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The 5 Levels of a Visual Identity



Differentiation

The first responsibility of a visual identity designer is to analyze the competitive space of his/ her client. This is called in business terms a competitive audit, when you look at the competition and find out what products and services do they offer, what is their brand strategy and what is their positioning.

One of the purposes of this is to be able to identify a visual strategy to differentiate your client from the competition. More often than not you find that certain industries have visually related identities; which is bad in terms of design because it doesn’t offer the customer the possibility of having clearly defined choices based on the face of the business. That was the long way of saying that there is an over saturation of logos; but this is not a bad thing because it’s just another opportunity to flex your creative muscles and help your client stand out from its competition.

Choice

Because now there is an oversaturation of products, services, and experiences, then the process of purchasing will become related to values, principles, and ideas that are dear to he who makes the purchase. The responsibility of choice falls on the client’s shoulders and the responsibility of a visual identity becomes to make that choice extremely easy. The ideas, values, and principles of the company you work with as a designer will need to be reflected in the mark you create in order to make the customer’s process of choice easy.

“Anticipate the spectator’s reactions and meet his own aesthetic needs.” –Paul Rand, A Designer’s Art

This means you will have to realize what are the expectations and visual elements those customers want in a product’s presentation. The most basic expression of this principle that all of us heard of is to create something that looks “professional” or “high standards”.

Recognition

Once the product/ service had been purchased, timelessness becomes the next issue. Master Paul Rand is very well known for his ability to create symbols that stand the test of time in very competitive industries and that was one of the main qualities that put him above the rest.

In order to create timelessness, it’s important to analyze two coordinates:

1) How will the growth of the company and the potential changes in the industry affect the perception of the mark you are creating?

2) What are the most basic visual principles (like typography, divine proportions, basic geometry) that you can start reasoning from?

Identification

As Alina Wheeler reminds us in Designing Brand Identity, “Customers look to align their values with their purchases.” It’s important as a business owner to know your audience’s story and pain points better than they know it themselves because this is what will make you the most useful.

However, although you’ve probably tried to convey the most meaning for the audience in the “Choice” chapter, the Identification one falls mostly on the company’s shoulders. The marketing strategies and media they choose to use and how they choose to use them will impact the perception of the customers.

Your job as a designer is to facilitate this process by thinking through all the possible permutations and use cases of your logo, and use the insights in your process. What works amazingly well on a huge billboard might not work so much on a letterhead, and at that point, you might want to cut things out.

Culture

Analyzing the times we live in, the culture in the company’s environment, both inner (to create a sense of familiarity and standards within the company) and outer (to create a sense of familiarity, standards and/ or innovation or tradition) is the designer’s responsibility. To also prevent the logo from being identified with previous other symbols already charged with meaning is the designer’s responsibility.

However, infusing the symbol with meaning, living up the designer’s timeless and visually appealing mark, creating an entire story, brand, and culture around the mark, these are all the company’s responsibility. How an entire tribe creates a culture around it can be controlled only by the strong leadership and story of the company.

We all know symbols that became associated with meaning, context, and feelings based on the history and doings of those who used the symbols to identify with. The swastika, the cross or the Nike swoosh are all these types of symbols, fully charged with meaning that we are all familiar with.

Designers have to realize these ideas and implement them in their processes, in order to become more valuable and create the aesthetic standards all of us know companies all over the world have to live up to.

Florian Popescu,

Designer & visual artist. Follow me on Instagram: @florian.mr.jackpots.

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