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The brand levers outlines in this chapter will be the most familiar to creative teams, however, everyone has an opinion about them. They often involve aesthetic judgments about brand expression. Rather than viewing them as entirely subjective opinions, designers see them as creative tools. Leaders can make better decisions when they understand the palette of brand tools. Brand builders can encourage teams to dig deeper and guide choices based on strategy.
IMAGE COLOR TYPOGRAPHY SHAPE CONTRAST DIMENSION SYMBOLS VOICE CONSISTENCY STORY TIME
1 Illustrative logos
Logos can be pictures and can cover quite a range of meaning. Some literally illustrate a product or service. Others symbolically represent an idea or metaphor related to an organization's mission.
The more literal an illustrative logo is, the less work a potential customer needs to do to interpret it. If your client is a dentist, and you create a logo for her practice that resembles a toothbrush, her logo functions like a highway sign. It says, "This is the dentist, not the restaurant." The meaning is clear but limited.
Sometimes, an illustration can be concrete while its meaning remains abstract. Apple provides the classic example of an illustrative logo with its meaning left open for interpretation. Apple doesn't sell apples, but you wouldn't know that from its logo — a stylized image of an apple with a bite taken out of it. The Apple logo serves as a symbol or metaphor — knowledge, forbidden fruit, or the discovery of gravity. Its meaning is indirect but wide open.
2 Visual style
A strong visual style can come from an artistic vision, but sometimes brand builders overlook the obvious. Keep in mind that art and design serve different purposes. Brands need to communicate directly with a specific group of people. When developing the photography or illustration style for a brand program, you don't need to trade clarity for sophistication. A lot of programs flounder by using sophisticated, yet unclear, imagery. Fall into this trap, and you fail to communicate anything.
Simply paying attention to imagery can add needed focus. Insightful use of communicative images reinforces and, in some cases, establishes, a program's visual tone.
Creating a coherent brand program involves more than slapping a logo on bags and shirts. The style of additive visual elements — photography, illustration, etc. — truly helps define a strong program.
3 An aesthetic niche
Images add immediacy, power, and clarity to communications, from stained-glass church windows to Times Square billboards. Consider what images mean for a brand identity and choose wisely.
The evolution of online stock photography and photo-sharing sites has given designers access to a plethora of easy-to-come-by images. Search for "business people" and you'll get plenty of guys in ties running through airports. But using these clichéd images won't carve out a visual niche for a brand. It will merely add to the noise.
With everybody using the same pool of photos, it's harder to find images as a unique differentiator or identifier. Today, brand builders need to work harder to create new visual artifacts. Additional creative minds can serve as wonderful collaborators in this effort, lending a new sense of depth and experience. Often, a good photographer, videographer, renderer, sound designer, UX developer, or illustrator can work side by side with a design director to carve out a new niche with a level of visual sophistication appropriate for a brand.
4 Color choices
As a designer, there's a lot to learn about using color, from the psychology to the science. When developing a brand, however, perhaps the single most important thing to know about color is when and how to use it.
Color brings such an immediate emotional quality to a brand — it can tempt designers into jumping ahead and designing with a particular color in mind. Resist this temptation. Complete your initial design for each new mark without regard to the color it will eventually take on. Because most graphic identities face color limitations, depending on the application, you'll need to ensure that a mark will work in several different colors. And because colors are often influenced by trends, what feels contemporary today may look dated tomorrow.
That said, a color treatment can make or break a graphic identity. Color choices that are too dated, illegible, or unsophisticated can drag down even the most wonderfully drawn mark.
5 Applied color
As color spreads across an identity program into environments, packaging, websites, and more, logic and meaning is critical.
Strong brand programs use color in a fiercely consistent fashion. Choosing the right color is important — if you end up owning the wrong one, you can drag down a brand — but the importance of consistency in application can't be overstated. Anything less adds confusion to the emotional spectrum that inspired the color choice in the first place.
As you think about how a base color and its accents tie a program together, remember this: color communicates at the speed of light. The brain responds to color the same way it responds to pleasure or pain — it's immediate, primal. Know the cultural connotations of colors before assigning meaning to them within your identity program. Green can mean "go," but it can also mean environmentally friendly, or the Brazilian national football team.
6 Color signals
Clinical and anecdotal tests on color psychology and emotion have led to the development of widely accepted theories about color. That's why schools and hospitals favor teal paint for interior walls to make people feel calm, while restaurants are more likely to choose red interiors to make people feel hungry. But the power of certain colors changes over time and across cultures.
