Branding | Research for Meaningful Brand Systems


This training will introduce to you the concept of brand systems and shed light on some of the research processes that can be undertaken before working with a new client or creating a brand. By reading through some of the examples of organizational brand systems then conducting a brand audit on a UT organization, you should have a good understanding of the elements of brand systems that need to be established to create a consistent identity. Then, you will use that knowledge to create a brand system for a mock organization.

By the end of this training, you should be able to:

  • Understand why organizations create brand systems and how they go about creating them
  • Conduct a brand audit
  • Create a brand system for a mock company or a mock UT research initiative

Brand Systems Basics

What is a brand system?

A brand system is a collection of design elements that collectively represent the purpose, values, and personality of an organization. Aligning several aspects of an organization’s visual and messaging identity under a brand system should help all members of the organization stay aligned on what the brand is about.

At its core, a Brand System is a shared library of design elements that helps define, preserve, and improve the audience’s experience with the brand. Created effectively, a brand system should help viewers understand what an organization is and what they value.

Source: Printsome Insights

A brand system should help the organization maintain the organization’s brand identity, which is how viewers perceive and experience your organization. Using elements of visual communication, you hope to elicit certain emotions and feelings.

What is brand identity?

We are using brand system and brand identity somewhat interchangeably here, but brand identity is what brand systems are used to formalize. Brand identity is an amalgamation of what your brand communicates and makes people feel when they see it. It includes all visual elements of a brand that help distinguish the brand in audiences’ minds. Brand systems help foster consistency across different channels and align all stakeholders of the brand’s organization under one common core.

Source: Printsome Insights

What is typically included in a brand system?

Mission and Values– the philosophy and goals of the organization

Logo – a visual representation of the organization

Color – Primary and secondary palettes

Typography – Font hierarchies

Images – Photographs and illustrations are consistent styles


Now, let’s explore some organizations with highly established brand systems and visual identities. Understanding the connection between desired values and visual/messaging execution allows us to explore questions one should ask oneself during the research stage of creating meaningful brand systems.

The University of TexasLink to brandbook

The University of Texas is a public research university. As the flagship institution of the UT system, it is somewhat representative of higher education in the state of Texas.

UT has a distinct national and international identity that is actively shaped by its students, faculty, accomplishments, athletics, history, and a variety of other factors. Therefore, it seeks to use its branding guidelines to identify who the university is at its core and align communications under one voice.

Examine this quote:

“Nothing is more critical to marketing success than consistency of branding. A strong, consistent brand results in a virtuous circle of positive associations, more participation, and greater institutional success. Conversely, when any company or organization promotes itself with an array of identities — visual or psychological — it fractures and diffuses its power, confusing audiences and failing to reach its full potential. As our media environment becomes ever noisier and more segmented, and as our competitors become more numerous, diverse and savvy, the need to cut through that noise, stake out our ground, and advance into leadership becomes all the more critical.”

This brand book makes it clear that UT sees its branding as an important tool in establishing its purpose and differentiating factors amongst a pool of prominent higher education institutions. UT uses branding to acknowledge its past history, make a statement on its present identity, and set goals for the indefinite future. Though UT is a school, it’s ability to operate and stay relevant relies on its success in attracting students, staff, and faculty who want to be at UT. Brand systems help ensure the marketing tactics and strategies UT uses are aligned on all levels.

Flipping through UT’s brand book, you will see that UT’s brand guidelines outline these elements:

  • Brand
    • Essence:
    • “The brand essence of The University of Texas at Austin is audacity.”
    • “What starts here changes the world.” “This idea should trickle down to every part of the institution’s messaging”
UT Austin’s Brand Pyramid
  • Voice and Tone
    • “Audacious, yet warm and inviting. Our tone is intellectual but unpretentious.”
    • Bold, restless, responsible, friendly, a wink and a smile
  • Messaging
    • Includes a Brand Positioning Statement
    • Messaging to different stakeholders
  • Logo
    • “Our visual identity and brand architecture are rooted in academic tradition and excellence.”
    • Wordmark
    • Primary, Secondary Logos
  • Colors
    • “Using color in a consistent way reinforces our brand and fosters trust and recognition.”
  • Typography
    • Print
    • Digital
  • Photography
    • Notice how the following the lighting and sense of drama in these example photos strive to convey audacity
    • UT has guidelines on portraiture as well, outlining expressions and body language meant to convey audacity
  • Textures and Patterns
  • Iconography
  • Toolkit and Templates

