So, you want a career in branding right?
Well, I don’t blame you. It’s a highly rewarding industry of creative expression, freedom and with huge growth potential for the future.
It’s never been easier to create a business and every business needs a brand.
But there are many branding specialists involved in the brand-building process including the brand designer and the brand strategist.
So which branding career is the most rewarding?
Well, in this article, we’re breaking down the difference between the brand designer and the brand strategist, so you can choose the best direction for you and, your goals and your skillsets
Freelance Branding Career Path (Brand Designer vs Brand Strategist)
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How Graphic Design And Brand Strategy Work Together
Although strategy and design are distinctly different, they’re interdependent.
A great strategy without design lacks impact while great design without strategy is simply ineffective.
There are many great-looking brands in the world that no one has heard of because they lack an effective strategy to connect with the intended audience.
Likewise, there are many strategically sound brands that are underachieving because they lack the impact that great design could give them.
In other words, brand designers and brand strategists are an integral part of a branding team and need to work together to build an effective brand.
But let’s break them down a little further so we can see the big picture
Graphic Design vs Logo Designer vs Brand Designer
The terms graphic designer, logo designer, and brand designer are often used interchangeably though there’s a subtle difference in the outcome they produce, which makes a huge difference in their value to the brand-building process.
Graphic designers tend to be generalist designers who apply their skills to a broad range of visual designs.
These might include print design such as flyers, posters, and brochures to digital design including banners and custom graphics.
Logo designers focus all their efforts entirely on creating logos or Icons that represent the brand.
They don’t design supporting brand identity assets which most brands need for consistent visual expression throughout the brand experience.
If you think of the Airbnb logo, you think of the upside-down heart icon.
But there are so many more visual identity elements that make up the Airbnb brand identity system from the patterns to the illustration style and the flexible color palette to name a few.
Without these supporting elements, the Airbnb brand wouldn’t be as visually impactful as it is.
This visual impact has been made possible by the brand designers at DesignStudio, Airbnb’s chosen design agency who has done a masterful job at branding the brand to life visually.
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What Is A Brand Designer?
A brand designer is a visual communication specialist who has been trained in the craft of visual design.
The brand designer role involves the creative design, redesign, or refreshing of brand identities or brand identity elements which are used to visually distinguish brands and their products from their competitors.
The job of the brand designer is to communicate the brands’ attributes visually so the visual identity of the brand aligns with the meaning and message of the brand.
In other words, the brand designer brings the brand and its strategy to life visually.
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What Is A Brand Strategist?
While the designer is the visual communication specialist, the brand strategist is the brand architect and project director incorporating all forms of communication from visual to verbal.
Ultimately the role of the brand strategist is to define the method the brand will use to connect with the intended audience before developing that brand into existence.
Defining who this audience is and the message the brand wants to send to connect and resonate is a core task of the brand strategist.
Every business in the world solves a problem for a group or multiple groups of people.
Businesses that figure out the right combination to deliver the right message about how they can help their customers and how that help is valuable are the ones that become successful.
All successful brands have a strategy for success.
Responsibilities Of A Brand Designer
Before moving into brand identity design, brand designers often begin their careers and cut their teeth as graphic designers who tend to cover a broader spectrum of design.
Web Design / Website Design
Along with designing these elements other brand designer responsibilities include:
Visual and design thinking
Understanding the business case and client objectives
Executing design on-brief under the direction of the creative lead
Collaborating with other branding and marketing specialists
Offering creative insights
Articulation of ideas in client meetings
Responsibilities Of A Brand Strategist
While a designer in an agency environment, answers to the creative director and may have minimal interaction with the client, the brand strategist on the other hand works in a direct hands-on capacity with the client.
It’s worth noting that many freelance brand designers work directly with clients, though primarily to understand the brand identity brief, not to develop the brand strategy.
To define the strategy, the brand strategist must fully understand the client, their needs and wants (whether they’re the same or not), the competitive landscape, and the audience.
Only when they have a complete understanding of these conditions and objectives can they devise a plan or a strategy to achieve the goals given the circumstances.
While brand designers design visual elements, brand strategists define strategic elements which can include;
Voice & Tone
Brand Name & Tagline
Although the strategist may or may not have a hand in the creative direction or design of the brand identity, it’s their role to oversee its execution to express the brand visually.
Along with defining strategic elements, the brand strategist is responsible for the management and delivery of the branding project as a whole, often managing marketing teams or other creative and branding specialists such as:
Social Media Managers
Brand Designer Skills
Brand designers play an important role in the brand development process.
To be an effective brand designer, there are some prerequisites when it comes to skills which the designer must bring to the table.
