Visual Systems: Controlling what was once left to chance

Is your brand expressed consistently — across all media? Or do your communications present a confusing array of visual styles?

Most companies understand the strategic importance of a consistent visual style, but fall short on implementation, especially when there are numerous product lines and numerous in-house or agency creative teams. Add in new products, changing management, fluctuating budgets, and looming deadlines, and the typical result is a tangled mess of visual styles — all representing the same company. No wonder customers are confused. Or singularly unimpressed.

A prescription for this all-too-common malady is a carefully designed visual system — that clarifies logo use, layout, typography, color, imagery, and other defining characteristics of your brand.

Here are six solid reasons why your company will benefit from a visual system.

1. Everyone sees the real you

Your company’s greatest asset is your brand. And much of that brand is expressed visually. If you haven’t established a system to control the visual appearance — in short, the personality — of your brand, it’s likely that many of your communications will be inconsistent or off-brand. “It just doesn’t look like us,” is a typical response to off-brand pieces, which may use inappropriate imagery, too many typefaces, or odd colors that don’t align with your chosen palette.

At its most basic, a visual system establishes clear guidelines for each of the following:

  • Logo standards. Guidelines for maintaining the integrity of your logo — including size, placement, horizontal and/or vertical configuration, color use, and tagline or address lockups.
  • Typography. Specific font styles and weights for both print and online communications.
  • Color. Primary and secondary palettes for use in all materials.
  • Imagery. The styles and colors that define your brand. Will you use photography and/or illustration? Will the style be abstract, realistic, or metaphorical? Will you use full color, monochromatic tones, or black and white?
  • Layouts. A wide variety of templates that establish a hierarchy of information for headlines, subheads, and body copy. Layouts also specify how imagery and secondary graphic elements should be used.
  • Formats. Acceptable standards and grids (square, rectangular, horizontal, vertical).

2. Consistency strengthens your brand

If your visual system is strong, your communications are instantly recognizable — not only because of your logo, but because of your unmistakable graphic style. Think of a leading brand. What you’re picturing in your mind’s eye is a distinct visual style: clearly defined and scrupulously managed.

In addition to specifying all the components outlined in (1) above, a well-articulated visual system establishes standards for all applications — from social media, websites, web advertising, e-newsletters, and blogs to advertising, marketing and sales literature, investor communications, internal communications, and environmental graphics.

3. Brand relationships become clear

Comprehensive visual systems not only establish clear relationships between your master brand and any sub-brands or affiliates, they clarify how products that supercede the master brand in market recognition should be represented visually. Visual systems also specify how your tagline locks up with your logo, how international offices should appear, how new products will be represented, and much more. The purpose of a visual system is not to make everything look identical, but rather to create a coherent and appropriate family look.

4. You eliminate a “culture of reaction”

To those who use them, visual systems are marvelous tools — providing, at once, both structure and flexibility (a proven catalyst for creativity). Visual systems also alleviate a “culture of reaction,” where everyone charges ahead to meet the latest deadline without any visual context.

5. You produce quality creative — faster

When you’re facing a deadline, you don’t want to find yourself bogged down in discussions about color, typography, logo placement and the like, when you should be spending your time on creative concepts and marketing strategies. With Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign templates, a visual system enables you to create on-target, on-brand marketing materials in far less time than it takes when everything has to be created from scratch.

6. You make a long-term brand investment

Visual systems codify the most important aspects of your brand. Because they’re well thought out and created as a tool for both employees and agencies to use, visual systems are not dependent on a particular person’s design talent, nor subject to another person’s whims. Instead they represent a smart, strategic investment in your brand — now and in the future.