I wear black on the outside
Because black is how I feel on the inside
Identity and popular culture
Author John Simmons has stated that ‘identity has continuing resonance because it suggests that what we are on the inside is inextricably linked to the way we appear on the outside. The fashions and brands we wear make a statement about our choices, allegiances, likes and dislikes’. The externalisation of an internal identity is a theme that popular composers of various generations have eulogised about.
He wears the finest clothes
The best designers, heaven knows
Ooo…from his head down to his toes
Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards 1979
Macro to microcosmic identity
Identity is a set of characteristics that defines a person or a thing. Each planet is defined by its physical characteristics. Saturn with its rings, Mars the red planet and Earth the blue planet. Earth has distinctly different landmasses shaped by the oceans. Those landmasses have been carved up into countries divided by borders and identified through flags, national anthems and language. Countries have their regions – North, South, East, and West. Regional accents or dialects identify where someone comes from (local identity) and forms part of an individual’s character. People transmit something about what they are to the outside world via the language they use.
In the book ‘Graphic Design: A Concise History’ Richard Hollis states that ‘the primary role of graphic design is that of identification: to say what something is, and where it came from’. Identity is a broad term that encompasses our own individual character as well as identifying an organisation’s products and services. Eminent US designer and author Rob Carter has written, ‘just as primitive man carved and painted images on rock walls as a way to secure a place in the world, modern individuals and business enterprises rely on identifying marks’.
Who is it for?
An organisation has many points of contact with various groups of people. It has premises, works, products, packaging, stationery, forms, vehicles, uniforms, websites and publications. Customers, suppliers, financiers, shareholders, competitors, the press, the general public and employees all see these things. The people in these groups build up their idea of the organisation from what they see and experience of it.
A brand is a system of meaning that your customers and your organization form together. As designers, we give brands structure and expression.
MetaDesign San Francisco, 2010
Why is it necessary?
A visual identity is developed to provide a unity to the visible manifestations of an organisation as well as presenting an accurate reflection of that organisation and its area of activity. The job of the designer is to evaluate and rationalise all existing material pertaining to the organisation and systematically apply the organisation’s name and image to it in such a way as to present a consistent and co-ordinated picture.
Components of a visual identity
A visual identity usually consists of an identificant, colour scheme and typographic style. An ‘identificant’ can be a symbol (image based), logotype (word based) or monogram (letter based). Some organisations adopt a more flexible approach to its identity through an identikit. This is a kit of parts that can be configured and reconfigured yet still retain the essential visual strategy of the organisation. (see below).
A fundamental stationery range comprises a letterhead, invoice, compliment slip, envelope and business card, but may also include a delivery note, labels, credit note, order form, statement and estimate. The company identity will have to withstand reproduction in one colour (black), to a variety of sizes (small to large), endure photocopying and faxing, and appear in low-resolution online. Guidance for use with typing and overprinting should include information regarding: editorial style; typographic style; position of information; interlinear spacing; paragraph style; width for typing; and tabulation.
When presenting an identity it normally inspires confidence in the scheme if a thorough application is shown. This could include: identificant in black and colour variations; identificant in positive and negative form, scaled from small to large (with any adjustments necessary); identificant shown as a constructional drawing; and applied to building fascia, vehicles and website. A brief illustrated report outlining an analysis of the problem and detailing the approach and development towards a solution helps to further explain the scheme (particularly if you as the designer are not ever present).
When designing stationery for a limited or public limited company (plc) there are certain legal requirements.
A letterhead requires a name, address, telephone, fax, extension, mobile, direct line, email, website address. If the company is a limited company or plc it will require a registered office, registered number and a list of company directors.
A compliment slip will have all the above except the registered office, registered number and directors. The words ‘with compliments’ are included as a quiet gesture, they do not need to shout or announce themselves unduly. Space to write a note is normally appreciated.
A business card includes the same information as the letterhead minus the registered office, registered number and directors. A name and job designation is included.
