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Visual Identities for Dummies

You have your name, your product or services and now you need a visual language to introduce it to the world. Also referred to as a visual identity. You might be very well experienced in this area, but the vast majority of small business owners, are barely aware of the concept and it’s power. So you can be sure they have forgotten to budget for it! This becomes a big problem for small businesses and start-ups who are trying to build their brand. As design professionals we want to help and give you forewarning of how important this is. So this is mine to you...

A visual identity is a family of elements that all compliment each other, yet are unique. The idea of a visual identity is to provide a brand with all the tools that are necessary to communicate with their audience across ideally an endless possibility of applications. Even though all these situations differ, the message you are communicating remains entirely consistent. Still with me? ….

"This means for most brands, if not all, a logo is simply not enough."

This means for most brands, if not all, a logo is simply not enough. There are no rules about what you need to include, but depending on your type of business here is a list of classic items you may want to consider including.

Logo(s) Yes, you will most likely need more than one version. Refer to my blog Logo Must-haves for more details on this. It’s very important you get this bit right or you will regret it later. The most likely consequence being that you have to return to your designer or another one and continue paying for services you had not budgeted for.

Colour Palettes Primary and also Secondary selections of colours that you adhere to religiously, are very important. Colours can quickly affect people’s perceptions of brands. Think of this as a tool, not a hindrance.

Background designs & styles For example when you are designing social media posts, packaging or event materials these are specifically valuable. You do not want to be customising different designs for different scenarios. This will truly set you back building your brand. These elements greatly contribute to helping you get across that consistent message.

"The more consistent you are, the easier it is for your audience to absorb your content."

Fonts Type styles identified for print & digital applications, and be as specific as possible in regard to weights (i.e. bold, italic, condensed, heavy etc…). The more consistent you are, the easier it is for your audience to absorb your content. Think of it like the ingredients on the back of a bottle of ketchup. We are familiar with fonts, symbols, layouts of text to such a degree we can navigate the back of a bottle of ketchup in seconds to find the information we want. This is what I am talking about. Consistency is paramount in making it easier for your audience to navigate your content.

Brand Icon Depending on your logo design you may need to consider a separate icon that can be used for various scenarios. For example, in most cases people have logos that simply do not work well on social media, in regard to profile pictures and icons. Get a derivative of your logo created for this purpose. It will look a lot better than a shrunken version of your original logo, conveying a stronger and more confident brand image. You may want to reproduce your logo on very small items, like pins, pens, wristbands etc… Another useful purpose for creating this secondary element for your brand. If you get one designed just be sure it harmonizes with your main logo.

" your audience navigate around your products and services, without being too overwhelmed,.."

Design features To differentiate services or product lines. This can be very useful. So for example, maybe you use some sort of shape that is derived from your logo and get it set up in various colours from your colour palette. You can then use this to help your audience navigate around your products and services, without being too overwhelmed, with a lot of the same look and feel. Same same but different - that’s what you want to a achieve. This is very useful for events, business structures and product lines. One of my favourite examples of this done exceptionally well is the Olympic games. They do this beautifully to separate venues, and sport disciplines. There is no doubt that this approach makes their brand really strong and a pleasure for the audience, who are bombarded with a lot of information and content in a very short space of time. Business Graphics & Icons Custom designed icons (i.e. social media logos and business related symbols) that are relevant to your business can be very handy. Getting some customised to fit in with your visual identity helps to unify your visual language. Often people cut corners here and choose designs that do not look like part of their brand image, but from a designers perspective this is quite a simple element to produce. Compared to everything else you are getting created, you should not be afraid that this comes with a high price. It is marginal.

..."consistent use of purposeful photography can be very powerful when it's done well."

Photography You may consider using photography with a specific style, as part of your visual language. Making this up as you go along, is another way of preventing you from building your brand. Ad-hoc use of photography is quite common, but it’s a missed opportunity because consistent use of purposeful photography can be very powerful when it's done well. So give it some thought.

Animations & Video

One last point to add, which is increasingly becoming important and relevant is the subject of videos and animations. Businesses cannot get away from having a strong online presence on social media now. The power of video and animated content on these channels is increasing. As a way to engage audiences it is more popular than it has ever been. Instead of creating this content on an ad-hoc basis make some decisions on the look and feel of these and again by creating them consistently helps build a brand. Try and think of some television adverts you know where within the first 5 seconds you already know who the brand. This is the benchmark!

"Are you worried that this could set you back building your brand or worse, set you back financially?"

So that’s a visual identity in a nutshell, give or take a few specifics that might be relevant to your business. Is it a lot more than you first thought? Are you worried that this could set you back building your brand or worse, set you back financially? Do not be afraid, because having read this you are already a step in the right direction. There are like-minded designers that can propose solutions to new or existing visual identities, that are flexible, realistic and affordable. Plus, if done well can be rolled out strategically, which can prevent you from having an upfront cost you can't afford. Set some priorities, some realistic targets and start creating an amazing visual identity for you to communicate with your audience!

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