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Visual Identity: It’s How You Look

Posted by on January 21st, 2021
Posted in Blog, Nonprofit Branding, Nonprofit Design   

Effective brand storytelling doesn’t just stem from the accidental use of visually-appealing elements.

Visual information is potent; people absorb it rapidly and are viscerally engaged by it. Think about it: That color of a hotel lobby that immediately sets the mood for guests. That bold font choice that immediately evokes feeling.

These visual elements come together to cohesively tell a brand’s story, which collectively we call visual identity. Visual identity is not a well-designed accident; it is foundational in audiences recognizing and connecting with your brand. And if done well, it cohesively communicates your brand story, expressing what is unique about your organization at every turn.

What is Visual Identity?

A clear, consistent visual identity is a shortcut to your brand. It allows audiences to recognize your organization instantly and associate the way you look with the values you hold and the work you do.

Using one visual identity consistently will accurately reflect and differentiate your unique personality among peers in your space. By reinforcing these elements, audiences gain confidence in and an understanding of who your organization is, how you look, and the work you do.

Your visual identity elements include (but are not limited to):

  • Logo
  • Color
  • Typography
  • Photography
  • Websites
  • Presentations
  • Email signatures
  • Social profile avatars and cover imagery
  • Promotional items (t-shirts, pens, and other giveaways)

To understand the basics of visual identity and why these elements matter, let’s focus on its foundations: logo, color, and typography.

Logo

There’s a common misconception that when we’re talking about brand, we’re talking about your logo. Your logo is not your brand; it is an abbreviated expression of your brand.

Your logo doesn’t have to say everything about who you are as an organization. It simply has to be a reminder of all the things people value about who you are and what you do. A consistently applied logo ensures that your communications are instantly recognizable.

Effective branding work can also reinforce and change the meaning of logos over time. Take Nike’s iconic logo, for example. It might be one of the most recognizable symbols of our time now, but when it was first created, it had no meaning yet. It was the company’s marketing and branding efforts over time, rather than this standalone symbol, that led to this eventual success, as this great video below from Vox shares.

Color

Colors ignite emotions, and emotions are powerful. The colors associated with your brand are no different, and are essential for connecting with your audiences.

In fact, designers and color theorists have created wheels of color that correspond with certain emotions. These are deeper than you might think, possibly rooted in human evolution itself. For example, red is associated with alertness, perhaps rooted in experiences of danger from our past. Yellow is associated with richness; blue is calming. Yet as the video from The Logo Company below explains, usage of these colors is not all the same, as color is heavily reliant on context. Target and Netflix both lean on red heavily in their visual identity, but each intends to evoke a unique feeling in the greater context of their brand.

Choosing fewer more strategically-selected colors can help your organization become more recognizable to the people that matter most, rather than using every color in the spectrum. Don’t add colors because you’re getting bored with a focused palette. That focus is what makes your organization clear and distinct.

Typography

Typography, also known as font, gives personality to words. It gives additional context to the literal meaning of the words themselves; words communicate, while typography expresses emotions based on how those words appear.

As the video below explains, typography is grouped into font families that evoke certain feelings, such as Serifs feeling traditional, or San Serifs feeling modern and clean. Fonts can also use other techniques that invoke other senses; a food menu item with a jagged font might help to evoke the salty or sour nature of that taste, for example.

Consistent use of typography and fonts is an easy and effective tool for maintaining visual consistency in all communications, whether digital or print.

Conclusion

The best brands have a solid understanding of their values and what makes them unique. Visual identity, when done effectively, brings these to life at every turn in an audience’s journey with your brand, signaling why your organization is unique—and why that matters.

Mission Minded has helped many nonprofits, foundations, and schools explore their visual identity. Reach out to us so that we can support your next project!

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Rod Lemaire is a Mission Minded Partner and Creative Director, overseeing our award-winning design studio. Rod delivers more than a decade of art direction and communication design expertise for mission-driven organizations.

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