Understanding visual identity.

In business, words are so over- and misused, they quickly lose meaning and then confuse rather than elucidate. Nowhere is this more evident than in the practices of design and marketing. One can be forgiven for dashing from a meeting cross-eyed, cupping their ears.

However, clear communication and use of terminology is critical when deciding what you want to do and when you are briefing someone to do it. Do you want a new brand or a new logo? There’s a difference.

Content creators and designers need to know how to ask for what they want. The first step to speaking the same language is to make sure everyone is on the same page. Basic understanding makes everyone’s job easier because people understand the why, not just the what.

So here are some basics for anyone grappling for the first time with the shadowy world of branding and identity.


What: the brand is the big picture.

Why: branding goes way beyond just a logo or a graphic element. It’s the audience’s emotional response to your company and the written and visual communication your company uses. When you think about your brand, you really want to think about your entire customer experience… everything from your logo, your website, your social media experiences, the way you answer the phone, to the way your customers experience your staff. In short, your brand is the way your customer perceives you. A good brand doesn’t just happen, it should be a well thought-out, strategic plan.


What: the visual components that aim to reinforce the desired brand emotional response. An identity includes, but is not limited to, typography, photography direction, image treatment, colour palettes, layouts, grids, and corporate communication (stationary).

Why: the identity is an expression and reflection of an organisation’s culture, character, personality, and its products and services – inspiring trust with consumers, employees, suppliers, partners and investors. A well-defined visual style guide is essential to maintain the emotional response you desire.


What: a logo is a designer’s challenge of distilling the brand into its simplest visual form. Many arguments can be made for the significance of the relationship between the logo and what it is trying to symbolise.

Why: Great logos make great first impressions. When people can easily remember your logo, you have a competitive edge.

“The only mandate in logo design is that they be distinctive, memorable and clear.”
– Paul Rand, one of the most respected designers of 20th century (responsible for IBM, ABC, UPS logos).

In the words of Paul Rand, logos can look like whatever they want. Surprising to many, the subject matter of a logo is of relatively little importance, and even the appropriateness of content does not always play a significant role.

This does not imply that appropriateness is undesirable. It merely indicates that a one-to-one relationship between a symbol and what it symbolises is very often impossible to achieve and, under certain conditions, objectionable.

Ultimately, the only mandate in the design of logos, it seems, is that they be distinctive, memorable, and clear.

There is a bright light at the end of the tunnel once design and content teams are in tune with the goals of the company and understand what each other are doing. One of the benefits of having an in-house design team is that design and content can go over projects together, in the same room.

Talk to us about strategic brand identity and design.