Brand Codes. A Guide to Visual Communication.

December 23, 2023
3 min read
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According to a 2023 report done by JKR & Ipsos, 85% of brand assets aren't distinctive. The companies aren’t distinctive from their competitors. As a result they keep rebranding over and over but nothing seems to work over the long-term. Perhaps there are simply too many companies within their respective space and it gets crowded easily. But then you take a closer look at the space and everybody looks the same. There is always a space for improvement.

When we analyse such brands through brand audits at GoBigname, we find a couple of things. First, their communication is not consistent. Second, they didn't invest in specifying their brand codes and their communication isn't distinctive.

Brand Codes

Brand codes are visual, sonic, olfactory and tactile assets of a brand’s visual presence, ensuring consistent and effective communication. Their main function is to get a brand noticed fast and hopefully the communication will be engaging enough so that the customers will be keen to listen.

Types of Brand Codes

We use a number of basic brand codes: Symbol, Colour, Character, Founder, Shape, Typeface, Pattern, Sound, Smell and Specific Style of (Illustration, Photography, etc.), Tone of Voice.

You should, of course, never use all of them at once. The key is to craft the right combination of 3-4 brand codes. That should be enough. One too little and the brand isn't distinctive enough. One too many and it is hard to stay consistent when management and designers in the company change.

Technological Changes

As with any discipline, design evolves with the rise of technology as well. 30 years ago you were fine with using simple brand codes such as logos and basic shapes to bring a brand to the customer. Nowadays with the majority of work in digital, you have to adapt certain brand codes to their digital counter parts.

Most brands these days live online. According to a Lumen report, we have anything between 1 to 1.7 seconds to get noticed. Crafting the right brand codes based on a brand's strategy rises the odds to be noticed fast. This is the area where I focus the most as a digital-first brand designer. Some of the brand codes don’t apply here such as smell or founder. When crafting brand codes for digital, we focus on leveraging digital technology to go beyond the traditional static brand codes. We introduce web design, digital design, motion design, interaction design, etc. And when you start with that in mind, you can create something magical.

During my studies in Denmark, we were often tasked to design and code digital solutions for particular problems. Whether it was coding Arduino robots or building websites, I fell in love with the idea of building something from scratch. I connected the dots years later when I started to craft visual identities with digital in mind.

Great For Management, Bad For Designers

This is probably the most boring part for any designer who is predominantly a novelty seeker (which you are, by definition). You get a brand manual and you need to make somewhat the same applications over and over to keep the brand consistent. It sounds terrible but it works. We see it in the data even in our projects. So if you are a founder and reading this, great. You have to keep the visual part of the communication consistent for a long period of time and you will get the rewards in brand recognition. On the other hand, if you are a designer, beware you might burn out doing the same things over and over. But remember, the creativity lies within the boundaries.

Toman — Studio


Róbert Toman — Multidisciplinary designer specialising in Brand Identity, Bespoke Typography, Web Design, and Art Direction. Based in Bratislava, Slovakia.

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