5 components of a visual identity
posted on 18th May 2018 by Mary Helow
Whether starting from scratch or breathing new life into an established organisation, the areas of consideration for brand building may seem exhausting. From defining your strategic positioning to navigating the competitive landscape to in-depth analysis of your audiences to defining your visual identity – it can seem a bit overwhelming.
So let’s just focus on one piece of the branding pie, to deconstruct and see how it all fits together – your visual identity. It’s really a combination of elements that when put together, make your own visual story.
Let me start by saying your ‘brand’ is not your visual identity. Your identity is only the visual representation of what your brand stands for. Your brand is the culmination of attributes that define you. Essentially it’s your customer’s perception of you.
We say: a brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.
So, you must define how you walk and talk before you determine how you look. For this exercise, we’ll assume the strategy is nailed down and you have a clear understanding of what makes you different to everyone else.
When developing a visual identity there are 5 major pieces of the puzzle to explore.
This is the bedrock of your identity, the main character in the story. Think of Nike’s swoosh. What began as a design feature on the company’s shoe (a symbol to differentiate from Adidas’ three stripes) was later adopted as the brand’s logo. But that swoosh is so much more than a piece of shoe design. It represents power, movement and speed – the way its customer should feel when wearing a pair. The image also resembles a wing which links to the brand name – Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.
Typography is defined as the visual art of creative written words. Every font or custom type has a personality. The choices you make add another layer to the story you tell. It can be sophisticated and clean (like a san serif) or a friendly and irreverent handwritten scrawl. Often we use multiple fonts – for example a serif for headlines and san serif for body copy – to break up the visual structure.
Colour is another powerful tool in your brand arsenal. Some brands are inextricably linked with a colour – think Coca Cola, McDonald’s or Orange.
But others use colour in surprising (and effective) ways to inject personality traits. A slice of vibrant green could add feminine appeal to an otherwise predominantly masculine brand.
Imagery is used to make an instant connection with your consumer. Photography can be motivating, atmospheric or simply capture an everyday moment (Nike’s done it all).
You can also create bespoke illustrations in a style that’s steeped in heritage…
…or something playful and fresh.
- Secondary graphics
Supporting design elements (sort of the back-up singers) are often used to add another dimension to a brand. These can be patterns, shapes and even words. Claridge’s stripes are used both as subtle surprises (check out the chocolates below) or bold statements to be seen a mile away.
Graphic devices can be created from your logo, as well. Eir zooms and crops into various parts of their brandmark to create dynamic and bold visual support.
All of these pieces together create a holistic visual brand that allows you to express your personality, deliver consistency but also provide flexibility. Not all consumer touchpoints are created equal, so how you layer these elements will change based on your objectives and your audiences.
Mary Helow, Senior Account Director
Mary called San Francisco home until 2005 but prefers the cobblestone streets of Dublin. Her loves are understanding what makes a brand tick, Star Trek (Captain Kirk is king, she says) and any type of Mexican food she can get her hands on.