It is a common misconception among small business owners that, when representing your brand to the outside world, a logo is all you need. However, if you want a cohesive visual identity that will impress and create recognition, there are many more elements you need to consider.
A logo is just one element of a visual identity and a company’s visual identity is only one part of a brand. Though there are many things that make up a brand as a whole, in this article, I’ll primarily be addressing the elements that make up the visual aspects, or visual identity.
Logo vs. Visual Identity vs. Brand
Before we go any further, it’s important to make sure we have a firm understanding of these fundamental terms and the vocabulary surrounding them.
A logo is a unique symbol or mark that easily identifies a company. Usually a symbol, wordmark or a combination of the two is the core of your visual brand. However, a logo is just one part of a brand’s visual identity.
A visual identity includes not just the logo, but typography, color, illustration, and photography as well. Together, all of these elements create the visual feeling that your brand conveys. Is your company casual or formal? Exciting or serious? Each of these elements gives visual cues that allow your audience to understand your brand at a glance and how they connect with your company.
A brand is made up of the logo and visual identity, but it also includes your content, messaging, and customer experience. Your brand is the way your company is perceived – in many ways, your brand is your company.
The 5 Elements of a Visual Identity
Now that we’ve covered the basic concepts that compose a brand, let’s dive into the elements that make up your visual identity. Below we’ll be discussing each element, what goes into creating it and why it’s an important piece of the visual identity puzzle.
As the primary symbol that represents your brand, a logo gives a powerful first impression. It’s the core of your brand, and it defines your visual identity. It’s no wonder clients focus on this element so strongly! Whatever form your logo takes, it should be simple, unique, and appropriately reflect your industry.
A logo must be minimal enough so that it can be scaled down to small sizes. Good logo designers spend the time to make sure that a logo is easily readable at any size and on any medium.
Your logo needs to be easily identifiable as your brand, not someone else’s. In addition to ensuring that you won’t be sued for copyright infringement, a unique logo allows your brand to stand out from the crowd, increasing the odds that people will start to recognize and associate your logo with your brand.
Logos must feel authentic to your company’s personality and the industry you are in. For example, a high-end legal service would have a hard time being taken seriously with a bubbly cartoon character as its logo.
Color can create meaning and elicit strong emotions. Color psychology shows us that certain colors are associated with certain feelings. Ever notice that most medical companies use blue? Blue signifies dependability and strength. Red and yellow are a frequent choice for fast food companies because together they signify speed.
Red and yellow are highly prevalent in fast food branding.
Subtle hues, shades, and color combinations also add meaning – the colors you use as part of your brand give your audience an idea of what kind of personality your company has.
Typography can be used to create visual interest, increase legibility, lead your eye down a page, and evoke emotion. Choose the main font or typeface for your brand carefully as it will go a long way to defining your brand personality.
Gourmet dip brand G’NOSH uses bold hand drawn typography to convey authenticity and imply that their product is fresh and hand made.
Imagery and photography
It’s important to define what sort of photography matches with your brand. It is very useful to create a set of specific instructions to guide designers and photographers when working with your brand. These guidelines should be loose enough to allow those working with your brand to be creative, but not so loose that you end up with a cheesy stock photo being used for an authentic lifestyle brand.
UCLA’s imagery guidelines describe the feeling they wish their photography to elicit as well as techniques and lighting preferences.
These are the fine details that add polish to the look of your brand. Graphic elements can include everything from a custom icon style to a set of patterns to stylized line treatments. A solid library of graphic elements can give a company a highly unique look that permeates every visual application of its brand.
The Mall of America (rebranded by Duffy & Partners) uses the ribbon element from its logo to create a pattern library which can used in applications from photography to packaging and web design.
All together now
Each element of a visual identity gives your audience small cues about your company, its personality, and what they can expect from you. Whereas an undefined visual identity dilutes a brand by reducing its impact and turning off potential customers, the consistent use of these elements strengthens the brand and creates recognition. A solid visual identity is the foundation of a great brand.
The best way to define and combine all of the elements is to create a set of brand guidelines. A brand guide defines rules around each element of your branding, giving designers and writers the direction they need to create material that strengthens your message and your brand.