The creative aspect of branding has many “signals"—some conceptual, some specific, figurative or literal. A lot of times we notice brand signals as visual components: colors, symbols, icons, patterns or monograms.
This guide is a basic primer that will get you started on a much more formulaic approach to creating the right patterns as a brand signal.
I’ll assume you know what branding is. If not, just refer to many of the articles I’ve written to get an understanding.
Branding textures/backgrounds: one of the elements of design
In most design theories taught in school, there are some basic elements and principles to a good “design”
The elements are Space, Line, Balance, Color, Shape, Texture, Form, Value
There is also a list of principles that correspond to the elements. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel here, so check out this great article about both elements and principles.
Well, we could argue that all of these are important to JUST the creation of these background pieces. But is it also possible that just one or a few principles is specific to this project? What rules are appropriate in the context of an overall branding project?
I think both methods would probably work. But using them all is a great way to make sure you cover the basics, and you may uncover a flaw in your design as a result.
Gone overboard: tacky brand overkill
When it comes to creating on-brand backgrounds, it can be tempting to just snag the logo and use it across the board in myriad ways: from backgrounds to monograms to patterns to, well you name it. This can be useful, but it’s very likely you’ll just dilute the recognition of your brand. It needs to stand on its own, in the right context.
You wouldn’t want to do this, trust me. Another tip, as illustrated below: complex logo “icons” are usually not good for backgrounds, and they are especially bad if they are square. This grid pattern usually works against you.
Think of it this way: a logo shouldn’t just be plastered across every piece of advertising, it is the most important visualization of your company, so it needs to have a special place.
Conceptually branded backgrounds
Often times, backgrounds and patterns that are “on-brand” are designed in a way that they conceptually reinforce the brand itself. It’s not used primarily because it “looks cool” but rather because it visually represents something else that coincides with the brand ideals.
This can be loose or strict, but it generally works the same way.
Example 1: brush strokes
A brush stroke pattern would likely reinforce the concept of “hand-made” or perhaps natural, organic, or artistically-oriented. The reasoning is pretty obvious: brush strokes are used in painting, and since painting is no longer necessary for art prints, it’s meaning has become “petrified” in time.
Example 2: honeycomb pattern
You might find a honeycomb pattern with a brand that sells honey. That’s the obvious one. But what about other uses? It is very likely you could find this pattern on a place that wants to appeal “techy”. Why? Because honeycomb patterns are made of 45 degree lines, with no curves. They are also a tessellation (they can be repeated in a pattern.) These rules tend to be associated with things that are tech or science oriented, because we hear about them in geometry, which by association, is science. As you can see, two very different fields can use this pattern successfully.
The Do's and Dont's
Do use a shape that is simple enough to stand on its own right. It is recommended to use a shape that is not “layered” (e.g. can work in one color only.)
Do test your background with many colors and overlays, with the logo.
Here’s an example with the above Do’s in action:
This was just a name I made up. It’s “Masterpiece” without the vowels. I made a basic icon that does not need layers to work, and then repeated it in a diagonal fashion. As you can see, the diagonal lines work much better than squares alone.
Don’t use a complex or “layered” icon/logo/symbol. It usually works against you and dilutes your brand if that icon is part of your logo.
Don’t put the background on anything and everything. You should have both solid and patterned applications ready for the many contexts you will need to be designing for.