You don’t have to be an artist to learn the basic elements of branding design. Uncover the basics of design work and learn to harness your creativity.

Whether you just recently launched your business or have years of experience under your belt, you’ve no doubt already discovered the importance of branding design. Your brand identity is the first impression of your business your customers get. It influences their opinions, purchasing decisions, and loyalty. That makes visual assets like an effective logo and website design vitally important to small and midsize business (SMB) success.

But what if, as a business owner, you don’t consider yourself particularly creative? Is a lack of inspiration when choosing a color palette or the perfect font bound to hold your brand back?

Happily, the answer is no. According to Deloitte Australia’s Shane Currey, we’re all inherently creative people. To tap into our artistic side, we need only listen to our inner voice just like we did as kids. There’s plenty you can do to boost your creativity and hone your design skills, from brainstorming with staff, family, and friends to compiling images you feel represent your brand. So open your mind, and prepare yourself to get creative.


1. Brainstorm

Design for Non-Designers: How Business Owners Can Master the Basics — Brainstorm

Image by REDPIXEL.PL.

A surefire way to access your creativity is to brainstorm ideas. The concept has origins in advertising — the concept was popularized by Mad Men-era BBDO advertising executive Alex Osborn in his book Your Creative Power. Brainstorming encourages spontaneous, unfettered creative thinking in an environment free of criticism and judgment.

This strategy is used by creatives of all kinds, and can be beneficial to small business owners as well. Enlist the help of your business partner, staff, even family and friends to drum up some ideas for how to visually represent your brand.

Recent research on the effectiveness of brainstorming shows that brainstorming sessions can yield more positive results in relaxed environments. One idea is to have participants start by telling an embarrassing or self-deprecating story about themselves to break the ice. Those who took this route produced 26 percent more ideas than participants who skipped the “warm-up” step.

Whether you’re working on your own or with a creative agency, consider brainstorming a go-to tool. Denise Blasevick, founding partner and CEO of advertising, PR, and social media firm The S3 Agency, has found it can play a key part in getting to a final product that everyone loves.

“Rather than take an assignment from a client, return to the agency, brainstorm, and bring back ideas, we are very open to having initial brainstorms with our clients,” she says. “This enables us to see and feel their feedback as ideas germinate, preventing time lost going down the wrong path and potentially illuminating different aspects we would not otherwise have considered.”


2. Create A Mood Board

Design for Non-Designers: How Business Owners Can Master the Basics — Create a Moodboard

Image by LightField Studios.

Whether you’re trying to close in on a creative idea or are at the very beginning of the brainstorming process, a mood board can be incredibly useful. It can be comprised of physical objects, a collection of digital images, a collage, or some combination of all three. Designers of all kinds rely on mood boards to get inspiration for new projects and narrow down their ideas.

For business owners, they serve two additional purposes. They can help you see the hazy ideas swirling inside your head more clearly, and they let you determine which design aesthetic you like best. Chris Trotman, creative director of London-based design studio Run For The Hills, uses mood boards when working with clients who aren’t quite sure what they want. They allow him to “get their knee-jerk reaction” on designs.

Working up countless design options that could “potentially all be off the mark” isn’t productive, Trotman says. So instead, he pulls together “reference images, mood boards, and case studies of other brands in their sector, and others that perhaps are tonally similar. This helps us formulate The Brief, which we then feed back to them to get sign off,” he explains.


3. Try A Pinterest Board

Design for Non-Designers: How Business Owners Can Master the Basics — Try Pinterest

Image by Sky Motion.

Trotman also recommends Pinterest as a design tool. Pinterest allows users to create digital mood boards from images they gather online. They can then save them as pins and refer back anytime.

Trotman encourages his clients to create their own Pinterest boards of everything they like that could inform their branding designs. “In the best cases that can really help us see their vision,” Trotman says, “but when they can’t, or the boards don’t hang together so well, we put together a Creative Direction presentation to help us get inside their head.”

This is also an approach business owners can take independently when they’re in the early stages of their branding design. Developing a Pinterest board that you can easily share with your staff, contractors, and design partners creates a good starting point for discussions and is useful for getting everyone on the same page.


4. Do Your Research

Design for Non-Designers: How Business Owners Can Master the Basics — Research First

Image by stockfour.

If all else fails, transport yourself back to your college essay-writing days and find some inspiration in research. Really understanding your industry and target audience can give you insight into what type of branding designs will speak to them.

“Be brave and try to detach your emotions to see things from the point of view of your demographic, with fresh eyes,” advises Trotman, who notes the importance of researching your business sector and competitors. If his firm is working with a sushi bar, for example, he’ll analyze other local sushi bars, as well as Japanese ones for the origins of the cuisine. He might also investigate poke restaurants in Hawaii. “We look at who is doing things differently and who is at the cutting edge of it now, in terms of the food and brand design in that sector,” he says, adding that this includes tone of voice and brand color palettes.

For her part, Blasevick relies on research as part of the effort to “uncover additional branding possibilities.” She believes that “researching the competition, target market, and white space opportunities, and questioning and questioning and questioning” helps to develop brand assets that “feel natural, not forced.”

Collect your thoughts, visualize your ideas for your brand, and put yourself in your customers’ shoes. There tricks will help to free you from what’s holding your creativity back. “Enjoy the journey!” Trotman says. You might just find you’re more creative than you think.

Top Image by Jacob Lund.