One cannot deny the influence of fashion industry trends on color choices. Seasonality in fashion markets creates programmed obsolescence: what is the new "black" this season? Color-trend experts try to predict what car colors consumers might want to buy in the future. These color trends cross markets freely and often. A popular lime-green highlight seen in Fashion Week might find its way into business cards, websites, interiors, or products.
Culture also plays a role in how colors are interpreted. The obvious example: in Western cultures, people wear black to funerals, while in Eastern cultures mourners wear white. The cultural connotations of color are often learned and permeate a market.
Typography has a rich history that often signals the state of technology and cultural nostalgia.
Typographic logos rely on words (typically the initials or name of the organization), rather than pictures, to represent an organization. Word marks often don't ask the viewer to interpret much, though letter games can blur this line. Playing with letterforms can highlight aspects of a brand and suggest new meaning. Unique typography can project both the past and the future.
A clean, straightforward presentation of a name is understood. That's not as true for organizations with unusual names — the Google word mark challenges customers more than one for General Motors. Instead of using full words, some brands rely on initials. Monograms have connotations of royalty, religions, armies, and family crests. Many contemporary brands, from IBM to ABC, leverage this history while communicating something new.
Context and circumstances should guide decisions about whether or not to use a typographic logo. When the goal is a mark that's clear and straightforward, a word mark may be best. Of course, you might choose a different path if the competitors have all done the same thing.
8 Type choices
Type has personality. Show us someone who disagrees and we'll show you someone who's the walking embodiment of Times New Roman. Picking the right typeface means picking one that imbues your program with the right feeling. The choice begins with serif vs. sans serif.
The thicks and thins of serif typefaces evolved from the pressure points created by a calligrapher's hand. Given that lineage, serif typefaces often get equated with tradition. By contrast, the relatively younger sans serif typefaces get equated with modernity. However, evidence hints that these personalities are in flux. Sans serif typefaces have been adopted for signage systems all over the world. As a result, what was once seen as quintessentially modern, now can be seen as institutional.
Personality is an important consideration when selecting a typeface, but it should not be the only consideration. Legibility, flexibility, and consistency are also important factors to consider for an identity program.
Overall, decide if typography is in the foreground or the background of your brand.
9 Type and meaning
Typefaces may vary, but whenever typography plays an important role in a brand identity, we can assume that the brand is appealing to a reader — someone who appreciates prose or at least a good headline. They might be a comic book reader as much as a Shakespearean scholar, but, nonetheless, we expect them to read.
As with imagery, typography usually suggests an alternate meaning or cultural context for a brand identity. A typestyle that references classic print ads from the 1950s pushes a brand identity in a very different direction than one inspired by graffiti tags from the 1980s or today's digital typography.
Typestyles always carry their own history, which often shades the meaning of what is being written. Brand identities built with typographic elements in concert with images may ask a bit more of the viewer than those built with images alone, but they can create deeper and more lasting memories. Some of the most effective campaigns and promotions rely on a headline and an image working together as a single unit. That's why advertising firms often partner writers with designers.
10 Logo forms
An assemblage of different shapes often comprises a graphic identity. At the same time, graphic identities form a single shape once assembled. A logo's internal shapes largely define it, since other aspects such as color may change over time or in different contexts. Which shapes are selected and how their interplay unfolds can become memorable components of a graphic identity: Are they contained or free form? Complex or simple? Thick or thin? Symmetrical or asymmetrical? Singular or multiple?
Many logos strive for a sense of balance or simplicity by employing a circle or square as their primary external shape. Like word shapes that are recognized before they are read, the overall shape of a logo becomes a recognizable identifier for a brand.
The shape of a logo can serve as a keystone — a visual building block for the rest of the brand.
11 Graphic patterns
As brand builders look for consistency in their programs, it can be very effective to build upon shapes from a graphic identity to create program elements. Shapes that echo the logo (squares for a square-ish logo or circles for a circular logo) can be used to create pattern or texture.
These elements not only are useful in making the look of the program more cohesive, but they also can make the brand more meaningful and memorable. Additive graphic elements not only echo the logo, but also suggest their own narrative. Graphic patterns can be an effective way to tie elements together.
Information is conveyed as program designers translate a graphic identity into physical spaces, allowing for layers of meaning to enrich the identity program. Consistent use of these shape elements will remind the viewer of the logo without being redundant.
12 Shape meaning
Shapes can convey meaning by echoing or suggesting brand promises. Simple treatments might suggest ease of product use, while patterns can project energy associated with a brand.
