Graphic designer Orlagh O'Brien talks branding and why it is important for a campaign to have a strong visual identity.


A transcript of this slideshow is available below.

Who is talking?

Orlagh O'Brien - Graphic Designer

Orlagh O’Brien, originally from Cork, is a graphic designer with ten years of experience in branding and promotional design for agencies in Dublin, Sydney and London. She currently runs her own design practise as well as being an associate lecturer in London College of Communication where she gained an MA in 2006.



Brands are everywhere. Street signs, billboards, TV adverts, magazines, fashion and sport for example. Despite the exposure, very few people really know what branding is all about, it can be confusing. It seems trivial and mostly about style.

Branding has its origins in consumerism – selling heavily advertised products that are used and bought everyday such as soap, coffee, washing powder, perfume and even water. Many people see brands as the tarting-up of products that are all the same underneath and to some extent that is true.

But is branding really just about the surface? Style can be confused with substance. Flags are simply a set of colours and shapes, but represent nations and all the ideas, values and associations connected with them. Visual symbols are powerful representations of identity, such as these heralds dating from 1450

People have always held allegiances to various causes and branding is a statement of membership and loyalty to such groups. Here is the symbol of Britannia, holding the Union Jack which represents and unites all that was the kingdom at that time. Similarily, the Suffragettes used the colours white and purple to distinguish themselves, and in this example, the initials of the group and symbol of the acorn unite many societies under a common cause. And so branding is a visual shorthand for unity. It represents all the values, hopes and ideas of a campaign to bring the message to a range of different audiences. This anti-slavery medallion summarised the cause with the slogan: “Am I not a woman and a sister?”

Groups and organisations need to identify themselves from many other similar organisations or causes. In a crowded media world, it is essential to be recognised instantly. Anti-nuclear protestors in the  last century applied the CND symbol on their materials for instant recognition.

To speak to many people about one idea, it is important to unite under a common group. To stand out from the crowd, it is important to be recognised. Therefore, an effective brand must be seen and heard with one look, and with one voice. 

So how can you make a campaign that is distinct and recognisable? Making a brand is like cooking. You have to gather your ingredients first:

  • Name your campaign.
  • Write a slogan that calls for action or sums up your aim. Be clear and catchy.
  • Pick a striking colour or combination of colours.
  • Make a simple shape like a circle, square or triangle. Anything that is recognisable and easily reproducible is good.

Now mix and cook. Apply your graphics across T-shirts, banners, pamphlets, posters. You can draw, print, stencil, stick, paint, project, video, animate, email, chant or perform the brand. The simpler your designs, the easier they will be to recognise and reproduce. Less is more.