Brand Codes Pt. 3: Specific Styles

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January 13, 2024
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5 min read
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As I mentioned in the opening article of the series, Brand Codes are visual, sonic, olfactory and tactile assets of a brand, ensuring consistent and effective communication. Their main function is to get your brand noticed fast. Digital Brand Codes take this further and leverage digital technology to bring many of the static Brand Codes into life through digital design, web design, motion design, interaction design, etc. In the first part of the series, we talked about Symbol, Color, and Character. In the second part, we talked about Shape, Typeface, Pattern, and Sound. In the final article of the introduction series to the Brand Codes, we talk about Specific Styles.

Specific Styles

Specific styles characterize a bucket of specific brand codes that branch outside of the must haves such as logo and color. We include illustration style, photography style, layout style, motion style. With the advancement of digital technology, I like to refer to digital brand codes that are difficult to replicate in the physical world. Here, I like to focus on motion design as a brand code, interaction design as a brand code, and everything else that the technology allows and will allow. The one thing specific styles have in common is that they might be hard to keep consistent over the long term.

Photography Style

Almost every brand needs to have imagery of their products or the world they create. A picture can say a thousand words. What you want is thousand words about your brand. A photograph has a lot of power because I see them as a portal to a different world. An image can move you from one place to another. Thanks to an image you can feel like somebody else or be somewhere else. When Nike posts an image of an athlete, the specific art direction draws you in and you imagine yourself being in that position.

Raincoats photographed as high-fashion items. Source: RAINS

Another example from a brand that I’ve been following for years and owned a bunch of gear from is Denmark-based RAINS. In recent years their photography became quite distinctive. RAINS, as the name suggests, makes functional wear that started with a bunch of raincoats and waterproof backpacks. These days their offering is nothing short of proper puffer jackets, all kinds of bags and other apparel. What’s interesting that they created a category. And with that comes artistic freedom. Today, their brand image aspires to rise into high fashion territories and you can feel it from their specific photography. Their photography Brand Code? A raincoat on a super model in a high fashion setting.

Illustration Style

Illustrations are some of the oldest form of visual expression we have. It is no coincidence a good illustration will bring warmth to a brand. It is common to create a distinctive illustration style within your category. If you as a brand decide for illustratoin style as your Brand Code, you need to find an illustrator who will be able to execute on your vision and strategy. Illustrations are a great way to bring warmth to a brand. A company called Notion does this well. Their illustrations are simple, yet distinctive. You know when you see a cute black illustration of humans interacting with each other on a white background, chances are it’s Notion.

However, you have to take into consideration the following: illustrations are hard to maintain over the long-term. If you have an illustrator who does the work for you, you will rely on that specific illustrator. Therefore, you need to have a reasonable budget for crafting bespoke illustrations. If you have a person in-house who’s great at illustrating, that might be a good start. Illustrations are a great way to make your brand distinctive and bring it closer to people.

Motion Design Style (System)

Ever heard about motion design systems? They are repeated patterns of motion behaviours. You can spot a person you know from much further away by the way they walk. Walking is a repetitive motion pattern. A repetitive motion pattern is a system and you can design yours. There are two leaders in the space that immediately come to mind when talking about motion design systems. Studio DIA and Dumbar. These studios are well-known authorities for their perfectly executed motion design identities for some of the biggest companies in the world. Pinterest, Mailchimp, Squarespace, Verizon, Instagram to name a few. Motion design is becoming more important than ever before. With the majority of content consumed through digital, it will be more important than ever to think about how our brand behaves in the digital space.

When I was working on Yuno last year, there are possibilities for a design system thatis unique to the category. Since the idea revolved around a calendar shape, it promts the calendar to move into certain directions. It would be a great way to bring a specific motion design pattern to the brand, making it even more recognisable.

Calendar principle as a Brand Code designed for Yuno

As I’m writing this, we’re seeing a new re-brand of DECATHLON by Wolf Olins. If you live in Europe, you are familiar with DECATHLON. They are a retail store offering sportswear for all levels of athletes. From enthusiasts to pros. The team at Wolf Olins incporporated a subtle motion system that reflects the nature of sport. Being in motion. You can see the whole case study here.

Final Notes

You can classify a lot of visuals and non visuals as Specific Styles. Some of them are determined by technological advancements such as motion design or interactivity. Some of them are just can’t be described by anything else and they don’t fit in any other category from the basic Brand Codes. It is perfectly fine to create your own Specific Style of something as long as you can categorise it. A layout can be specific, a motion pattern can be specific. Choose your own and make it distinctive.

Toman — Studio

About

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

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