Branding vs. Graphic Design - What’s the difference?

Estimated Read Time: 3m 31s

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is: “Isn’t branding and graphic design the same thing?” 

This isn't a stupid question, it's easy to get these two concepts confused as they are quite similar.

BUT... branding and graphic design are also very different! 

Many people come to us looking for a revitalised company logo and believe they are giving their company 'brand' a do-over; when really the brand is so, so much more than that. And without a strategic and wholesome brand, your business will suffer.

Let's take a deeper look at these concepts to get you on track for a better, more strategic brand approach. 

Graphic Design = "The Skeleton"

When talking about brand, graphic design is just the visual elements i.e. 'the look of a brand'. 

This makes graphic designers the curators of visual identity - they ensure all visual communication is compelling, consistent and cohesive. 

You'll often hear us graphic designers using the term 'visual identity'. Visual identity is the collective of visual components (including logo) that are used to represent a company, usually assembled into a visual framework that companies can use to ensure consistent application across all company communication channels. The coherency of the visual identity allows the brand to be recognisable.

A key part of the visual identity is the logo, which is where graphic designers transform the personality of a brand into a tangible visual solution. These visual elements form the basic skeleton of a strong brand - so each graphic design element must be consistent with branding to ensure a supportive structure for the body. If the visual elements are done correctly, your company will have a fully functioning skeleton. 

Take Nike for example - we all instantly recognise the iconic "swoosh" and always see this alongside lively, active imagery and colours. But there is a lot of other components that make the Nike brand what it is today. We'll get to these.

To summarise, while graphic design is a significant step in the branding process, it only acts as a brand skeleton and requires much more life to become a brand. American Art Direct, Paul Rand summarises this concept well:

 “A logo derives its meaning from the quality of what it symbolizes, not the other way around.” Paul Rand AIGA 1991

Branding = "The Life, Body and Soul"

Every experience, communication and interaction impacts how people feel about you and how they respond to you - the same goes for your brand. employer branding 14717 t12

‘Branding’ is much more than visual elements - it includes brand vision, values, attitude, services, experiences and visuals, all work together to represent the entity. So, branding is what fleshes out the body, it provides the muscles, clothes, beliefs, behaviours, voice, personality – it gives the company brand a life and soul.

Yep, I love quotes - so here's another one from Marketing Entrepreneur Seth Godin who defines brand perfectly as, “a set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another” (2009).


Why is knowing the difference important?

The differences between graphic design and branding are vital to ensure your brand investment is not misconstrued or misused. You don't want to spend money and time developing an amazing logo if there is no real meaning behind it.

It's best to get branding right the first time as you don’t want customers getting the wrong impression or worse, no impression. 

However, the issue is not branding vs. graphic design, it’s about how they work hand-in-hand to convey meaning.

Each brand element, including visual, is part of an interconnected system that needs to support each other to truly connect with your customer.

Again, let's look at Nike - they have a very distinct set of messaging, positioning, values, and character that have been consistently communicated so now when you see their products you get the sense of motivation, activity, and positivity. 

Aesthetics lacks meaning without strategic branding, and solid branding cannot communicate without visual expression.

Want to find out more? 

Internetrix have an expert team of graphic designers with 10+ years of branding expertise.

If you have any questions or are looking to revitalise your brand, get in touch today.

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