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How to Build a Visual Vocabulary: Creating a Fabulous Brand Identity

How to build a visual vocabulary: creating a fabulous brand identity using tone words and visuals. More on
How to build a visual vocabulary: creating a fabulous brand identity using tone words and visuals. More on

Background photo courtesy of Chaitra at Pink Pot Design Studio. You can get this photo and more simply gorgeous photos for free here.

You’ve decided to follow your bliss/passion/dream of starting a blog or business. You’ve read tons of blog posts on how to create a fabulous brand identity, all of which seem to say the following:

  • Answer some insightful questions.
  • Distill 3-5 brand or ‘tone words’ that encapsulate your brand.
  • Pop over to Pinterest, create a mood board that visually conveys the brand/tone words you want to express and… Voila! One shiny, new brand identity!

So far so good… Except you may wonder: how do I visually convey “fresh” or “energetic” or “quirky” or “”calm?”

Caroline Kelso's Better Branding CourseHey friends, I’d like to introduce Samantha Reynolds who is today’s guest on DYOB and I just LOVE what she’s here to talk about today! This post is inspired by content written in Caroline Kelso’s Better Branding Course on Creating a Visual Identity, which is opening back up again April 11, 2016! (not an afflink)

Now back to Sam…

Understanding how to convey tone and emotion through design is often quite a leap to make if you’re an inexperienced designer.

If you’re feeling stuck on your branding journey, the following steps and examples will get you back on track.

  1. One of the easiest ways to learn about design is seeing how experienced designers connect tone and imagery.

    Pick the tone word that feels the most visual and type it in to Google, adding “+ branding” or “+ styling” or “+ images”. Click “images” and study examples of what other people consider your tone word to look like.

    Tip: If you’re struggling to find visual examples of your tone word, try variations of the word that spark more visual elements. For example, confident may be bold, energetic may be vibrant and serene may be calm.

  2. Once you’ve viewed several examples, try to identify the common denominators.

    For example, if your tone word is romantic, is pink present in a lot of the images? Are the fonts mostly script? Are there a lot of floral elements?

    These questions will help you associate certain color palettes, fonts and graphic elements with your tone words.

  3. Ask yourself which elements of the image YOU associate most with your tone word.

    This helps you build up a visual vocabulary of elements that are associated with your different tone words. Repeat this with your remaining tone words.

  4. Now it’s time to get pinning! Create a separate inspiration board for each of your tone words. The more images you pin, the easier it will be to identify common elements.
  5. Extract your favourite images from each board and create one mood board for your brand. When you view the mood board, it should be a visual representation of your tone words.
  6. Now, you have material to choose from to create your brand identity (or to hand over to your super talented designer :))

Color Mood Boards

Below are 4 examples of tone words and their visual elements.

How to Build a Visual Vocabulary: Creating a Fabulous Brand Identity. A calm, simple, minimal mood board and color palette.  See more on

Minimal, simple, calm mood board

How to Build a Visual Vocabulary: Creating a Fabulous Brand Identity. A dynamic and energetic mood board and color palette.  See more on

A dynamic and energetic mood board

How to Build a Visual Vocabulary: Creating a Fabulous Brand Identity. A quirky and whimsical mood board and color palette.  See more on

A quirky and whimsical mood board

How to Build a Visual Vocabulary: Creating a Fabulous Brand Identity. A feminine and romantic mood board and color palette. See more on

A feminine and romantic mood board

If you found this post helpful, you’re welcome to a free PDF download of a summary of the steps to take to build a visual vocabulary (and some more visual examples of different tone words).

I also have different boards full of visual examples of different tone words on Pinterest. Take a look and follow me for new design and branding updates 🙂

Have you struggled with bridging the gap between tone words and visual elements? Do you have any tips to share?

Samantha Reynolds of horsepowercreativemedia.comAbout Samantha Reynolds
Sam Reynolds believes that all businesses start with a dream – her passion is to help people present the best version of that dream to the world. She owns Horsepower, a boutique design studio on the tip of Africa and may be found roaming the streets photographing street art from Cape Town to San Francisco.

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  • Ashley says:

    This article was immensely helpful, thank you for sharing!


  • Virginia says:

    Sam – thanks for the tips on using Google for tone words and accessing samples.

    • Hi Virginia, you’re welcome! It is the simplest way to begin understanding how to translate tone words into design elements. If you haven’t already, please go ahead and download my free PDF which contains more examples of tone words. Good luck!

  • Erika says:

    These are all really amazing tips! It took me along time (to the tune of two months) to get a lot of the visual aspects of my brand down to the point where I was happy with them, but I feel like it would have gone a lot more smoothly if I’d had your post to help guide me!

    • Marianne says:

      That’s awesome Erika, I’m glad you found this so useful even after you’ve already gone through the work.

    • Hi Erika 🙂

      I’m over the moon to hear that! I love helping people present the best version of their ideas to the world. You’re welcome to follow my visual design boards on Pinterest where I post lots more images and style of design.

  • Brian says:

    Great advice for anyone creating a brand identity. Putting together a color board and some inspirational images can definitely help you find some great ideas.

  • Thanks for brand building tips. Knowing design can be really helpful, however, I barely get time to design in a busy business day.

    I understand learning new things are important however this requires a lot of time and practice. I am trying to learn slowly. I hope to get better with time.

    • Marianne says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more Sophia! I am terrible at managing the financial side of my business, so I have to spend time learning ways to do that. Unfortunately, blogging as a business makes us wear many hats and it can be overwhelming. Wish I had some good advice for you, but hopefully in time, you can outsource some of these things you’d rather not do 🙂

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