Visual Identity

Visual Identity

This article is comprised of the following chapters:

  1. What is a VI? (Introduction)
  2. Types of VI
  3. The metamorphosing landscape of Brand 
  4. Brand Considerations
  5. The Design Process
  6. Deliverables & Packages

1. What is a VI?

The cornerstone of any brand is its VI. Often the first engagement a user has with your product or service. For the purpose of this article, I will be using the term “VI – Visual Identity” which you may also know as a logo, logotype, visual mark or brand mark.

 I believe an effective visual identity should be the following:

  1. Unique and Memorable.
  2. Represent the Product or Service.
  3. Be versatile & Ambidextrous.

2. Types of VI?

There are 4 types of Visual Identity to choose from:

  1. Wordmark.
  2. Symbol.
  3. Combination.
  4. Coat of Arms

A brand in 2020 should behave like an organism rather than an organisation; shifting, combining and growing as needed. Unlike the old corporate identity paradigm that prized uniformity and consistency. The new brand paradigm is ambidextrous and favours versatility.

wordmark-logos Wordmark-logos



It is important to have a VI which is versatile especially when creating more illustrative VI’s like Guinness and Howdens (I love producing illustrative VI’s as one of my other core skills is illustration). Typically this means having at least two core varieties of the ident. The first version is capable of carrying more detail and can be displayed at larger scales; this is the version we’ll create in the first instance. 

The second ident will be a reduced version of the first where elements will be removed and sometimes elements combined. This second instance is designed for small scale usage. The ident will be used on websites, favicons, mobile icons and other small scale usages.

In some instances, responsive logos can also be used as shown in this case study:

3. The Design Process

There is a variety of techniques you can use to create a VI from scratch or reinvent an existing brand. I use the following tools to begin this process:

3A – Questionnaire

I will typically use a comprehensive questionnaire compiled of fifty questions to give me understanding and direction to begin the design process. 

A typical question will be along the lines of:

  • What style of font do you feel best represents your brand?
  • What are the attributes and emotions associated with your brand?

Brand Sprint

3B – 3 hour brand sprint 

Designed by Google’s Jake Knapp, this brand workshop ideally requires the attendance of CEO, Co-founder, Head of Marketing, Head of Product or Design. Here we use a series of exercises including a brand slider and a competitive landscape matrix to give a detailed direction backed by voices of influence. 

The point of these exercises, it turns out, is to make the abstract idea of “our brand” into something concrete. After doing the exercises, the team gets a common language to describe what their company is about  —  and all subsequent squishy decisions about visuals, voice and identity become way easier.

3C – Sketching & Exploration

During the research phase, I will often begin to form ideas which need to be committed to paper. My preferred means is to use ink and paper to hand-sketch my ideas in a notebook. I will then pick out a few I like and begin to refine these in illustrator.

I will then pick a handful of these concepts to show to the client for a first view. From here, we will enter into loop/loops of refinement/feedback/iteration.

The refinement/feedback/iteration phase is so vital as we move closer and closer to a mature piece of work which is going to carry weight in the marketplace. 

4. The Metamorphosing Landscape of Brand

You may have noticed an increase in new VI’s of major brands. This increase is taking place for a few reasons:

  • The marketplace is shifting faster than ever before and therefore a greater value is being placed upon brand visuals.
  • A reaction to competitors.
    As the brand landscape shifts brands brands need to reform to remain relevant.
  • An expectancy for change in the digital age.
    VI’s are now content and users consume content faster than ever before.
  • The current VI needs to do more. It needs to be part of a wider brand experience.
  • The maturing of Millennials & Generation Z who associate with brands who stand for something. Brands who give something back, putting people and planet before profit. Brands of the future will do good or cease to exist.
  • The desire of experiences over material possessions or products.
  • The attention Economy – A brand refresh can be used as news to re-engage users who have a hunger for the latest thing. 
  • Other factors such as new geographies, technologies and new business models.
  • The landscape is more visual and visceral than ever before touching upon our senses of sight, touch, hearing, feeling.
  • Meaningful Collabs
  • The interplay between being human and the rise of technology is, and will continue to be, one of the dominant themes of the next decade. 
  • Has your Ident moved with the times, where does it sit in the competitive landscape?
    It may be time for a refresh or a realignment of your VI.

3. Deliverables & Packages

Each project will require a bespoke approach but here are some of the packages which form good starting points.

  • Basic Package – Typically Based on days work. And working up one chosen concept. 
  • Standard Package – Questionnaire. A variety of logo lockups. 
  • Premium Package – Brand Guidelines. Brand assets – logo variations, Brand pattern/watermark, illustrated characters, icons, 
  • The beginnings of a Design System. Your VI now forms what is the cornerstone of a whole ecosystem of design elements that forms a design language. 
  • Sub brands are another consideration especially for multinational brands and larger businesses considering how your brand will scale horizontally.
  • Stacked and Linear Versions with primary and secondary colours.

Brand Sprints (Recommended start point)

If you want a brand refresh for a startup or new business this workshop based on google brand sprints is an ideal starting point. I’ll conduct a workshop lasting a couple of hours with the key personnel in the room. 

A plethora of lockups

A variety of lockups will need to be produced which will begin to form the beginnings of your brand guidelines. These will typically include a left aligned lockup, a centrally aligned lockup, Black versions, white versions & brand colour variant versions. 

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