How to Choose Brand Imagery that Showcases Your Brand Personality

by | Branding, Graphic Design

D o you remember looking up at the clouds and finding hidden shapes and figures?

Despite merely being water vapor, we look to the majesty of the sky and we create associations in our mind.

This practice is as old as time itself.

The ancients looked to the night sky and created arrangements of stars into constellations so they could organize their lives around seasons and cycles.

And today, we create images, icons, and symbols to order and make sense of our modern world.

You may wonder, what all this has to do with branding icons and images. Well, your audience and your consumers are constantly looking for products and services that will organize and bring order to the chaos in their lives.

However, they need you to explain its benefit, value, and use to them.

As a brand, the easier you can provide them with the information they seek, the more they will look to you as an authority in your industry.

How do you provide them with complex information in a simplified manner?

Simple – use visual shorthand to convey complex information.

To understand how to use brand imagery to tell your story and convey your message you’ll want to follow these steps:

 

Understanding the Meaning of Symbols (Semiotics)​​​​

To understand how to create visual shorthand we first need to understand how meaning is made, presented, and interpreted through a process called semiotics.

Semiotics is essentially the study of signs and symbols with relation to their intended use and interpretation.

To put semiotics more plainly, when creating meaning you have two parts that a “sign” is composed of:

The signifier – the form a sign takes
The signified – the concept being represented

Think of it this way, when you approach a door you’ve never been to before, how do you know whether to push or pull to open it?

A well-designed door tells you by its handle. When you see a handle you pull and when you see a bar you push, right?

Door Fail

If it requires the word “push” or “pull” it fails in its design.

Good design is intuitive to the user. Therefore, a well-designed message will also be easily understood.

The more you have to add to the message, the more you risk confusing, overwhelming, or boring your audience.

Simplicity is key.

 

How Images Create Symbolic Associations

​​​​

Show and Tell

At our earliest stage of learning we are given picture books and we gradually graduate to textbooks.

We are constantly guided through a word of images each day that help us to perform essential functions.

So if we recognize meaning in images, how then do we create it?

Conveying meaning your audience will understand requires that you can take a shape, image, or object, and attach a specific meaning that your audience will recognize.

Looking back on your kindergarten days you might recall presenting to the class in the form of show and tell.

This exercise was used to teach us how to explain the complex in a simple way.

The better you can “show” meaning the less you have to “tell.”

This is essentially the goal of using good imagery and icons. If done correctly you can convey complex information using just a few images.

The old cliche, “A picture (image/icon) is worth a thousand words still holds true.

Take these examples:

When you see this you think STOP (notice that it doesn’t even require the text to convey the meaning)

Stop Sign

When you see this you think poison (or maybe you think pirates, you scallywag, you)

Skull And Crossbones

This reminds you of a mouse

Mickey Mouse Silohuette

And this makes you hungry (mmm fries!)

Mcdonalds Arches

 

Seeing faces

Our brains are hardwired to create, recognize, and extract meaning from shapes and symbols.

After all, why do we seem to see faces in everyday objects?

Why does this wall outlet look so worried? I guess I’d be worried too if I knew someone was going to shove a plug down my throat to power their blender.

Light Socket Face Imagery

And why does this car look so delighted to see you? Roadtrip, anyone?

Car Face Imagery

 

​Icons vs Symbols

When it comes to imagery there is an important distinction between icons and symbols.

Icons are images used to represent people, places, things, or ideas, whereas symbols are a category of icons.

Symbols are more abstract, they are images used to represent concepts, ideas, or philosophies and systems of beliefs.

For example, icons may be used to show us what action we should take — like a stop sign — whereas a symbol reveals what we believe — such as a company logo.

Because all icons are merely static images, which have no meaning except that which we assign to them, icons require participation from the viewer to assign them meaning.

  • Icons can be used in a variety of settings and a variety of ways.
  • Distinguish Categories
  • Add to Social media graphics
  • Explain your process or methodology
  • Help buttons and call to actions stand out
  • Guide users to your optin

When done correctly icons can help the viewer to participate in shared meaning in an impactful way.

 

Creating Visual Shorthand

Using visual stand-ins for complex ideas is one of the best ways to engage with your audience.

Take these paintings for example:


Each painter understood that their audience would need a visual queue to help them identify the saints within their paintings, so they added small “icons” to give clues to the viewer on who it was they were seeing.

When creating imagery and using icons it is crucial you understand your target audience:

  • What is important to them?
  • What does a typical day in their life look like?
  • What problems do they face?
  • What goals are they trying to achieve?
  • How will your product/service help them achieve it?

Now consider how you will present that information to them.

 

Less is More

One of the huge benefits of using icons and imagery is that they don’t need to be highly detailed.

In fact, the less detailed they are the more people can relate and identify with them.

For example, look at these three images:

Benu Creative Imagery Abstraction Example

Moving left to right you are navigated toward more abstraction and simplicity, going from the hyper-real to the representational.