Brand designer skills include
High-level visual communication
High-level verbal communication
Time management skills
Ability to work as part of a team
Advanced design software competencies
Ability to stick to a brief
Ability to work to tight deadlines
Express specific attributes through designs
A brand designer boasting all of these skills is more likely to complement the design team.
Lacking any one of these skills, however, would negatively impact the ability of the brand designer to fulfill the duties of their role.
Brand Strategist Skills
While brand designers bring their real value to the table in the visual articulation of the brand through their design skills, the skillsets required for a strategist are both deeper and wider.
Firstly, the brand strategist must be able to understand the businesses and industries of their clients and the people that make up their markets.
After understanding comes insights, to conceptualize and define the strategy to ultimately develop a competitive brand.
Brand strategist skills include
High-level communication skills
Leadership & Guidance
Ideation & Conceptualisation
Research & Development
Creative & strategic thinking
There are many specialist skills leveraged in building strategic brands, from design to development to marketing execution and everywhere in between.
Although a brand strategist doesn’t need skills to execute every task, they do need the high-level know-how of each discipline to bring these specialists together to develop a cohesive brand.
Qualifications Of A Brand Designer
Traditionally, designers are hired out of university through internships and work experience programs.
Classically trained designers will most likely have a Degree or Higher National Diploma in one of the following subjects.
Branding & Identity Design
Graphic Communication Design
Art & Design
Though agencies often prefer to hire classically trained designers, there has been an influx of self-taught designers to the market in the last 10 years.
A large portion of these designers may lack the fundamental design principles that classically trained designers boast though more and more highly skilled and highly competitive self-taught designers are emerging.
Education alone, however, is never enough and when it comes to brand design, your portfolio is your visual resume. The more actual client work you have to choose from, the better.
If you have the raw skills, the next step is to get exposure to client projects to increase your brand-building experience.
Qualifications Of A Brand Strategist
Brand strategists were once luxury specialists reserved for the fortune 500 brands of the world.
Traditionally, this was a well-worn path for the few who made the journey.
A degree in one of the following fields was a typical starting point.
Media & Advertising
Marketing and Communications
Bachelor of Business / Commerce
Communication and Media
This foundational education would pave the way for any of the following roles in marketing, media, or advertising such as:
Social media manager
Research & development
Chief Marketing Officer
Public relations specialist
Extensive experience in any of these fields would make the specialist a prime candidate for brand strategy roles.
More recently, brand strategists have emerged through brand-building experience in fields such as
These strategists are meeting the increased demand from smaller business leaders to build brands with strategic foundations.
What Does A Brand Designer Earn? (Brand Designer Job Salaries)
The salary or income a brand designer may earn is largely influenced by their design experience.
Location is also a factor in employment. For example, brand design jobs in New York or San Francisco will often pay more than cities with smaller economies.
According to Glassdoor, the average salary of graphic designers working as employees is roughly $50,000 per annum.
Senior brand designers on the other hand earn significantly more at $82,000, so that specialization in branding is really valued by the market.
With all that said, a skilled freelance brand designer with the right marketing strategy can earn significantly more depending on their target audience.
For example, unlike an employee, a freelancer might target established profitable businesses with their skillset to revive their brand identity.
Two projects per month at $5,000 per project, would result in an income of $120,000 which is quite conservative.
What Does A Brand Strategist Earn (Brand Strategist Job Salaries)
Again, using Glassdoor as our benchmark, the average salary for brand strategists is $102,000 per annum.
Now, of course, established businesses with the capacity to hire a full-time brand strategist would often look for many years of experience.
There are very few junior brand strategist positions in the world as the expectation is that strategists are born in the field through extensive experience working directly with brands, not through in-house training, though expect that to change in the coming years as this specialization grows.
When it comes to freelance strategists, again the right specialist with the right marketing strategy can earn significantly more than the average salary for brand strategists.
Using the same simple example as the brand designer, two strategy projects per month at $10,000 per project, would result in an income of $240,000 which again, is quite conservative.
Over To You
Without a doubt, the demand for branding specialists is on the rise.
Entrepreneurs and startups are emerging in their millions many with an acute understanding of the importance of their brand.
Along with the already established businesses in the world putting more emphasis on their brand, demand for the right specialists has never been higher.
If you’re considering your next move in your branding career then the answers to these four questions will help.
- What are my goals?
- What are my skills?
- Where can I improve?
- What are my passions?
Some will go looking for a brand designer, others for a brand strategist.
Where you want to go, what you want to achieve, and what skills you have or can acquire should influence the service you offer.
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