5 designer shortcuts to help your new startup prioritize branding work


Founders at an early stage often have a hard time prioritizing and structuring their brand’s work, and it’s true that the feat can seem quite overwhelming if you’re building your entire visual identity from scratch.

Color options, fonts, and images can seem like insignificant details when you’re simultaneously building your product, raising funds, and recruiting for key roles, but overlooking your brand can be a costly mistake for a startup with only one chance to woo. to a potential investor. or customer.

At the same time, no matter what your investor, board member, or brand agency tells you, early-stage startups don’t need to have their ducks in a well-marked row as clearly as Coke or Apple.

Having worked with over 100 organizations on their branding, design, and visual identity, I’ve seen the sweat on the foreheads of too many founders as they try to prioritize their limited resources in a world of fancy business cards, products, and brands. videos you don’t need yet.

Here are five things every early-stage startup should do to get the most out of its visual identity with limited resources:

1. Text logos are underrated (and all logos are overrated), so stop obsessing over them.

Early-stage startups often put too much weight on their logo and its inherent symbolism.

So, I’ll be frank: spending time perfecting your logo is a huge waste of time, creativity, and money.

The world is so saturated with logos that it is almost impossible to create one that is completely unique and identifies your startup from the moment it is created. Much more important than trying to recreate the iconic McDonald’s or Nike symbols for your B2B startup is getting people to remember your name, and for that, plain text logos can bring much-needed repetition.

If you don’t believe me when I say simple is beautiful, just look at companies like Burger King, Toyota, and Warner Bros, who are jumping on the bandwagon of brand degradation and simplifying their logos to the core.

2. Don’t pay for prepared photos that appear to be in stock.

Meme accounts making fun of stock photos have tired us all of image banks, but commissioning your own custom photoshoot isn’t always the best option.

Even real photos taken in your office with your own employees often end up looking fake, because let’s face it, no one sits within five inches of their closest colleague staring at the same screen.

Rather than paying for a custom photoshoot, there are great free image banks like Unsplash where you can get started, and cropping photos differently or adding layers of colors can help you customize them for your branding.

But a word of caution: don’t go through the top five pages ranked by popularity, unless you’re looking for the same look as your five closest competitors.

3. Customize only where it matters most

With limited branding resources, you need to focus your efforts on where your images can have the most impact.

For a SaaS company with a technical product, it is imperative that you have a high-quality image, animation, or video explanation of the actual solution and how it works, not a simplified cartoon or artistic branding image, while a branding D2C will probably want to invest in packaging for the perfect unpacking experience.

And no matter what your brand agency tells you, unless it’s Coinbase or Spotify, you don’t need to pay thousands for fonts or banks of customizable icons (check out existing templates from Google, Streamline, or Fontawesome).

4. Buy templates instead of material production.

Using a third-party partner to enhance your images for key materials like presentations, your website, or product packaging is often a good idea, because even if someone on your founding team is fluent in Adobe, your limited time will likely be invested. better at other things.

However, when it comes to repetitive content like images for a social media post, paid campaign materials, or single-page pages, you can save a lot of resources and little time by ordering templates that someone on your team can freely reuse and modify.

Rule of thumb: if you need more than one version of something, a template is a must. If you need 20 versions of the same design, it can take an hour for the first to get right. The rest should be done in a couple of minutes, and if not, you’re doing it wrong.

5. Accept that your identity will expire in the first 2-3 years.

Finally, companies are taught to fear brand revamps (“you shouldn’t change your colors now that customers are finally starting to recognize you!”), But for startups, change your visual identity in the first two or three Three years of its life cycle often makes good business sense.

Startups tend to have limited resources to start building your brand, so you’ll likely want to expand your brand once you have more insight into your fitness to do so.

More importantly, startup growth cycles are short, making the same visual identity unlikely to serve its purpose for more than three years. As you enter new markets, broaden your focus on early adopters, or introduce new products or verticals, your brand will require a different approach.

Just think of Oura, whose whole vibe recently switched from high-performance biohacking to a healthier lifestyle approach, or Dropbox, which transformed from a somewhat generic blue SaaS brand to a more colorful, consumer-centric brand.