Stop and Reflect

After learning about UT’s brand guidelines, take some time to reflect. Does your perception of UT align with the identity UT sought to create? Why or why not? Do you have any specific examples in mind of how you noticed UT manifesting its principles? Let us know in the Basecamp comments.

Average time spent on reflection – 10 to 15 minutes

How can Universities develop their brand? → source

  • Marketing must convey what it is about the university that makes the school right for the student
  • Research: What are the strengths of the institution? What is the point of differentiation over other competitors?
    • Sports? Academic reputation? Research? 
      • UT is a sports-heavy institution, but also a school renowned for academic research. How does the university interweave both elements into its branding?
    • What kinds of branding can facilitate different strengths?
  • Research: What is the history of the organization?
    • Location (how might branding for a school in Austin differ from branding for a school in New York or California?
    • Notable alumni (what are they known for?)
    • Is the university new or old? What are visual elements that communicate newness or oldness?
  • Research: The competition
    • How are similar universities branding themselves? 
    • What can you do differently?  



Google’s mission statement: to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. In other words (their words), to “Maximize access to information.”

Picking apart the mission statement, there are some keywords that stick out. They seek to organize, promote accessibility and usefulness, and maximize information. Therefore, it makes sense to think that Google tends to focus on elements like clarity and understandability when creating its visual identity. 

Google Re-branding - A Case Study in Strategic Innovation | Truly Deeply -  Brand Agency Melbourne


“Our brand reflects how we want to be thought of and remembered. Consistent look and feel ensures a better awareness and connection to Reddit. Whenever using the Reddit brand, be sure to follow these key principles.”

Reddit is a social website that fosters communities of a large range of topic-related forums. Their slogan is “The front page of the internet,” and examining its purpose, slogan, and offerings can give us a good understanding of why Reddit made certain design decisions with its brand system. 

Now Read over Reddit’s brand guidelines. 

Reddit’s brand guide includes information on: 

  • Reddit’s Logo
  • Brand family
  • Social icons
  • Snoo (its mascot)
  • Terminology
  • General usage
  • Terms of use

How does this brand book establish consistency? By explaining the logic behind certain design decisions, it gives organization members a better understanding of the history of Reddit and what it seeks to provide for users.

What are some of the key values Reddit holds? Reddit values community, friendless, and personal identity. Reddit is a space for people of a wide variety of interests to come together and discuss anything they are interested in. There is seemingly a subreddit for every subject, regardless of how small or big the subject is.

Hence, Reddit places a large emphasis of its visual identity on Snoo, the company mascot. Snoo has big eyes and a soft smile to convey friendliness and openness, and the Snoo logo transparent such that it can be used to represent different subreddits and interests. It is interesting to think about the very detail-oriented techniques some brands use to convey their values.

Stop and Reflect

What are some of the ways brands use brand identity and strategies to execute their values? Comment one or two ideas on Basecamp.

Average time spent on reflection – 10 to 15 minutes

Conducting a Brand Audit

Conduct a visual/brand audit

If the department or client already exists, conducting a visual audit is a way to understand the voice, audience, and messaging of a department. 

In this part of the training, you will conduct a brand audit on the College of Liberal Arts at UT. Visit the website and follow the steps below. UT COLA Homepage.

  1. Gather visual materials 
    1. Are there logos, social media pages, blogs, videos or posters that already exist for this department? Surf the internet for any and all you can find and take screenshots.
    2. Gather all available logos, slogans, typography sets, color sets.
    3. Share on Basecamp with at 1-2 sentences explaining what each contributes to the visual identity or how they are used.
  2. Assess
    1. What are common themes?
    2. What brand identity and values come to mind?
    3. Is there room for improvement anywhere?
    4. Are there inconsistencies and where?
    5. How does the brand identity of COLA compare and contrast with the brand identity of UT at large?