Product shapes often have a cultural context that suggests a previous generation or a different category altogether. Audiences see big and bold treatments as accessible, while small and understated graphics might suggest exclusivity.
Shapes can also echo the past or suggest the future. They can serve as a metaphor for meaning or a tool for use. Shapes can serve as reminders of everyday life and build on each other. We live with objects every day, and shapes can tell a story to enhance the meaning of a brand.
13 Contrast in composition
Contrast allows something to stand out. As a rule, the less contrast a mark has — both internally and with its surroundings — the harder it is to be noticed.
The phrase "graphic identity" implies high contrast. A graphic identity has graphic form — it lives as an abstracted, simplified, high-contrast symbol of something. Strong graphic identities often use contrast to draw a comparison between two things. Usually that comparison begs a conversation, leading the viewer to wonder: Why is the weight of this letter different than that one? Why is this shape different than all the rest? And what does this all mean? Is it a joke? Does it suggest some deeper meaning? Does it imply variety, evolution, individuality?
Customers asking questions can be a good thing, letting them fill in the blanks and create a personal meaning. Brand builders can view contrast in composition as a tool and a choice — How much contrast? What kind? How will this help us stand out?
14 Contrasting elements
Contrast is relative to the things around it. If you're looking at a logo on a high-resolution backdrop (a piece of white paper), then it doesn't need to be high contrast to be legible. In fact, if contrast is too high, even a sophisticated mark can look crude.
When applied as part of a brand program, the mark must contrast from its surroundings. This may seem obvious, but it can be a challenge in practice. In program application, contrast not only deals with graphic elements such as color and scale, but also substrate, ambient light, backlighting, reflection, texture, angle, translucency, movement, time, and interaction — just to name a few.
So, if someone says, "Make the logo bigger," your solution could be to make it red, or make everything else gray, or put a tint behind everything else. Making a logo bigger is certainly one way it stands out, but it's only one way to do so. After all, not everything can be big.
Selecting what should be most noticeable — what will have the most contrast — is a strategic choice.
15 Get different
Strong brands not only look different, but they also stand in contrast with the overall market landscape. Contrast in brand building begins with positioning, which should focus on points of true differentiation, and can be reflected through graphic style, program application, and meaning.
Differentiated brands are admired for their unique programs, but creating such a program starts with strategic choices that enable new experiences. Brands that are truly different stand out based on how they look, feel, and behave differently than the rest of the market. Brand builders look for opportunities to encourage organizations to distance themselves from others in the marketplace.
As the competition makes standing out harder, brand teams must dig deeper. Increasingly, differentiating a brand means looking for strategic blue oceans — new, uncontested markets ripe for growth. When others zig, try zagging.
16 Logos in real life
Graphic identities typically take two-dimensional form, but many brand programs provide the opportunity for marks to live in three dimensions. When they do, interesting questions and risks emerge.
Should a logo stylized to look spherical actually become a sphere in signage? How should a logo be viewed from the side? Should a logo composed of three horizontal bars be interpreted as three rectangular blocks or three cylinders? Is this open for artistic interpretation or is there a correct manifestation of the symbol?
When venturing into this territory, a larger issue emerges quickly: whether a logo exists inherently as a symbol of a thing, or — if given the opportunity — as the thing itself. In our view, this answer is clear. A logo is a symbol. Making a logo into a piece of sculpture risks confusing its meaning as a symbol. On the other hand, other treatments may enhance readability and add interest.
Two-dimensional application methods such as paint or vinyl don't change the meaning of a mark. Creating readable outdoor signage often involves making raised, cut out, or extruded shapes and letterforms. This can be a reliable technique, provided the substrate thickness enhances, rather than interferes with, the readability of the mark.
17 Physical space
As brand programs make their way into physical spaces, they present creative ways to amplify brand attributes. Concepts suggested in the two-dimensional mark — translucency, shape, color and contrast — can be realized in sophisticated, surprising, and enlightened ways when they move into three-dimensional space.
Stores, showrooms, trade show booths, and other selling environments are excellent opportunities to create phyiscal brand experiences. So are lobbies and other customer spaces. Increasingly, office environments are seen as important brand investments for productivity, as well as talent attraction and rentention.
Well-executed programs demonstrate the personality or character of the brand through details of interior and exterior architecture, as well as signage. Pulling program elements into a physical space is a great way to build a brand beyond the logo. Many other factors, constraints, and opportunities come into play here including readability, material choices, scale, distance, proximity, mood, and wayfinding.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Brand Identity Essentials"
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Table of Contents
Brand Identity Framework, 11,
Brand Audits, 217,
Curriculum for Educators, 220,