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Creating unforgettable characters for brands and stories: The ultimate guide to great character design

character design,character design process,good character,good character design,character design tips,make your character,exaggerate,posture,concept art,expressive,create a unique,create a great,make a character
How do you design memorable characters like our mascot, Buckley?

Anyone can create a character concept or design for a brand, but not all of them become memorable.

Think about it: There are a lot of mascot illustrations of deers out there, but what makes our mascot, Buckley, so memorable?

When you see him, you immediately think, ‘Ah, that’s Deer Designer!’

Likewise, there are a bunch of clown illustrations out there, but Ronald McDonald stands out as the iconic McDonald’s clown.

The power of character design goes beyond just drawing cute figures.

Characters can embody the heart and soul of your brand or story, allowing you to connect with your audience on a personal level.

In this guide, we’ll dive deep into the magic of character design, with insights and tips to help you create unforgettable characters that leave a lasting impression on your brand.

Why is the character design process so important?

Characters aren’t just pretty faces. They are also storytellers, brand ambassadors, and emotional anchors for an audience.

A well-designed character can breathe life into your brand, evoke emotions, and build strong connections with people.

They can help your brand stand out from the competitors in your niche by having a face and a story that your audience can recall more easily.

Your brand can go from just another generic company into one that has personality and is more welcoming to your target market.

What makes a good character design?

You might say that good character design is subjective.

As we all have different tastes, I might consider a character good, and you might consider it bland.

However, there are some principles of character design that help illustrators in the creative process.

Giving your character personality

Every character should have a personality that reflects your brand’s values or theme.

Whether it’s a quirky mascot or a serious spokesperson, personality traits shape how audiences perceive and engage with your character.

Unlike celebrity ambassadors, you are not restricted to a specific story or personality.

You can shape your character’s personality from scratch, making it truly yours.

Take GEICO’s Gecko, for instance.

He is a witty character made in 1999 that has taught everyone how to save up money for their insurance plans.

With his charming personality and humor, he has become synonymous with the GEICO brand, making insurance seem more approachable and friendly.

Design a character with a recognizable silhouette or posture

A character’s silhouette should be instantly recognizable, even from a distance or in small sizes.

This helps in creating strong brand recognition and allows your character to stand out in the crowded digital space.

Can you recognize the character silhouettes below?

Use the slider to reveal the characters!

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Give them a posture or a basic shape that is easily recognizable, even when you can’t see the details of the character.

Even altering the way your character stands can make a huge difference.

Disney’s Mickey Mouse is a masterclass in silhouette recognition.

Even just seeing his iconic ears makes him instantly identifiable, whether he’s on a billboard or a tiny logo.

Create a character that is expressive and has exaggerated poses

Characters come to life through their gestures and poses.

Whether it’s a smile, a wave, or a thumbs-up, expressive body language adds depth and emotion to your character, making them more relatable and engaging.

Think of Duolingo’s iconic green bird.

He has a wide range of expressions and exaggerated poses that change depending on whether you are keeping up your learning streak.

He can go from a default happy wave to an overjoyed flapping of wings when you hit a new milestone.

He can also burst into tears and become sad if you start losing your streak.

This expressiveness not only brings the character to life but also helps the users of the app engage with it better.

How to make your character memorable

Now that we’ve covered the principles, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of creating memorable characters that resonate with your audience.

Make a character that appeals to your audience

To design characters that resonate with your audience, you first have to understand who they are.

Consider their demographics, interests, and preferences to create characters that speak directly to their hearts.

From this information, you can design a character that is more relatable to them.

When you are thinking of designing facial features, expressions, color palettes, and even scenarios to put your character in, always consider who your audience is.

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Different illustration styles and designs appeal to different audiences.

For example, if your target audience is children, you might design colorful, playful cartoon characters with exaggerated features to capture their imagination.

They would also be drawn to simple characters inspired by things they are still learning about, such as basic shapes, objects, and animals.

This is exactly why the worlds of Paw Patrol and Cocomelon are so appealing to children. (I would know. I have two!)

You can even use your target audience as your reference material for characters.

Create different market personas and use them as the basis for your character design concepts.

This will help make your character relatable and appealing to your market.

Bring a character to life with their story

Before you start sketching out your unique character, it’s essential to storyboard your character’s journey.

What’s their backstory?

What are their goals and motivations?

After asking these questions, you can start the process of creating their character traits, environments, etc.

This helps in creating a well-rounded character that feels authentic and relatable.

Pixar is known for its meticulous character development process, where every character undergoes extensive storytelling and world-building before they’re brought to life on screen.

Don’t be scared to iterate and refine your concept art

Character design is an iterative process.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different styles, features, and expressions until you find the perfect fit.

Get feedback from peers or focus groups to fine-tune your character’s design.

Think of the evolution of the Michelin Man as a testament to the power of iteration.

From a confusing, blob-like figure that sort of looks like a mummy, he has evolved into a bouncy, friendly, and approachable mascot.

It took years of iteration to bring the character to its iconic form.

Applications of great character design ideas

A character has vast applications across various industries and mediums.

Create a great character for branding and marketing

Characters can serve as brand ambassadors, bringing your brand’s message to life in a fun and memorable way.

They can also be used in different marketing campaigns to engage audiences and drive brand awareness.


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Using your illustrations can help make your marketing materials stand out.

For example, Pillsbury Doughboy is a beloved brand icon that has been featured in countless commercials, baking products, and marketing campaigns.

He has charmed the audience with his iconic giggle in commercials and has made Pillsbury baking goods stand out from their competition on grocery shelves.

Making a character unique for storytelling and entertainment

Characters play central roles in storytelling, whether it’s in books, movies, cartoon series, or video games.

They guide audiences through narratives, evoke emotions, and leave a lasting impact long after the story ends.

Think of Harry Potter, for example.

We immediately think of him when we see his iconic round eyeglasses and thunderbolt scar, even as a silhouette.

While the story itself was interesting, it was the iconic characters and the complex character illustrations in the books that helped it stand the test of time before it was turned into a movie series and video game.

Characters can also be turned into 3D art in movies, video games, and animations.

Character design tips and how you can apply them to your brand

Character design is both an art and a science—it requires creativity, empathy, and a deep understanding of human emotions.

By embracing the principles of character design and crafting characters with personality and appeal, design agencies and businesses can create unforgettable brand identities and captivating stories that resonate with audiences worldwide.

Creating character illustrations is made easier with Deer Designer!

Simply send us the design request, and the character designers on our team can handle the character design process for you.

Let’s bring your characters to life and make magic happen!

Book a client-fit call today.

Key takeaways

  • Good character design is a great way to elevate your brand and make it more memorable to your audience. However, it takes more than just a cute character to create an effective character illustration.
  • Your brand illustration’s personality can affect how your brand is perceived by your audience.
  • Having an easily recognizable silhouette for your character is an important step in effective character design.
  • Giving them varied and exaggerated facial expressions and poses can help bring the character to life, whether or not they have human anatomy.
  • You should know your audience first and what they find interesting, so you can make the character appealing to them.
  • Other than the visual aspect of designing your character, you should also think of their storyline and motivations.
  • Professional character designers know that character art has to go through several iterations before you can come up with the final design. It is affected by how the character is perceived by the audience and if the brand goes through some changes.
  • Other than branding and marketing, characters are also used in other media, such as 3D video game characters, book illustrations, animated movies, cartoon series, and more.