A Visual Branding Project

Continuing with my reviews of Coursera’s Graphic Design Specialization by CalArts, here I will review the fifth and last course in the specialization called Brand New Brand.

The Brand New Brand course is a culmination of all the graphic design courses that students have taken prior. In this course, students will invent a fake company with a fake history, make mood boards, logos, mock-ups, and come up with a complete brand development guide to submit for grading.

So here is my full review of Coursera’s Brand New Brand course. In addition, you can read my previous reviews of Coursera’s Ideas From the History of Graphic Design course here, Coursera’s Fundamentals of Graphic Design course here, Coursera’s Introduction to Typography course here, and Coursera’s Introduction to Imagemaking course here.

FYI: I took this course in October 2020, so course assignments and lessons may change over time.

Enrollment Options

Brand New Brand is only available to students who have earned a certificate in the four previous courses in the Specialization, as this is the Capstore course. This means students must enroll in the entire program to be able to take this course. Typically, Coursera will let you audit any course for free, though you can’t earn a certificate if you audit. Brand New Brand is not available to students who audit the other courses in the Graphic Design Specialization.

This means student are required to enroll in the entire Graphic Design Specialization to be able to take Brand New Brand. It’s $64 a month with a free 7 day trial.

To pass and receive a certificate in this course you need to achieve a score of at least 75% in the assignment (There is only 1 assignment)

Brand New Brand

This course is broken up into more weeks that any of the other courses in the Graphic Design Specialization. It is divided into 7 week terms as follows:

  • Week 1: Ideation: Invent Your Client (2.5 hours to complete)
  • Week 2: Visualization: Make Your Fake (1 hours to complete)
  • Week 3: Logotype: Brand Your Brand (1.5 hours to complete)
  • Week 4: Palette: Expand Your Brand (2 hours to complete)
  • Week 5: Application: Apply Your Brand (1 hours to complete)
  • Week 6: Publication: Display Your Brand (2 hours to complete)
  • Week 7: Final Review (No quizzes or assignments)

Week 1 – Ideation: Invent Your Client

The Lessons

The lessons in week 1 are mostly reading then a few video lessons. The first bit of written info goes into how to set up your brand identity document; using a grid to structure it, giving your pages a title, white space, colour, and typography. Next, we’re briefly introduced to what we’ll be creating this week; a fake company.

The instructor starts by going over different types of logos we could create, like logotypes/word-marks (company name that has been treated typographically in a unique way), and marks or icons, that pair with the company. The mark can be abstract or pictorial, sit next to, above, or in the logotype.

The Assignment

The Assignment for the first week of Brand New Brand is an ungraded assignment; but so are most of the assignments for this course. There is actually only one mandatory, graded project for this course and that will be the final brand development guide submitted in week 6.

In this first week, students are asked, for their fake company, to create a company description, a paragraph detailing the fake history of the brand, a mind map, three different naming options, and a list of three adjectives that describe the brand. Then we’re asked to present all that within in a brand development guide.

For my fake client, I chose a fictional startup that makes and distributes a variety of magical potions. We’re allowed to go as surreal with our fake companies as we want, so I figured magical potions would be a fun direction to go in.

Coursera Brand New Brand - Week 1

Week 2 – Visualization: Make Your Fake

The Lessons

Week 2 is about doing visual research to get inspiration for the look of your fake brand. Basically, we’re making mood boards. The lessons are all about how to look at images from the past and from the present to put them together. And that’s actually it for this week’s lessons. Now on to the assignment.

The Assignment

Making mood boards for my fake potions brand! Students are asked to make two mood boards; one with historical reference imagery, and another with contemporary reference imagery. I invented an entire fake, magical history for my company, so I wasn’t really sure where to find historical imagery.

Eventually I found some imagery that looked ancient and paired it with some photos of actual pottery from the 11th century. The two mood boards are all we had to do for this week, and we’re asked to add the two mood boards to our evolving brand development guide.

Asteria Potions Mood Board

Week 3 – Logotype: Brand Your Brand

The Lessons

The lessons in week 3 deal with exploring the shapes of the letters in your company name, creating typographic skeletons (what?!?), customizing letters, and creating logotype variations. The lessons here directly lead into the assignment for this week which will be creating a logotype for your fake company.

