Recap | Alina Wheeler: Designing Brand Identity

As a fan of the book Designing Brand Identity, I have been looking forward to hearing the author, Alina Wheeler speak ever since she accepted co-president of AIGA Raleigh, Jonathan Opp’s invitation to come to Raleigh. This book is a comprehensive and invaluable guide to the process of designing and maintaining a brand, and it’s principles guided the AIGA Raleigh brand team as we developed the AIGA Brand.

This sold out event was held at the Burns Auditorium on the NCSU campus. We asked attendees to arrive early to give them a chance to network. I volunteered to help check-in attendees, and had a chance to briefly meet Alina Wheeler before the event. She was really excited to be here, and spent time earlier in the day with NCSU design students.

Jonathan Opp gave a heartfelt introduction to Alina, and then she began her presentation. Alina is a great speaker. She is energetic, funny, and passionate about design and the branding process. Alina began by telling us why she wanted to write this book. She said, at the time she wrote the first edition,  there was no book that laid out a process to revitalize a brand, nothing tying design to strategy. Branding involves an entire team including the C-suite, marketing, sales, advertising, public relations, managers, designers, etc. This book aims to demystify branding.

Alina stated that technology is so proactive that people are investing in big data over big ideas, everyone is branding themselves to gain an advantage in the marketplace. These are fiercely smart people who do not understand the powerful asset of design.

Brand identity is tangible. It is central to sales and marketing, and each touchpoint is a chance to build awareness of the brand and invite engagement with the brand.

“Communicating clearly improves the response for audience, you get better results for your efforts”

To be successful in revitalizing a brand, the entire organization needs to be involved in moving forward. There are four critical success factors:

  • A mandate from the top as a business imperative
  • A Readiness to invest time capital and attention
  • Clear goals—it will fail without them—for what to expect from the outcome of the process.
  • Results


To start the identity process you need to start from a position of strength—you need to know who you are. Begin by answering four questions:

  • Who are you?
  • Who needs to know?
  • How will they find out
  • Why should they care?


“Trust the process”

The process that Alina outlined in her presentation and in the book works for any size organization. The process has five phases, each with specific tasks that must be completed before moving on to the next phase. This is a process to build trust and you must trust in the process.

Designers are intuitive people by nature and need to use that asset to listen, really listen and discover the issues and essence of the brand. Doing so builds trust and ensures the wrong decisions will not be made.

Process fuses business acumen with strategy. CEOs and mangers can trust the process because they use and understand processes; they understand the necessity to adhere to a process and follow each phase to completion. Trust the process if you have a small budget. Trust the process if you have a big budget. Trust the process!

“Symbols are fastest communication known to man”


The process engages the entire organization to get involved in revitalizing the brand. Give people courage to change by building a process that has logic in it.


Phase 1: Conducting research


  • Listen and observe
  • Gain insights
  • Document and set protocol
  • Decision makers need to be involved at every stage of the process.


During this phase identify touch points, identify all stakeholders, and find ways to understand the culture. Culture holds together the business and the brand.

Diagram the experience, the customer journey. Each phase of the journey is an opportunity to engage, delight, and reinforce brand awareness and loyalty.

Conduct a brand audit. Collect the research and brand artifacts and have the decision makers go through it all to remind them of what’s been done. Have they lost sense of who they are and of the goal?


Phase 2: Clarifying Strategy


  • Narrow the focus. Brands get stronger as you narrow the focus.
  • Determine the brand attributes and develop positioning.
  • Determine the brand architecture.
  • Develop a brand brief.
  • Distill the information from market research and take all the fundamental perceptions, value proposition, core purpose, etc. and put it all on an 11×17 piece of paper.


Phase 3: Designing Identity


  • Revisit the brand brief. You never know what the design process will reveal.
  • Dream and doodle.
  • Choose touch points and prioritize
  • Explore iconography.
  • Explore look and feel, color, typography
  • Present your ideas, talk about business goals rather than design decisions
  • Think big and small—design for social and digital. Don’t make it an afterthought.
  • Create a cohesiveness across all platforms
  • Show the future


Phase 4: Create Touchpoints


  • Refinement and build, looking to create an entire system with enterprise-wide rules
  • Finalize and apply
  • Legal trademarking
  • Extend the idea
  • Design key applications


Phase 5: Manage Assets


  • Create rules for all to adhere to
  • Build brand champions. Engage all employees to get on board and be brand champions. Everyone needs to know the core values, goals, and mission.
  • Build tools to protect and preserve the assets. Brand standards should start with defining the brand and what it stands for.
  • Launch and share. Launch internally first and explain why the time was invested.
  • Start at the top and communicate the new.
  • Marketing and design need to work together.


After wrapping up her presentation, Alina Wheeler stayed for a book signing and refreshments provided by Neomonde.  The line gathered quickly and was long. Alina graciously signed books for all those who brought their copy with them. I thoroughly enjoyed this event, from volunteering, to the presentation, meeting Alina, and having her sign my books. She was engaging, enthusiastic, and kind. Alina told the event organizers the she was so pleased at the turnout and the number of students there, and with the venue.  She expressed her appreciation for the professionalism and thoughtfulness about detail that went into putting on this event. She really enjoyed it and was impressed with the efforts to put it on, she said it made it look easy.

Thank you to the “Alina Wheeler Action Team” who worked so hard and did an amazing job organizing this event. A special thanks to Jonathan Opp who was instrumental in making this event happen. The success of this event would not have been possible without the help of:

Action Team
Jonathan Opp
Kristin McPeak
Joshua Vaughan
Sophia Hitchcock

Additional Pre-Event Support
Sara Martinez
Amy Lyons
Maura McDonald

Additional Onsite Support
Joe Schram
Mike Esser
Christina Baker
Bradley Sosnowski
JT Dumproff
Taylor Owens
Matt Stevens

A special thanks to Will Walkington from NC State College of Design for providing A/V support.


By Amy Lyons
Published April 27, 2013