Community Brand Identity and the Power of Design

How to develop a community logo that leaves a lasting impression

Have you ever walked into a shop or a restaurant and then turned right around to leave? You didn’t speak to anyone or purchase a single item – yet, the place just didn’t feel quite right. Finding places that make us feel welcome isn’t something we consciously seek out, but it’s something most of us instinctively do. Maya Angelou sums it up best: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

“Maya Angelou sums it up best: ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.'”

Figure out where you’re going.

Creating feelings around brands is a big part of what we do as graphic designers. Of course, everything we craft must be aesthetically appealing and read well, but it also has to make you feel something positive, even if you can’t put your finger on why or how this is accomplished. In some cases, we may not even realize that a brand is affecting us. But a good brand and logo leaves you with a positive feeling – one that stays with you.

Helping communities leave their mark is at the core of what we do here at Guide Studio. Designing an effective community logo is not magic, although it does require a bit of talent [ahem]. We are not interested in being the man behind the curtain – we’d rather share some insight on how we do this to help you evaluate design and logos for your community.

“A logo is not communication. It’s identification.”

–Sagi Haviv, graphic designer, speaker, logo extraordinaire

While a logo plays an important role in our marketing efforts, it’s more of a symbol than a communication tool. It doesn’t make clear what you do or tell the full story, but it ties into the personality of the community. So it goes without saying: you have to identify the community’s personality before developing logo concepts.

To truly hone in on a community’s personality, you have to do your research. Discovery workshops, focus groups, and interviews – however it’s done, you need to hear from the community to identify a civic brand personality:

  • If your community was a person, how would describe him or her?
  • Do you think of your community as traditional or modern?
  • Serious and focused, or casual and friendly?
  • Youthful or mature?

The list goes on.

With this information in-hand, we can create the strategy behind the logo, a balance between who you are at present and where you’re going. Ultimately, the strategy should answer the question ‘How do we want people to feel when they visit?’

Yes – it’s all subjective. But there are tools in a designer’s arsenal that have some universal interpretation. For example, orange is often associated with happiness and blue can be calming. This is a gross oversimplification, but it illustrates the point. Furthermore, a good logo also has to be functional, work across formats, translate well into the physical environment, etc. We consider typefaces, colors, patterns, textures, size and scale. Everything.

Part of the challenge in designing a logo is in the interpretation. What is “modern” to one person may be “traditional” to another. In fact, before we even develop logo concepts, we often work through visual exercises to understand how different images, colors, textures, etc. make people feel. This helps us gage if we’re on the same wavelength, and if not, it helps us chart the course.

It’s never love at first sight.

Evaluating a logo concept is tough. It’s easy to get emotionally involved or focus on your personal preferences versus what will resonate with your audience. We all expect a big unveiling, an ah-ha moment, but that doesn’t always happen.

Just like in life and relationships, you have to pay attention to your gut reaction, but you also need to get to know a logo and consider how it aligns with your strategy and your audiences.

There will always be an element of personal preference in our logo selections. But in order to develop an effective logo, one that supports how you want people to feel about your place, it’s important to look at it through your audience lens and consider it in relationship to your brand strategy.

“This looks like x, y or z.”

It’s human nature to associate something new with something you know. In fact, this association makes the unfamiliar feel more comfortable. Even some of the biggest brands out there – think Gucci and Chanel – have similar logos. It’s because they’re simple, bold, and aesthetically strong. Imagine if Gucci added a row of purses or shoes to their logos. Would it feel the same? Would people still pay hundreds of dollars for a belt buckle with the logo on it?

Keeping a logo simple leaves more space to be creative in telling the brand story. When you get too literal with a logo, it can be limiting, both in how it’s used and what it represents. For example, your community may be full of lush forestry and beautiful houses, but that doesn’t tell much of a story. This is not to say that all pictorial logos lack character – there are many ways to convey personality through these types of marks – but they run the risk of boxing-in a community identity that is actually rich in complexity.

Just one (important) piece of the puzzle

Haviv is full of great one-liners. Here’s another good one: “The logo is the period at the end of the sentence.”

Punctuation helps you interpret the sentence, but it doesn’t tell the story. A logo is the same. It’s an extension of your brand and an important tool, but it represents something more, something intangible that has more to do with experience than with design.

So, with your next design or logo project, focus on what it evokes in you, think about your objectives and the strategy behind it, consider your audiences – create something with the power to leave a positive and memorable feeling.


Looking to spread the word about your brand? Download this free brand champion workbook to help you get started.

Design Consultant


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