[Call for entries: HOW Logo Design Awards]
by Anthony Wood, global managing director of Shillington Education,
a comprehensive, immersive design school
Design can make or break a brand identity, and thus, a brand.
After all, businesses succeed through building relationships with their consumers. Given that companies themselves are imagined entities, they must instead turn to design and branding in order to communicate with customers.
The benefits of excellent design are numerous: It can convey personality, provoke strong emotions, and even drive company strategy. Filtered through the fertile minds and skilled hands of an expert design team, a design becomes far more than graphics on an ad, or logos on a product: It becomes a message, a call-to-action, a visual signpost that cuts through the excessive digital noise that bombards audiences today.
In some instances, a proper design can even transcend the changing of the eras to become an icon of its own. Just witness Apple’s groundbreaking, futuristic iPhone or the boxy Volkswagen Microbus, two innovations that, long after their obsolescence, remain in the popular imagination.
Yet even if the path to epoch-defining innovation is narrow and reserved for the few, there are beautiful, imaginative designs (and their associated brand identities) popping up all the time. In no particular order, here are several of the best brand personalities out there today.
Personality by Design: 5 of the Best Brand Identities Today
If you’ve ridden any form of mass transit, or simply spent time online or in a major city, you will have seen Casper’s ads. For this burgeoning startup, whose offerings consist of a single, “perfect” mattress, pillow, and duvet, sleep is not a loathsome chore that 1 in 3 Americans skimp out on.
Rather, it’s a whimsical, pastel-colored world of cuddly mascots and straightforward puns—which would be corny were they not so darn cute. One ad, shown below, takes party animals quite literally: A bat in a tuxedo, a disco ball, an owl, and an anteater, all celebrate atop a Casper mattress.
To pull off this fantastical, playful world, Casper turned to design studio Red Antler and illustrator Tomi Um. An old hand whose work has appeared in a range of publications and websites, from Bloomberg Businessweek to Popular Mechanics, Um’s illustrations feature a very distinct style, showcasing a vibrant, bright, lighthearted aesthetic, cartoon cuteness, and a sweet, optimistic vibe that doesn’t descend into cloying sweetness.
Casper wins a spot on this list for defining a clear, memorable personality that has since won over customers across the world.
Though the women’s underwear startup has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons, its advertising campaign and brand personality helped Thinx capture a place on Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies of 2017.
Their secret? A willingness to push the boundaries and deal in eye-grabbing puns and innuendo—traits inherited from Miki Agrawal, Thinx’ brash, forward-thinking founder. Toward that end, Thinx relies on simple, understated designs, focusing on copy and imagery over elaborate graphics; in essence, background design is subordinate to the message (visual and textual). This makes for highly effective ads that tease, imply and compare.
Yet this ad was nearly banned by New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority for being too lewd. Ironically, it was less about the imagery (whatever their implications, grapefruits are still only fruits after all), and more about the word “period.” In this instance, because a centuries-old taboo is still very much alive and well, subverting it led to viral publicity.
In the digital space, branding is more than just pretty window dressing, bright colors and cute cartoons. Because such companies don’t have tangible, physical goods that customers can touch, their online products must make up the slack with seamless UX and UI design.
Take ZocDoc. As their operation expanded from a small startup to one worth nearly $2 billion, the company needed to revamp its mascot and keep its UX/UI game on point. First, ZocDoc revamped its user experience, making the interface streamlined and easy-to-use—without sacrificing any of its essential features.
ZocDoc’s design and UX teams collaborated on Zee, a line drawing of a ‘Z’ that evokes an expressive, warm face with a series of emotions, from happy to tired to mischievous. Bucking the healthcare trend of sterile, harsh, and bright lights, ZocDoc settled instead on warm palettes of blue, green, yellow, and orange–bright shades which would not be out of place in a homey apartment, or in an optimist’s coloring book.
