What is visual identity?
As we saw in the previous article, visual identity works in tandem with brand ethos, branding, and marketing, and together they comprise a powerful combination of tools that allow a brand to communicate with the world. But what exactly is visual identity? Let's take a look.
It all starts with Brand Ethos
Visual identity cannot exist without a brand ethos (a.k.a. philosophy, raison d'être) because it is by definition a strategic implementation of graphic symbols and shapes that are custom-designed to reflect that unique and specific brand ethos. Without this foundation visual identity is mere decoration.
It's easy to think that your brand name is not part of your visual identity, but it is and should therefore be chosen very carefully. Letters and words, when written, are in fact just graphic symbols that have meanings attached to them. It is well-known that when we read we don't identify words by seeing their individual letters, but instead we recognize them by their shape, length, and rhythm. The way your brand name looks can send a certain message to your customers, so if you haven't got a brand name yet - consider this detail.
A logotype is the cornerstone of a visual identity. It is usually the first thing thought of when people mention visual identity, and it is also usually the first thing designed.
A logo's goal is to take the brand ethos, distill it to its key components, find a way to represent those key components effectively via graphic shapes and/or text, and then refine those elements to create a memorable symbol that people will understand and recognize.
Various types of logotypes exist. Some are very minimal and rely only on shapes or symbols. Others combine symbols with text. Others still use exclusively text and are called wordmarks.
Established brands often evolve their logos to just the bare minimum because their visual identities have been so strong for so long that they have become part of popular culture and do not need additional support or explanation.
There is no point in denying that color plays a major role in determining how we experience things. We use color to navigate, to organize information, and to recognize patterns.
Designers build color palettes based on the feelings certain colors generally evoke. The number of colors is usually kept to a minimum because a visual identity needs to be easy to understand at a glance and it must work in all types of media. Too many colors can make it difficult or impossible to accurately replicate a visual identity across the wide variety of media and devices available today. This is why a lot of logos are conceived in simple black and white first so that they can stand on their own in monochrome, and color is added later to enhance their effect. (Note: In the digital space a lot of logos use color extensively and rely somewhat less on shapes.)
Interestingly, sometimes a color itself can become the core aspect of a visual identity. One could say that IKB (International Klein Blue) - a color developed by famous French artist Yves Klein - was the defining element of his artistic identity.
Fonts, like the elements mentioned above, have the power to evoke feelings. Their influence can range from very subtle to "in your face," and it is important to choose wisely. There exist many fonts (Arial, Helvetica, Eurostile, …), classes (serif, sans-serif, script, display, …), and styles (bold, condensed, italic, …). The shape of the letters and the spacing between them play an important part in how the font is perceived. Some fonts are great for editorial copy, others are perfect for striking headlines, and others are optimized for the web. Your designer will be able to guide you in selecting the best font for your needs.
Did someone say print is dead? I don't think so. We've been living in the digital age for quite some time now and people are starting to get tired of always being in front of their computers. That's why printed media is a great choice if you want to deliver a tangible experience to your customers and to set your brand apart. The design of print materials is part of your business' visual identity and it includes business cards, menus, envelopes, letterheads, stamps, brochures, flyers, posters, catalogues, magazines, clothing tags, and so on.
The tangible nature of printed media gives access to a new sensory dimension - touch, and it is important to think how you can leverage this in order to give the most powerful impression of your brand. Consider what paper stock to use and whether to use any printing effects (foil stamping, varnishes, embossing, etc.). Using regular printer paper to print invitations for your VIP clients is perhaps not the best choice.
Your website, newsletter, social network pages, and phone apps should reflect you brand identity and should be created using the same visual system.
It is important to establish a photographic style that works well in the context of your brand. From fun and bright lifestyle photos to dark and atmospheric cinematic scenes, you can use imagery to drive your message and to support your visual identity.
All the Rest
It is hard to say just where the influence of a visual identity ends because it is such a fundamental asset. Depending on the needs of your projects it can permeate into areas like motion design, interior design, employee uniforms, etc.
A visual identity is a system of graphic and text elements that is strategically designed around your brand's ethos with the goal of efficiently communicating that brand ethos to potential and existing customers. It consists of a brand name, a logotype, a color scheme, a selections of fonts, a range of printed materials, websites and app design, and more. A good visual identity can facilitate branding and marketing efforts and create positive associations around your brand. And that is exactly what you want.
Thoughts? Let me know in the comments below.