How to Successfully Utilize Brand Elements Within Creative Assets

Creative assets that successfully include the brand elements of a client can lead to improved overall success. Within higher education, a simple logo can be used on everything from print collateral to football jerseys. A graphic is much more impressionable than plain text and can be used in various sizes and transparencies. Brand elements from the general logo can help market a school without having to repeat the name and serve as a key component in the story. 

How to Retrieve Brand Elements

Most schools have what is called either a “style guide” or “brand guidelines.” Usually a guide can be found under the keywords “marketing materials,” but if that is not easily found then searching “[School Name]’s style guide” on a search engine can also help. Some guides are more refined and thorough than others, but they should include the same basic materials in order to keep their marketing consistent whether the creative is coming from someone working for the university or an outside company.

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 3.58.51 PM

The creative guide should include:

  • Logo variations (color, stacked, text-only, etc)
  • Font choices (main text, subtext, and/or paragraph text)
  • Color choices (color codes, primary colors, secondary colors)
  • Photography style
  • Example of print collateral

If these are not available, there is usually an email address that you can contact. Make sure to state why you need the graphics and what you intend to use them for.

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 4.00.09 PM

Follow the Brand Guidelines

This style guide offers a broken up version of their shield logo for use in marketing. They also include restrictions that they have on the graphic element so that they can keep control of the appearance.

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 4.03.03 PM

I created a landing page for this client and included the broken up shield in white with a low transparency. This added interest into the page without distracting too much from the image, and because it was on brand, there was no need to receive approval for the styling.

tulane_extraheaders_14Some schools can be very strict with their logo use and how they like their graphic elements to look. Always discuss with your contact at the school if it’s okay to alter the element’s color, size, or shape.

Don’t Overdo it

If you overuse the brand element, it may distract from the logo and overload the viewer with the school’s branding. It’s best to keep the graphic simple and something the viewer might only see subconsciously. It can also be useful to experiment with abstraction. You don’t need to show the entire brand element to communicate the brand especially if the logo is also being used.

SoPA concept_v1-2

An image I created for a program here uses just the outline of the shield graphic. For someone who has seen the graphics many times before, this does not come off as overpowering but serves as a reminder. For someone who has never seen the graphics or does not know of the university, this is something they will remember for its unique shape. When this viewer comes across the logo or other marketing ads, they will feel a sense of familiarity.

Try to keep a contrast in size between the logo and the brand element. They should not compete for attention. In my skyscraper ads for the client I included the complete shield icon in large scale while keeping the logo (which included the icon) in a small scale. This works best for ads of this shape since the bold, loud graphic should catch people’s attention.

skyscraper ads_newest-08


In order to keep your design concise you should make sure the brand element is not distracting and doesn’t move your eye to an area of the design that is least important to the hierarchy. In other words, try out transparencies and cutting the graphic off from the edge so that it gives only a hint of the branding. Play around with the different graphics at your disposal instead of simply just placing it in a corner (which might not look bad either). It’s better to play around with the different ways to use it than to place it in one spot for every ad or landing page. Consistency is good, but spontaneity with the graphic can keep things interesting.


meGabrielle Brambila is a graphic designer for Circa Interactive. She is a recent graduate from San Diego State University with experience working as a designer for an on-campus entrepreneurship organization. Her passion for illustration and photography inspire her to create something new and unique every day.

Why Designers in Higher Ed Need to Simplify Their Ads

A few months ago, I watched an episode of Abstract–a series of documentaries about the art of design. The episode focused on Christoph Niemann, an illustrator best known for designing covers of the New Yorker magazine. What I learned most from the episode was his use of abstraction. Niemann could look at the world around him and use Legos to create what he saw. These weren’t extravagant Lego cities; they were just taxis and buildings made of less than a handful of pieces. The idea was to boil down one object to its most simple parts, keeping only what makes that object recognizable.