ZocDoc also turned to outside illustrators to bring the rest of the body to life, creating a lighthearted, cheerful video about how simplifying the doctor search process. In the storyboard below, a patient is frazzled by the stresses of looking for a doctor—beset by endless phone calls, talking heads, paperwork, and other requirements. However, ZocDoc comes to the rescue: Cute, dancing miniature doctors (and a surprisingly happy skeleton) come on screen, set up appointments, give the patient a checkup, and pop pills into her waiting mouth.
With its upbeat, adorable designs, ZocDoc’s new advertising campaign has hit consumers where it counts: the heart.
4. Asics Tiger
In his final movie, Game of Death, Bruce Lee famously wore a yellow jumpsuit, wielded yellow nunchaku, and yes, wore a pair of yellow Onitsuka Tigers—perhaps the most famous product line of the Asics portfolio.
With such classic name-brand recognition (Onitsuka also designed walkout shoes for a number of Olympic delegations), one would think that Asics could simply sit back and rely on strength of reputation alone. Instead, the company redoubled its efforts, moving to a more sleek, modernist look and shifting their brand.
Previously, Asics and Onitsuka Tiger, though part of the same parent company, were two separate, if related, brands. In one fell swoop, the company combined two of its best-known products: the innovative athleticism of Asics, known for making high-end sports shoes, with the vintage, retro spirit of Onitsuka’s Tiger. Such a move boosted the brand’s profile, and furthermore, reinforced the fact that Onitsuka and Asics were one and the same.
Further, the old Asics brand featured the logo atop a blocky brand set in Kabel–a cluttered, if instantly recognizable design. A international team of designers and marketers reset the brand design, removing the Asics logo and instead highlighting the company name in big, bold, and simple letters.
Thus, the designers reimagined this venerable brand as a clean, contemporary and understated aesthetic—which would bleed into every aspect of the organization. Asics Tiger quickly came up with a new website, a picturesque, imaginative masterpiece of UX design with eye-catching products, a community of Asics wearers and an intuitive interface for visitors. Asics Tiger also applied this high-tech/high-fashion feel to their first store in Osaka’s bustling Shinsaibashi shopping district: voluminous glass windows, subtle (yet unmistakable) hints of modern art, and wide-open spaces in contrasting tones of light grey, black and white.
For its place as the pinnacle of contemporary chic, and its identity as a brand that moves into the 21st century without sacrificing its roots, Asics Tiger wins a place on this list.
The brand’s success likely has to do with its impressive outreach campaign: though it’s very New York–specific, Seamless’ ads have long been a hit with the residents. The winning formula fused clever, funny and relevant copy with a variety of simple, bright, food-based backgrounds, from sushi to sandwiches. It was catnip for hungry Millennials living in the big city.
Though these ads were understated, and vibrant, with the design subordinate to ad copy, the formula changed. In their next campaign, Seamless moved to visually arresting designs that combined colorful, busy graphics and text with clever copy.
The ad below is full of references.
Neon lights, counters made of checkered tiles and a cartoony (but still delicious) stack of pancakes: Seamless truly went retro in this ad, evoking greasy-spoon diners soaked in fluorescent lighting and packed with tasty, homey fare.
This next ad below is an entirely different animal, though it too has throwbacks.
One look yields a range of varied design influences, from 1930s-era Art Deco reimagined in blocks of green-and-red, to cursive script seemingly lifted from old-time ads. For such a compact illustration, there is also a lot packed into its confines: the landmarks of New York in the top corner, colorful copy, and lastly, a healthy dose of New York–style sarcasm. Truly an animal for the Big Apple.
Ultimately, the proper design (and ensuing brand personality) can truly set a business apart from others. The best brands rely on skilled artists to interpret their personality through design, painting into being emotions, building relationships with customers, and cutting through the cluttered, digital arena.
After working as a senior designer at leading ad agencies like Havas Worldwide, Anthony Wood transitioned into teaching design. Today, he is the Global Managing Director of Shillington Education, a comprehensive, immersive design school that transforms career changers and recent grads into fully-fledged designers within the span of 3-9 months. Shillington has campuses in Sydney, New York, London, Manchester, Melbourne, and Brisbane.