The invoice includes the same information as the letterhead excluding the registered office, registered number and directors. The words: invoice, invoice number, account number, order number, VAT rate, description, price (or fee if it is a service being provided), VAT, total and VAT registration number are all commonly included.
The design of business stationary
The process a letter undergoes will influence its design. A letter is typed, folded and put into an envelope, posted, received, opened and read, and then filed.
Relating the pre-printed to the over-printed
Stationery will eventually be overprinted. It will be clearer for the user if there is a relationship between the pre-printed elements and the overprinted ones. An initial visual audit will identify the range of complexities to be encountered. One can often derive the solution for all items in the stationery range by tackling complicated forms such as the invoice first. Guidelines for use will need to be supplied by the designer.
Most stationery is designed using the ISO (A, B & C) range of paper and envelope sizes which are related by their proportion of 1:1.414 (root 2). This rectangle has the unusual property that when divided in half along its long edge it retains its original proportion. From one sheet a whole range of sizes related by their proportion can be economically derived.
An A4 sheet can be inserted into a number of different size envelopes by folding it accordingly: A4 will fit into a C4 envelope unfolded; A4 will fit into a C5 envelope by folding it once in half along its long edge; A4 will fit into a C6 envelope by folding it twice, once along its long edge and then again along the resultant long edge; A4 will fit into a DL envelope by folding it into thirds along its long edge. The DL envelope is the most commonly used envelope size.
The influence of folding
Letters are folded to fit envelopes. The top 99mm of a letter is the first thing to be seen on opening the DL business envelope and as such should contain certain vital information such as the date, name and address of the recipient, references as well as the company’s own identity and address. If a window envelope is used then the position of the window will determine the position of the typed address. It is customary to include a discreet mark to indicate the first fold.
A left hand margin of preferably 25mm or more should be allowed so that information is not obliterated when filed.
Identikit and flexible identities
During the 1980s and 1990s there was a move away from the monolithic logo/symbol approach where identities were applied in a highly limited and controlled fashion by corporate identity specialists and their corporate identity manuals. A new generation of designers were rediscovering a more flexible attitude to identity. The identikit method was more organic in application. It allowed for some life and playfulness and could grow over time. It relied on the identity being composed of a kit of parts. Different components of the identity could be highlighted depending on the different requirements. This is typified by the Studio Dumbar identity for the Holland Festival, which worked across posters, publications, stationary and festival signage. This visual strategy was nothing new and had been employed very successfully by an Italian steel producing company Italsider in the 1960s. The identity is documented in, ‘the grand-father of modern corporate identity’, FHK Henrion’s book Design Co-ordination and Corporate Image.
Brands create cultures, enable conversations, inform, entertain and generate value. Our Brand team works with you to get to the heart of your brand, its stories and how to tell them across channels. We have planners, strategists, bloggers, Tweeters, writers, researchers and trend trackers throughout our 11 offices. We understand quickly, create fast and measure swiftly to ensure your brand hits the zeitgeist and stays there.
As the channels of communication proliferate and in some cases challenge traditional media and those that control it, large corporations are becoming concerned to keep ahead. Ford used the marketing agency, Wunderman, to create a mobile phone augmented reality application for their Ford Ka promotion. It was aimed at young people who weren’t necessarily Ford’s immediate customers. The application acknowledged that You Tube and blogs were challenging traditional media outlets such as TV and newspapers for advertising. Young people are ‘not watching TV and posters pass them by as they are out socialising’. The new social networking sites accessed through mobile phones are more likely to be on their radar. But just appearing on these new communication channels is not enough; 20-year-olds are questioning the values of traditional brands and aren’t necessarily interested in the mainstream. Our worlds are both global and local and our sense of identity increasingly complex, intertwining the personal with the plethora of competing and perpetually changing brand cultures.
Life’s not worth a damn
Till you can shout out
I am what I am
Gloria Gaynor 1984
Marks of Excellence, Per Mollerup
Design Co-ordination and Corporate Image, FHK Henrion
Graphic Design, Richard Hollis
We, Me, Them and It, John Simmons
Root 2 Design