Average time spent on Conducting a Brand Audit – 60 to 90 minutes

Applying the Concepts

Now, you will play the role of a designer asked to create a brand system for either a company or a UT research initiative. The two client briefs are located below. Choose one concept to fully develop using primarily Photoshop. The final product will be a 5-7 page brand book of all the created brand elements.

Brief 1 – Café Restaurant  – 6 to 7 hours

  • Name: Fairy Forest Cafe
  • Mission statement: Our mission is to inspire wonder and magic in the day-to-day. We are a 24-hour cafe welcome to all those who wish to enjoy a warm beverage, mingle, study, read, or just sit and enjoy the ambiance. 
  • 3-5 adjectives: whimsical, natural, cozy, fresh, relaxed 
  • Messaging: Magical
  • Audience: in an urban environment, typically serves students and young twenty/thirty somethings who are looking to get a good read on, do work, and perhaps mingle with fellow coffee goers in a casual manner. These twenty to thirty somethings love organization, “quirky” things, and consuming caffeinated products.
  • Type of restaurant – coffee, desserts, refreshments, and some light food (think sandwiches and soups). Like halfway between Bennu and this cafe (El Bosc de les Fades)
Bennu and El Bosc de les Fades


  1. Moodboard – up to 30 min
    • Gather at least 5 pictures of inspiration
    • Share on basecamp and write 2-3 sentence about why you chose the images that you did
  1. Logo – 2 to 3 hours
    • Apply concepts from logo training
    • Mock a logo design and get feedback
    • Dimensions: 250 x 150 px
  1. Color scheme – up to 30 min
    • Apply concepts from color theory training
    • Pick 2-3 primary colors to include in the company color scheme
    • What colors represent the client brief to you and why? 
    • Then, arrange your color scheme in a format similar to to the one below to be included in your brand book
  1. Typography guide – up to 30 min
  1. Menu (make it in InDesign) – 1.5 to 2 hours
    • With the given information on food items, apply concepts from InDesign trainings and design a simple menu 
    • Dimensions: 8.5” x 11”
    • Beverages
      • Witch’s Brew-ed Coffee 2.99
      • Lichen Latte 3.99
      • Mythical Mocha 3.99
    • Desserts
      • Enchanted Mud Mousse Chocolate Cake) 4.99
      • Pixie Pear Honey Cakes 4.99
      • Mixed Berry Scones 1.99
    • Food
      • Watercress sandwich 5.99
      • Sorcerer’s Soup 3.99
      • Wood Ear mushroom Salad 3.99
  2. Shirt for fans / 1 piece of merch – 1 hour
    • Try to incorporate logo elements in a new or refreshed way
    • Ultimately mock up this piece of merchandise on a t-shirt and one other piece of relevant merchandise

Finally, build out a style guide using all the components of your brand system. (30 min)

Brief 2 – COLA Research Initiative – 4 to 5 hours


  1. Logo + Favicon – 2 to 3 hours
    • Make a draft of a logo using Photoshop or Illustrator and post on Basecamp
    • Try to make the two assets similar but not the same. Is there a simplified or complementary image to that of the logo that you can make?
  2. Color scheme (consider UT’s brand) – 10 min
    • Apply concepts from color theory training
    • Pick 2-3 colors that will primarily represent this research initiative
    • Select the colors within the colors delineated in UT’s brand book
    • Then, arrange your color scheme in a format similar to to the one below to be included in your brand book
  3. Type (consider UT’s brand) – 15 min
  4. Banner for their website (870 x 385) – up to 2 hours
    • Include the initiative title
  5. Make a mockup Cascade site (optional)
  6. Business card – 45 min
  7. Email signature – 15 min

Finally, build out a style guide using all the components of your brand system. (30 min)

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