The first image is of a specific person, therefore, it would be difficult for most to feel as this image represents them. Details, such as male, straight short hair, and styling choices disqualify most viewers.

Small details matter — even a simple detail such as hair style (in this case straight hair) disqualifies me since I have curly hair.

At the end of the day, there is only one person that can definitely say, “That’s me!”

The second image strips away some of those details and now focuses in on a single meaning — man. The meaning is more defined, but the remaining details still exclude certain viewers from fully identifying with it.

Contrast this with the last image, the smiley face. There are so few details that this image can be used universally across language barriers, borders, gender roles, ages, class statuses.

By stripping away details we focus instead on specific ones which bring us closer to the essential meaning. Abstraction amplifies meaning, realism reduces it.

Because the first image is photo-realistic you see that specific individual’s face (the face of another), but the emoji allows you to see yourself.

 

​​Customize Your Message

Because your brand’s message is unique to you and your business using custom icons and graphics is highly recommended.

By using branded icons you make your brand visually distinct.

Brand recognition emerges from presenting the unique quality of your business in a unique way.

Defining your brand allows you to really know your message, how it relates to your audience, and how to deliver it the best way.

Custom imagery is a great way to communicate your message concisely and effectively and grab your audience’s attention.

A word of caution, however, it’s important to know how people understand images.

We interact with countless images on a daily basis, we intuitively know their meaning, and the action they want us to take. So if you are creating custom images it is important to ensure the user would intuitively understand the meaning you intend.

Don’t customize just for the sake of being different. Be thoughtful in the images you use.

One thing to keep in mind is that, initially, few people may know what your icon means without some context. Unless you’re using an icon that is universally recognized and understood accompany it with text labels.

 

​​Infographics

​​​​
When icons are put into a sequence they tell a story.

Much like sewing threads together when woven together images can craft a patchwork in a deeper narrative.

This can be a powerful tool because when complex data is presented using imagery it strips out certain details focus in on what’s truly important for the viewer. This makes the information extremely approachable and easy to grasp.

This form of communication is so powerful that it can be found in use thousands of years ago.

From the hieroglyphics on the walls of the Tomb of Menna dating back to Egypt’s 18th dynasty (1550 to 1292 BC):

Http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/548574

To stain glass motifs depicting the life of Christ in each window:

Stainglass Imagery

To safety instruction in an airline brochure:

Airline Instructions Imagery

Sequential art provides a view with a ton of information

 

CONCLUSION

Images and icons provide us information that help us navigate our everyday lives.

Your audience is looking for solutions to their problems so the use of imagery and icons can help guide them to their goals by simplifying the message and make it easier to grasp.

Icons provide visual shorthand that relays a ton of complex information in a simplified manner.

Branded icons make your visual information distinct which helps create brand recognition.
By placing icons in a sequence you can create a message or story that helps your audience understand a complex process. This can guide them to take an action that will benefit them.

So whether you are identifying shapes in the sky or viewing an infographic you’ll be able to recognize how icons and imagery can help us make meaning out of our world and help your brand stand out.

Knowing this will get your head out of the clouds and your brand in the minds of your audience 😉

 

Want to get Imaginative with Imagery? 

I’d Like to Hear from You

Gabriel Shields Benu CreativeWhat’s your #1 takeaway from today’s article? Or what’s one question you have about what you read? Either way, I’d love to hear what you have to share so leave me comment below and let’s chat.

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Brand Imagery FAQs

What is the difference between Icons and Symbols?

Icons are images used to represent people, places, things, or ideas, whereas symbols are a category of icons.

Symbols are more abstract, they are images used to represent concepts, ideas, or philosophies and systems of beliefs.

How do Branded Images create Symbolic Associations?

Our brains are hardwired to create, recognize, and extract meaning from shapes and symbols.

Conveying meaning your audience will understand requires that you can take a shape, image, or object, and attach a specific meaning that your audience will recognize.

When creating imagery and using icons it is crucial you understand your target audience:

  • What is important to them?
  • What does a typical day in their life look like?
  • What problems do they face?
  • What goals are they trying to achieve?
  • How will your product/service help them achieve it?

Now consider how you will present that information to them.

What is an Infographic?

An infographic is an image or sequence of images (such as charts or diagrams) that present information or data in a visual manner.

When icons are put into a sequence they tell a story.

Much like sewing threads together when woven together images can craft a patchwork in a deeper narrative.

This can be a powerful tool because when complex data is presented using imagery it strips out certain details focus in on what’s truly important for the view. This makes the information extremely approachable and easy to grasp.

Why should I use Brand Imagery and Infographics?

When complex data is presented using imagery it strips out certain details focus in on what’s truly important for the view. This makes the information extremely approachable and easy to grasp.

Gabriel Shields Benu Creative

Strategic Manager | Marketing Innovator

Gabriel Shields is an entrepreneur, educator, and storyteller. He provides innovative marketing solutions so businesses can better connect with their audience and have their stories heard. In addition, Gabriel has publications in a myriad of literary journals and years of experience establishing effective online and offline marketing strategies.

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