Beyond the logo; why you need a distinctive visual identity system

There is a misconception of brand identity that begins right at its foundation with the perspective of a logo as a must-have, not a need-to-have. Most business leaders only understand that you need a logo just as you need a name, office/web address, a front-desk for inquiries, or what else would you have on your ID card or signage?

When someone asks “can we have your logo so we can add you to the website as a partner?”, there is a JPEG file to share, but since no one ever demands for “your visual identity system” or say “I am on the street, looking out for your identity system”, it hardly makes it to the necessary list of things we understand and ask for. The resulting situation is a lot of business owners only demanding for logo designs and considering “every other thing” as luxurious propositions of branding agencies and designers. This is an ineffective approach as logos exist for a bigger purpose, one so big they are unable to fulfil it alone.

If the world’s biggest and most compelling brands are anything to learn from, the logo alone plays a limited role in achieving why it is needed in the first place—strengthening the distinction, identification and memorability of a brand as well as suggesting the right values and how the brand is perceived.

People now interact with brands in more diverse and complex ways and are constantly saturated with several other messages and expressions every minute in a more connected and faster-moving world, brands that cut through and find a place in the minds of people do so with everything at their disposal—beyond the logo.

The right place to begin is an intentional inquiry into the foundation and mission of a business, followed by external research into the market it intends to or currently plays in and very importantly, a careful observation, questioning and understanding of the people it intends to reach. A strategic process should follow where the learnings are being crystallized and decisions are made about how a brand will portray itself in a compelling and different way. This will include clarity on the brand’s big idea, value proposition, personality, tone, among other things that help to give some direction as to how it will communicate and portray itself. Where this foundational background does not already exist, it is important to begin with it. The brand identity thing is an important body of assets that should connect with the core of what the brand represents.

The visual identity development (being itself a part of a broader set of components that make a brand’s identity) should begin with analyzing what direction the brand’s design will employ to stand out. The sketches and drawings then begin, alongside considerations of colour, illustrations, patterns and more. The logo—that everyone talks about—comes in as a key but not the only result here. This is followed with tying it all up with guidelines that advise on the best standards for the deployment of all the expressions across different media.

The goal should always be to create an entire body of identifiers—of which the logo is only one—that brings up the memory of the brand and makes it easy to identify. From the iPhone notification sound to the CocaCola ribbon and Google’s always-different-yet-similar-in-some way doodles, it’s about extending across board but in a coherent manner. Brand identity goes beyond the logo and the entire visual design system to include other expressions sometimes going as far as how the voice on the customer line sounds. The scope is so wide that the minimum to require of a creative design engagement is the visual identity system that at least cuts across all print and digital expressions. When anyone interacts with any of this, it should be easy to know what brand it is, without or before spotting the logo.

While a largely understood visual identity setup already reigns, with colour and typography coming alongside the logo, there is a whole lot more and the list changes from brand to brand. However, a few things appear in every succeeding brand that one can think of, listed below as culled from one of our project briefs at FourthCanvas.

  • Logo (with colour and typography scheme)
  • Unique shapes, styles and composition across applications
  • Custom brand patterns and illustrations
  • Iconography (set of custom icons)
  • Use and style of imagery
  • Brand Guidelines Document (video version also applicable for ease of communication)

For the certainty of application, such a visual identity project would also include immediate translation of the identity across the following.

  • Application on Stationery & ephemera (promotional items)
  • Application on the environment (frames, signages, vehicles etc)
  • Design of key internal and marketing documents
  • Design of templates for presentations, social media visuals, etc.

A further look into each of the above assets is provided here.

From a metal signage to a video presentation, event exhibition, laptop sticker or a mobile app button, brands—that desire to be easy to find, love and remember—need more comprehensive visual identity systems that guide their efforts to consistently hit the nail on the head.

This is always beyond the logo.

(Interested in further exploration of visual identity systems? You can watch our video here where we looked through an exemplary brand’s communication across different touchpoints)

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