Discover everything you need to know about creating a successful brand identity with this must-read booklist
A strong and impactful brand identity makes you stand out from the crowd and is key to connecting with your audience, so getting it right is absolutely essential.
Designer, Creative Director, and branding expert Michael Johnson (@michael_johnson) is the founder of Johnson Banks, a world-renowned design consultancy that specializes in branding and visual identity. He has spent over 30 years working on leading branding projects with top clients in the cultural, government, and charity sectors, including Action Against Hunger, the UN Climate Change Conference, and the Royal Academy of Music.
In this post, he reveals his top 7 reading suggestions that are an absolute must for anyone looking to increase their brand's visibility, communicate more effectively with their audience, and become an expert in all things brand-related. But before we begin, it’s important to understand what we mean by a “brand”.
What exactly is a brand?
A brand is much more than a visual representation of a company or product. A brand has a personality, conveys emotions, feelings, qualities, and values. It thinks, acts, and speaks, almost like a human being.
In fact, in some cases a brand actually is a person. Some people, like Michael Jordan, Rihanna, or Messi, can also be considered brands, so the definition is not limited to a product or service.
Values that a brand must meet
For a brand to be properly represented, it must meet three inherent basic objectives:
1. Identify. The brand must communicate a message of existence and be noted: "I am here, I exist and these are my values."
2. Differentiate. One of the main purposes of a brand is to distinguish something from its competition. If all brands of a particular product or service were equal, it would be practically impossible to choose one or the other. With correct branding, we can easily identify each one.
3. Position. Just as it serves to distinguish something from the competition, a brand also creates an image in the mind of the consumer.
7 essential Branding Books
Here is a list of Michael Johnson’s top reads to become a branding expert, including two of his own books.
Pioneers of Modern Typography | Herbert Spencer (Thames and Hudson)
Herbert Spencer was the founder of the design and visual arts journal Typographica, and professor of graphic arts at the Royal College of Art, London. First published in 1969, his book is a fascinating read for anyone interested in understanding how painting, poetry, and architecture impacted modern graphic design and typography at the start of the 20th century.
Spencer examines the influences of avant-garde movements such as Futurism, Dadaism, De Stijl, Suprematism, Constructivism, and the Bauhaus, including iconic examples of illustrations in a range of genres from posters to magazine covers.
Inside Collett Dickenson Pearce | John Salmon; John Ritchie (Batsford 2000)
This book looks at the rise of one of Britain's most notorious advertising agencies, Collett Dickenson Pearce. Founded by John Pearce and Ronnie Dickenson, the agency played a key role in London’s cultural shift during the 60s.
With a collection of over 60 contributions, the book gives you an exclusive insight into the life and work of an agency that revolutionized the world of advertising with its innovative, thought-provoking, and often hilariously funny campaigns.
The Corporate Personality | Wally Olins (Design Council)
Wally Olins is a celebrated name in advertising. During his career, he was responsible for advising some of the world's top organizations on matters related to identity, branding, and communication, as well as pioneering the concept of the nation as a brand.
In his book The corporate personality: an inquiry into the nature of corporate identity, Olins looks at the role image has played throughout history and the importance of distinguishing a company by establishing a clear and distinct brand identity that will make it thrive.
Brand New | Wally Olins (Thames and Hudson)
Another must-read by corporate identity and branding superstar Wally Olins, this book analyzes the problems faced by today’s corporations and looks at the future panorama of branding.
It covers topics such as corporate social responsibility, the impact of technology on brands, and the rise of new and competing markets in India, China, and Brazil. This book will appeal to anyone interested in marketing, business, or contemporary culture.
The Art of Advertising: George Lois on Mass Communication | George Lois and Bill Pitts (Harry Abrams 1977)
American art director, designer, and author George Lois, gives us an insight into some of his most famous advertising campaigns.
From print to television, this book covers over 25 years of his career, revealing the influences that have inspired modern graphic work.
Now Try Something Weirder | Michael Johnson (Laurence King 2019)
One of the most difficult things for anyone working in the creative industry is how to think of great ideas.
Michael Johnson draws on over 30 years of experience to reveal his secrets of success, offering a book that’s packed with useful tips, tricks, and advice on how to consistently produce good ideas that will impress your peers and clients and give you added confidence in your creative ability.
Problem Solved | Michael Johnson (Phaidon Press 2012)
This book looks at common problems in all areas of communication and how to solve them. Each chapter covers a specific problem and concludes with a case study exploring a particular solution, featuring organizations such as The Natural History Museum, BBC2, and the Tate.
Ideal for designers and communicators at both professional and beginner levels, it is the perfect companion for those wanting to improve their problem-solving skills.
This reading list will help you towards creating a successful brand identity as well as give you confidence when defining its look and feel. Remember though, that the look and feel of a brand is not limited to just a logo or color palette. It covers everything you see and feel that makes you relate to a brand, from digital to physical elements.
You can find out more about a brand’s look and feel, as well as easy ways to apply it to your own brand, here, or watch the video below!
If you want to know more about Michael Johnson’s work, check out his Domestika course Contemporary Brand Identity: Using Verbal and Visual Identity, where you’ll find out how to combine words and design to create a unique brand identity that speaks to multiple audiences, and learn how to develop a strategic brand concept of your own from start to finish.
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