What I took away from this: Abstracting your work helps you conceptualize better in the beginning of your project. Once you have the general look and feel of your graphic, it’s easier to see whether adding more detail would help or hurt your design. It’s important for all artists and designers to keep things simple because less often says more, especially in higher education. Here are some lessons for designers in higher ed to help create simpler, yet more effective ads and images.

Don’t Be Afraid of White Space

Whether we stay home and watch T.V., browse social media while waiting for a coffee, or simply just drive to work, we encounter dozens of advertisements everyday. The ad could be a billboard, a sponsored post, or an image on the side of a browser window. If you want to design an ad that will get someone to visit your website or convert to lead, it’s important to catch their attention first. The average social media user has a small attention span. In my opinion, this has less to do with an impatient attitude and more to do with how often we have to dismiss the countless, irrelevant ads we are swarmed with.

Designers in higher ed want the viewer to read what is on the ad, but cluttered text will most likely deter them from reading even a couple of words. White space is essential to getting someone’s attention. As a designer, you have to be aware of your structure. Imagine a border of unusable space so you keep text and graphics from looking messy. The largest message should have the largest amount of space around it. This will help the viewer focus on the importance seeing that it stands alone, appearing more powerful than the logo and any other text.

Be Concise With Your Message

Your focus should be on what you offer; who you are comes next. Ads come in many different sizes–some long, some tall, and others square. This requires compromising of art and text. The essential pieces to your puzzle should be your school’s name, the program or major, and the art associated with that round of ads. Your message should be another piece, but if your art goes well enough with the message then you won’t need the message there every time. Try to keep your graphics as simple as possible and try taking out a unique piece of it that helps all the ads work cohesively. This helps when a prospective student goes from Instagram to desktop or from Facebook to Gmail.

The ads will change size, but the viewer needs to remember it’s the same school targeting them. Whether they notice the ad consciously or subconsciously, it’s best to brand your specific ad so it becomes more familiar. If the art you’re using can’t be simplified any smaller to fit the smallest ads, try using the same colors or textures. It’s okay if all the ads look different, they just need to look like a family.

Stand Out

It’s essential that your school stands out from the other schools also marketing to the same prospective student. Throughout most of my senior year of high school, I was getting emails and letters from colleges around the United States and online; many I had never heard of.

There were a few things I was looking out for when deciding on a college to attend:

  • Excellent art and design programs
  • Help into a design career
  • City with a lot of available design jobs

The problem with most ads I received was the fact that they didn’t target my interest but were more general. Instead of a woman in her mid-20s sitting in the grass on her laptop, why not target my interest in art by showing actual art? An ad targeted towards my interests could show an artist working or it could be as simple as an interesting digital art piece made by an alumni.

How I Have Created Ads

American University wanted new marketing ads for their education programs. They already had a specific type of imagery and a strong message that went along with it. The illustration has mostly brand colors so it only made sense to keep up with that theme.

America University_learning disabilities_sm

The full design was pretty elaborate, but the most important elements were the raised hands to go with “raise your hand if you believe..” I tried to keep the message on sizes such as 320×50 px, but it just wasn’t looking right. The message was losing its impact the smaller it got. I had to compromise the message by replacing it with of a couple of the “raised hands.” This kept the theme consistent and hinted at the message.

The other problem with the graphic was that it was busy. I couldn’t use red, white, or blue for the text if it went over the imagery because it would get lost. I didn’t want to compromise the brand colors so red and blue shapes were used to block the imagery. This also worked to declutter the space around the text so that it could be read with more emphasis.




With every type of design, problem solving is crucial. If the imagery didn’t use brand colors, it would be okay to use colors based off of the imagery alone. As a designer, especially in higher ed, sometimes you don’t get a choice of what fonts, message, or imagery is going to be used. Clients may ask for something specific, but they also trust your design instinct. Go with your gut and make them see that what they want may not be what looks or works best.


meGabrielle Brambila is a graphic designer for Circa Interactive. She is a recent graduate from San Diego State University with experience working as a designer for an on-campus entrepreneurship organization. Her passion for illustration and photography inspire her to create something new and unique every day.