Are You Missing the 5 Design Principles Needed for Successful Branding?

Whether you’ve realized it or not, design plays a huge role in branding. Design goes into every aspect of your corporate identity – from business cards, to web design, to promotional product imprints.

The most important thing to remember is that the purpose of your design is to convey information to your audience. In order to do so, you need to create a design that helps guide their eyes through the document and shows them which information is important, all while maintaining a consistent, cohesive brand image.

You can accomplish that by keeping these design principles in mind:

Focal point/hierarchy:

The first step to any design is to establish a focal point. Ask yourself, “What’s the most important element?” That’s your focal point. You can create a focal point by making it bigger or changing its color and/or texture.

Once you come up with your focal point, then you can go about creating the hierarchy throughout the rest of your design. By arranging design elements with different sizes, colors, and textures you are able to show your audience which information is important.

For example, take a step back and examine the visual elements of this blog post. QLP organizes blog posts so that the headline is the most important, and you can tell because it’s the largest font size. Then subheads stand out among the body text because they are bold, and often a different color. Within the body type important lines are bold or italic, and then there’s the rest of the body type.


A large “light” element and a small “heavy” one have equal visual weight.


Even though you want some elements of your design to stand out, you also want the overall work to remain balanced in order to create a sense of stability. Balance in design means measuring and regulating the visual weight of your composition. Elements that are darker colors, bigger sizes, or rougher textures appear “heavier” than light colors, small sizes, and smooth flowing textures.

You can balance your design through either symmetrical balance or asymmetrical balance. Symmetrical balance has an equal visual weight on both sides, whereas asymmetrical balance is not equal on both sides and requires balancing large, “light” elements with small, “heavy” elements.


Contrast is important in all design as a means of creating interest, variety, and hierarchy. You can use varying colors, sizes, and textures to create contrast in your design. Contrast in color is crucial for web design. There is a certain percent of contrast that must be met in order to ensure readability on your web page, and you can test your site here.

Satan's CSS

See? Satan’s CSS is hard to read!

For other elements of your design feel free to go nuts with contrasting colors, but for body type your best bet is black text on a white background. It’s important to note that even though it may look more visually appealing to make your body type gray on a white background, it is hard to read, and as Vincent Flanders calls it, light grey or #666 is “Satan’s CSS.” If the colors of your body type and background are too bright, or too similar, they will be nearly impossible to read and you’ll risk ending up on this list next year.


With all of those different sizes, colors, and textures you still have to make your design look like one cohesive piece. Design unity refers to how each part of the design makes up the whole. Unity can be established through four different techniques: proximity, similarity, repetition, and continuity. Many of these techniques come from a semi-complicated psychological theory, the Gestalt Theory, which refers to how our brains perceive objects and group them together. To make it easier to understand, let’s use pictures.


As you can see above, our minds group objects together based on different properties. We tend to group objects that are close to each other, similar to each other, or repeated. In the first example, each group of dots is seen as separate because of their relationship to each other. In the second example, the gray dots are grouped because they share the same color, as are the black dots. In the third example, the circles are separate from the squares because the same size and shape is repeated throughout the composition. In the last example, the circles are seen as connected due to the implied line they create. Continuity refers to a line (either visible or implied) in the composition that links elements together.


Related to unity, you’re going to want your branding efforts to be visually appealing. You want the elements to be similar and cohesive. Harmony refers to color, texture, line, and shapes. This is especially important in creating a brand image. For example, when designing your logo, you want the typography (fonts) and the images you use to all reflect the same general mood.

Compelling, aesthetically pleasing design will draw customers to your brand, and with these design principles in mind you are sure to establish a killer brand identity. Customers will remember well-designed business cards, promotional t-shirts, and ad material, and they’ll stay and click around on an organized, engaging website. What do you think makes Coke, Nike, and McDonald’s brand images so recognizable? They’ve got stellar graphic designers, and now that can be you!

What do you think? Have you seen any violators of these principles? Which ones bug you the most? On the other hand, which brands have designs that you love?

Jenna Markowski

Jenna has a much easier time writing about the media and pop culture than she does writing about herself. She enjoys the simple things in life, like puns and typography. She is an avid fan of pop-punk, Halo 3, Spider-Man and origami, with a slight Taco Bell obsession. Her spirit animal is either a bulldog or a panda bear. You can also connect with Jenna on Google+.


  1. Amy Swanson

    I love discovering new brands that have really awesome designs! One of my favorite brands is actually a design group based in Nashville, TN called Anderson Design Group ( I’m obsessed with their posters and clothing, and I wish I could own everything on their site (I’m slowly working my way up to that goal, haha!) I think it’s the clean lines and nostalgic vibe that really attracts me and keeps me coming back for more.

    When it comes to design for me, I know what I like and what I don’t like. Thanks for explaining the basics in this blog, I can feel a lot better saying, “They have a real harmonious feel to their brand” instead of, “It’s super cool that everything matches”.

    Great post, Jenna!

    • Jenna Markowski

      I’d never heard of Anderson Design before, but you’re right — they’ve got some really awesome designs! They definitely have those clean lines and a nostalgic vibe that reflects their own brand identity and that they use for several other brands. I especially love their type treatments. They’ve designed a lot of packaging and logos that I recognize, so that’s really awesome!

      I’m glad you found this post useful! Now you can sound artistic when you discuss brands! 🙂

      • Eric

        To piggyback on what Amy had to say, really, anything with a definite aesthetic appeals to me, and smarter, streamlined packaging always sells me on a product, especially if I’m otherwise undecided on it.

        I don’t know…call it being an irrepressible nostalgic, but I like things that are branded as “retro” or “vintage” or “old school” because they have such a strong aesthetic, and labels and packaging, all that, were done deliberately, mindfully, and most importantly…artistically.

        I’m not saying I need a Van Gogh to spiffy-up my box of Bisquick, but hey…it never hurts.

  2. Rachel

    What a great resource, Jenna! I had a vague sense of most of these concepts, but having the them spelled out like this is really helpful. Thanks! 🙂

    • Jenna Markowski

      Thanks, Rachel! I’m glad you found this post helpful! 🙂

  3. Mandy Kilinskis

    Excellent post, Jenna. Like Rachel, I had a sense of these concepts, and even did most of them, but having it spelled out is great. More design and typography blogs? I’m a big fan. 🙂

  4. Jen

    I really like this blog Jenna, learning about design techniques is so interesting to me!

  5. Jeff Porretto

    Psychology! Yay! As you may or may not be aware of, I cannot get enough of this stuff. I always love finding out that other people have names for the things I think.

    Thanks Jenna!

  6. Jill Tooley

    I’m a huge fan of asymmetrical balance! Nothing against symmetry, of course, but there’s something abstract and artsy about asymmetry. It’s always drawn my gaze. Inexperienced designers may have to work their way up to impressive asymmetrical designs, but it would be worth it I think. 🙂

    I wasn’t aware that color was referred to as Satan’s CSS — too funny. That grey text drives me crazy, and I tend to avoid reading blogs and websites that use it too much. However, I’d take that over a black background with white text any day of the week! For some reason, it’s impossible for me to read that color combination. My eyes burn afterwards.

    This post made me think of an Oatmeal comic about website design that had me laughing like a fiend. Good stuff!

    Thanks for the tips, Jenna! Someday, you’ll have to teach me everything you know about design. 🙂

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