The importance of great mobile app branding

Our Digital Designer Sarah (Van) Gough has worked on a wide variety of our clients including NHS, Selfie Guide and CabFind. Here, she discusses the importance of mobile branding in app design, how our UX-ers communicate a brand’s look and feel effectively within apps, and a few top tips for dealing with trickier briefs.

 

Incorporating a client’s brand into their mobile app isn’t just important – it’s essential. A brand’s look and feel can be communicated through a company’s logo, colour palette and typography, but also photography styles or illustration.

Apps need to be instantly recognisable – otherwise, the target audience could easily disregard it as a fake or scam app. So, how do we make sure that brand guidelines are incorporated into an app? And does company size matter?

Tackling mobile branding for bigger businesses

The larger the client, the more extensive the established brand guidelines are in our experience. These usually include directions on logo usage, background colour palettes, typography rules, button styles, iconography and other layout/design elements which must be closely followed.

While it’s great to have a solid foundation to work from, there can occasionally be limitations – but collaboration is your chance to be truly innovative. For example, let’s say you’re working within a restrictive icon set that doesn’t contain anything fit for purpose. There may be room to negotiate with the client and create additional assets that fit with the current visual language of the mobile branding, whilst also communicating what you need.

Companies with an established brand want to protect it, and will largely dictate the look and feel of the app before we start the project. But what about those occasions where “branding” is really just a logo and a colour palette?

Mobile branding - NHS guidelines

NHS Identity guidelines

When the “branding” brief isn’t straight-forward

Some projects – like those with less-defined brand guidelines – will rely more on your ingenuity as a designer. You may have some logo usage rules, colour palettes and typography to go on, but the client will largely need your experience in creating something impactful.

You’ll need to set up more workshops and keep regular communication with the client to ensure everyone is on-board with your ideas about what the mobile branding should be, but stick to you guns where you feel it’s necessary – sometimes a client can’t see why you’ve designed certain elements, but all it requires is a thorough explanation.

We usually stick to the following rules of thumb when tackling the vaguer brands:

  • Use the primary brand colours for important UI elements, such as CTAs, title text, login screens. This helps maintain the corporate identity, without using it everywhere andoverwhelming the design.
  • If there’s no set iconography, aim to create icons that complement the existing branding – it can be it bold, colourful and playful or more corporate, slick and informative, but it mustbe consistent
  • What other mediums has the brand worked in before? We’ve had occasions where a client only had print guidelines that didn’t translate to digital. You’ll need to use your expertise to determine what typography and layouts will work for web, apps and otherwise
  • Like all good UX teams, we always refer to native iOS/Android visual style guides alongside the brand logo/colours. Native UI is familiar to users – we want the mobile brand to shine through but we don’t need to re-invent the wheel. We should use native controls where it makes sense so that our apps are instantly easy to use.

Mobile branding - Android's material design guidelines

Android’s Material Design guidelines

What happens when a client has no branding?

We work with a lot of start-ups and entrepreneurs that have great ideas but not necessarily the technical expertise to make them happen – that’s where we take over.

The UX phase is that critical first step in development that ensures the design, interactions and visuals are just as memorable as some of those long-established competitors on the App Store or Google Play Store.

So, what do we do where a client lacks a solid name and visual branding and needs to get to market quickly and don’t have the resources (or requirement) to appoint a big brand agency?

  • We start with the idea – what is it that they actually do and want to communicate?
  • Then, every time, we find out as much as we can about their intended audience is, their competitors and their desired market position
  • We then brainstorm with a variety of stakeholders that can bring something to the project – marketing, sales, design, development – and get to a number of territories. Perhaps propositional names that say just what they do, sometimes abstract names that will stand out, other times portmanteaus that suggest the service they offer. And in other cases, it might even be the founders name that we use. It can get quite subjective – and that’s ok, so long as it’s memorable.
  • The client always has the final word – it has to be a name they are proud of.
  • Then we evolve it. We consider how we can extend that concept into logo iterations, colour palettes and typography.

A great example of ours is Selfie Guide; we designed the logo and visuals for their app, which created the app’s independent style and character. Then, we could determine how additional screens would look, where we had the freedom to be more creative and illustrative.

 

Mobile branding - Selfie Guide

Selfie Guide icon evolution

Whether you’re working with a start-up or a global name, maintaining the visual identity of a known brand or creating a new one – the importance of mobile branding in app design isn’t just to attract users, but to keep them coming back again and again.