This is an interesting direction for a branding identity course to take. Typically, you should be exploring type on paper with a pencil, looking at the letters, the word itself, and figuring out icons and marks to identify the brand. Here, we’re jumping right into designing on screen and exploring typefaces instead. I wonder if this is just because this course is sped up or if that’s how CalArts actually teaches logo design.

In the lessons, the instructor creates a logotype for his example fake company. His process is a bit odd, but his rationale makes sense. Unfortunately, his example logo isn’t great. It’s overly complicated and he spend almost no time on the creation of the icon/mark for the logo. Though, I think that’s just because of how quickly this course is meant to go. He also shows examples of real world projects he’s done that are absolutely beautiful.

The Assignment

The assignment here is to take the name of your fake startup company and set it in five different typefaces. After that, pick one and do five variations from that. Then, pick the best from that group and make five more variations. Pick the best and make that your final, polished logotype. Then as before, everything should be added to your brand development guide.

Asteria - Logotypes - Week 3

Week 4 – Palette: Expand Your Brand

The Lessons

The lessons this week are about adding colour, an icon/mark, a secondary typeface, imagery, and a ‘secret ingredient’ to your logotype. These lessons this week are pretty straightforward; at least until we get to the ‘secret ingredient.’

Apparently, the ‘secret ingredient’ is something extra. It’s supposed to be something that makes the logo more interesting; to add to the personality of the brand identity. The examples given are all over the map though. For example: A rule for how your identity system works, something that changes throughout the identity, or a social media strategy that invites people to add or change the logo. These are all great things to build into a brand, but I’m worried about how other students will translate this part of the assignment because these examples are all over the place.

The Assignment

The assignment for week 4 is to have additional pages in your brand development guide that show a colour palatte for the brand, a custom mark or icon to accompany the logotype, a page of secondary typefaces (for a tagline that you add on branded material), a page with the logotype with imagery, and a page discussing the secret ingredient.

Brand New Brand - Week 4

Week 5 – Application: Apply Your Brand

The Lessons

Now that all the major stuff is done, this week we’re focusing on applying our logos to mock-ups; making the logos live somewhere real.

The Assignment

The assignment for this week, as I mentioned above, is to apply our newly created logos to four different things that showcase the identity. This can be on a business card, t-shirt, billboard, website, signage, storefront, packaging, or anything else that fits the brand. I’m using some free mock-up templates that I’ve found over the years to make this part a lot easier. Most of them are from Deal Jumbo.

Brand New Brand - Week 5

Week 6 – Publication: Display Your Brand

The Lessons

This is basically the final week of the course since week 7 hardly has anything in it. There is just one short video lesson here about refining the brand development guide and that’s it!

The Assignment

This is the only actual graded assignment in this course though it’s really just refining everything we’ve done up to this point. I’m going through my entire brand development guide and refining things like colours, adding more imagery, and just making sure everything aligns to the grid and look good. This one assignment is worth 100% of the grade for this course and will be marked by 5 other students. Whew.

The last thing we’re asked to add to our guide is a front and back cover as well as a table of contents page. This is what I created:

Brand New Brand - Week 6

Week 7 – Final Review

I have no idea why there even is a week 7. There is nothing here but a single reading that says good luck and remember to do your peer-reviews. I feel like that could have been part of week 6.

Asteria logo - Brand New Brand

Brand New Brand – In Summary

Overall, Brand New Brand felt more like a test than a course. I suppose that’s because the entire course was really just about how to make a brand development guide. There weren’t any real lessons that pertain to layout or composition, or alignment, or anything here really. That’s unfortunate, because students are not really that well prepared after the first four courses in this specialization to jump right into a full branding project.

Fortunately, this course is really good practice for creating visual brand, even if it doesn’t adequately prepare students for doing this in the real world.

I’ll do a full review on the entire Graphic Design Specialization in a separate post, but for now I’m just going to be happy I completed the entire thing. Yay!

Have you taken the Graphic Design Specialization from Coursera? How did you like Brand New Brand? Let me know in the comments below.

If you want to learn more about brand strategy, check out the book Creating a Brand Identity: A Guide for Designers by Catharine Slade-Brooking. I recently got this book to add to my branding collection and it’s just fantastic. It really explains the branding process clearly and would be perfect for designers new to brand strategy.

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