12.01.20156 min read

5 Online Design Tools for Brand Building

By Emily Belyea

Creating a visual identity for your brand no longer has to be you in front of a white board with a blank stare on your face. In fact, you should probably just ditch the white board all together because our good friend the Internet has some better brainstorming tools for you. 

There are thousands of online tools and resources that designers like me use every day to help shape what you need to form the things that make up your visual identity: color palettes, fonts, patterns, photos, logos and your logo. When all of these visual elements come together in a unique way, a brand’s story comes to life. It takes on a personality and starts connecting with its audiences. 

Let’s explore the easy-to-use tools and resources that I tap into every day to tell these stories.

1. Adobe Color Wheel

Find your brand’s color palette (and a childlike state of happiness) with Adobe’s Color Wheel. Create your palette by setting a rule for how you want your color pattern to work or upload an image from your computer and let the wheel create a palette based off of it. Then, when you’re done, use your Adobe ID to save your color palettes and link your Color account directly with your Illustrator and Photoshop for easy integration into your designs.

Warning: This color wheel is dangerously fun. It tends to suck multiple hours of your time right out the window.

2. Pinterest’s Secret Boards

It’s no secret that Pinterest is the mothership of visual discovery when it comes to branding, but with their

Secret Boards, you can do all of your pre-launch brand discovery in private. Start by pinning examples of fonts,

color palettes, and any sort of images that you feel represent your brand’s core message. After a substantial amount of pinning, take a good look at your board. Are there elements that stand out to you?

Does your vision start to change the longer you pin? Are there elements you like or don’t like now that you see them next to one another? Are you starting to see a clear aesthetic? Maybe so. That’s what this modern day scrapbooking beast is meant to help us figure out!

3. Creative Market

You know that feeling you get when you come across an online store that makes you so happy you can’t help but wonder if you and the store owner were separated at birth? That’s how I feel about Creative Market.

It’s a marketplace of design content from independent creatives. You can download everything from logo templates and beautiful stock photography to watercolor filters, Wordpress themes and vintage script fonts. Basically, when you see a beautiful brand style guide on Pinterest and you think to yourself, “How can I do that?” go to Creative Market and you’ll probably find a bundle of Photoshop filters that will get you the look you’re going for in about five minutes. Seriously, it’s that good. 

Note: An intermediate knowledge of Adobe Illustrator and/or Photoshop is recommended for a lot of the items on Creative Market. 

4. The new age of stock photography

Photography is a massive part of communicating your visual identity on the web. And I’m not just talking product photography –  I’m talking about the background shots, the header images, the slideshow images and quote images for Instagram. In essence: your brand’s stock photography is what creates the vibe behind your story.

Five years ago, stock photography was weird. It felt forced, fake and considerably overpriced. Over the past year, creatives around the world have decidedly put a stop to that. Photographers and advertising agencies have been sprouting stock photography blogs that offer free, high-resolution photos with no copyright restrictions available for download. And get this? The photos are gorgeous. They’re all taken by professional photographers in various styles, settings, and light, and they all rock. 

Here are a few stock photography sites that I use regularly: Snapwire Snaps, The Pattern Library, and Life of Pix.

5. Create a Style Tile

Once you have the visual elements and core messaging of your brand nailed down, what’s next? You don’t need another mood board, but you aren’t quite ready for the precision of a mock up design either. Enter Style Tiles, a tool in the visual design process that turns your brand’s elements of design (like colors, fonts, shapes) and principles of design ( unity, harmony, balance) into a cohesive visual language that prepares your brand for the UX design process.

Note: Style Tiles provide users with a PSD template to use as a guide. A beginner’s knowledge of Photoshop is recommended.

These five online design tools are just a few items from my toolbox. They may or may not work for you and your business, and that’s okay. The biggest takeaway I want you to get from this is to understand the power and magnitude of free tools and resources that are available to you online. The Internet is our oyster and the biggest service we can offer ourselves and our businesses is to always be open to trying out new tools and methods.

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Emily Belyea is a brand strategist and web designer who works with creative entrepreneurs. Her specialty is creating clean and simple online homes that help her clients showcase the true value of their work in the most impactful way possible. 


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