission and values. Once you have those initial steps complete, the pieces can start being created. Once enough pieces are created, the puzzle can start being put together."

On the other hand, a graphic designer's approach is more centered on the immediate project requirements. They pay close attention to the specific design brief, seeking to produce aesthetically pleasing and functional visual assets that align with the brand's existing guidelines. While graphic designers may incorporate creativity and artistic flair into their work, their primary focus is on designing individual components.

How do I know if I need a brand or graphic designer?

Determining whether a business needs a brand designer or a graphic designer depends on the nature and scope of its design requirements. If the brand already has a well-established identity and clear brand guidelines in place, and the projects are more one-off in nature, such as specific marketing plans,  campaigns, or social media posts, then a graphic designer would be a good choice. A graphic designer can work efficiently with specific direction, adhering to the brand guidelines to create visually appealing and cohesive designs for these individual projects.

If the business seeks to develop a new brand identity or needs a comprehensive brand strategy. A brand designer has the expertise to work closely with brand strategists and interpret the brand strategy holistically. They can transform the brand strategy into a compelling visual narrative, creating a cohesive brand identity across multiple touchpoints. Their ability to think critically and envision the bigger picture allows them to make recommendations for other pieces of the branding puzzle, ensuring consistency and a strong emotional connection with the audience.

Brand designers require less specific direction, as they possess the capability to grasp the brand's essence and contribute valuable insights throughout the design process, making them an indispensable asset in shaping a brand's long-term success.

Showcasing the expertise of brand designers

Brand designers can showcase their skills and expertise across various projects that involve shaping and enhancing a brand's identity and overall perception. Some specific kinds of projects where brand designers can flex their skills include:

Brand Identity Development

Brand designers are instrumental in creating a brand's visual identity, which includes designing logos, selecting color palettes, choosing typography, and working closely with strategists to help define brand guidelines across mediums.

An example of brand identity development from the Quill Creative Studio portfolio: Sturgeon Spirits

Sturgeon Spirits in Oshkosh is Wisconsin's newest craft distillery. Aimed at enthusiasts of quality spirits and pride-filled local subject matter, Quill brand strategists and brand designers worked to develop a brand identity that balances a premium product experience and a unique look at something you can only experience in Wisconsin–Sturgeon spearing.

Following research and strategic planning, a brand identity was established by combining positioning, voice, and visuals to be authentically unique. The brand's voice, tone, and essence feel familiar to locals and are thought-provoking for visitors. With such a unique subject matter, the experience comes to life in a way that's equally educational and captivating.

Brand Redesign

When a company undergoes rebranding or wants to refresh its visual identity, brand designers play a huge role in redesigning the brand's image, ensuring it reflects the brand's evolution while maintaining brand recognition.

An example of rebrand identity development from the Quill Creative Studio portfolio: Ally Tax & Accounting

A boutique tax and accounting firm with 35 years of name recognition in Oshkosh, WI, chose to enter the next stage of business and rebrand with a fresh name and visual identity to better reflect the features that make them unique.

The rebrand evolved into a beautiful balance of professionalism and modern layout to provide a brand foundation that makes the Ally Tax & Accounting identity feel like the warm and trustworthy partner they are. Patterns inspired by the architecture of their new space paired with clean typography and layout create a feeling of authenticity and clarity for their audience. 

"Ally Tax & Accounting is a brand where we used a series of shapes that had a specific meaning of their own," says Karen, "but when used together, they represented the totality of the brand's services."

Packaging Design

Brand designers craft packaging that communicates the brand's story and values through compelling visuals and design elements.

An example of brand packaging from the Quill Creative Studio portfolio: Momentum Carnivore Nutrition

Momentum Carnivore Nutrition wanted their customers to feel the energy that momentum provides, even if they're seeing the packaging for the first time. On the packaging, a rectangular window moving in the right direction creates a design element that's repeated in a way that almost feels like confetti. This subliminal visual cue sets the stage for emotional benefits and provides consistency and eye-catching impact across the shelf. In addition to packaging, we worked on updating every aspect of the brand identity and left no stone unturned as they prepared to launch this brand update.

"Momentum Carnivore Nutrition is a cat and dog treat brand that required the use of a strong color theory," explains Karen, "Each product is represented by a specific set of colors, while each product category and protein type also have a set color so there is still some consistency from product to product."

Brand Collateral

Brand designers create various brand collateral across the spectrum of physical and digital needs. This includes business cards, letterheads, brochures, presentations, event and trade show pieces, websites, and social media templates.

An example of collateral development from the Quill Creative Studio portfolio: Fork Farms

Informed by their newly developed brand strategy, Fork Farm's fresh, new visual identity brings their defining brand characteristics to life. With various customer segments to consider, the visual identity was built to be flexible across various collateral types, such as educational programs, sales materials, brand extensions, packaging, and marketing materials, to create continuity throughout the entire customer experience. Inspired by a design that's intimate, empowering, simple, and sustainable, our team used a clean layout, organic shapes, and approachable typography to bring the updated personality of Fork Farms to life.

Brand Style Guides

They develop comprehensive brand style guides that provide detailed instructions on how to apply the brand's visual identity consistently across all platforms and communications.

An example of collateral development from the Quill Creative Studio portfolio: Good Foods

Maintaining brand consistency is key, especially for consumer brands. Good Foods started offering natural and organic products to the public before it was a trend. Over the last few decades, they grew into a category champion and, in that process, developed various packaging solutions and branded assets along the way. Their marketing department had a firm grasp of their design principles but needed a document to be easily shared with team members or external partners. With some big projects coming up, they wanted to ensure that everything was on the correct path for brand consistency moving forward. The team at Quill was tasked to provide visual brand consulting and document the findings within an all-inclusive brand style guide.

Need a brand designer? Let's chat.

The role of a brand designer stands as a cornerstone in crafting captivating brand identities and experiences. By recognizing when to engage a brand designer, businesses can effectively leverage the skills of these professionals to create powerful and memorable brand experiences. 

Whether building a new brand identity, implementing a rebranding strategy, or looking for ongoing brand management support, the brand strategy professionals at Quill Creative Studio can help! 

If you're ready to level up your business’ branding, let's chat!