9 Essential Elements of a Corporate Identity

I probably should have started with this entry, as it now appears that I seem to favor writing ass-backwards. In reality, I prefer nice, organized stories. <sigh> I cannot go back in time and post this at the beginning…There are 9 essential elements that contribute to the building of your corporate identity. Each carry weight. Each add to the nuance and depth to your image as a whole. Consider each when building your brand. They should all support and add to your identity as a whole.

They are:

1. Name
2. Logo
3. Tagline
4. Color Palette
5. Fonts
6. Voice
7. Graphic Elements
8. Imagery
9. Brand or Identity Vehicles

You’ll find links to entries on the subjects I’ve touched upon thus far below:
What’s in a Name?
Creating a Killer Logo
Tag, You’re It!
Using Fonts to Extend Your Identity
Your Voice as Your Corporate Identity

Need help with your identity? Contact Melissa Shimmin.

Set the Tone

When beginning the journey of developing a corporate identity, consider the tone you’ll be creating. I always like to visualize the voice of the company. Is it male or female? Young or old? Hip or stodgy? Traditional or edgy?

Once I can ‘hear’ that voice, everything spills out from it.

For example, if that voice is young, edgy and female, I might choose hot colors and modern fonts that speak to that ‘person’. The logo might have an icon in an ‘on trend’ illustration style. Marketing collateral (if there was any) might have a unique shape or format or use a funky paper stock. The website and online marketing would likely take center stage and extend these ideas. And so on.

A traditional company in turn might stick to subdued color and serif fonts. Classic formats for marketing materials would probably be retained. Etc.

Essentially, think of your company as a person, then dress him or her in the appropriate ‘outfit’. The person is your identity. The outfit is your look and feel.

Using fonts to extend your identity

Fonts are an integral part of your identity. Selecting the right typefaces goes beyond the font or fonts used in your logo.

Where to Start

Consider where text is to ge used. Adverttising? Brochures? Posters? Signage? Website? A combination? You’ll need fonts that work in all your media.

Web vs. Print

Is your business primarily web-based with little print visibility? Choose fonts that are html friendly like Arial, Helvetica, or Times Roman.

If your marketing will be primarily in print, your font options are considerably wider. An equal mix of web and print? Some companies have two sets of fonts – one for the web and one for print.

How much is too much?

Too many different fonts distract from your message. While it’s possible to create strong designs with a multitude of fonts, it generally takes an especially gifted designer to do it well. Limit yourself to 2 font families – one for the bulk of your text, and one for headlines, subheads and pops.

A font family is all the styles of a particular font. For example, Helvetica Regular, Helvetica Bold, Helvetica Oblique, Helvetica Bold Oblique, etc. You might even limit yourself to a single font if it has a particularly extensive family.

What style?

Coordinate with your logo, but don’t get too matchy-matchy. For example, if your logo uses Frutiger Ultra Bold, consider Frutiger Regular for your text. Alternately, contrast your text font to your logo (or headline) font. Use a serif font for text and a sans serif font for your headline, or vice versa.

So You Want to Hire a Designer: The Design Process

I recently started working with two new clients, both of whom had never worked with a graphic designer, design firm or ad agency before. In working with them, I’m finding a need to educate them on the design process.

So I thought I’d outline that process for entrepreneurs and small business owners so that they’d know what to expect if and when they needed to hire a designer. Note that this is a general outline, and every designer/agency will have its own process for completing projects.

Once you’ve selected a designer, determined the scope of your project and negotiated a contract and schedule (how to do that in a future blog), you’ll start by downloading your ideas to the designer (or account exec).

Typically this is a face-to-face meeting, but sometimes for smaller projects, or if you’ve been working with the designer for a while it could be over the phone or via email.

This is the time to get everything on the table – every idea you have for the project, every expectation, your target customer, your goals, etc. If you like blue and hate orange, make it known. If you love what the competition’s doing, let them know. The more information your designer has at the beginning, the more likely you’re going to get a design solution that’s on target, on schedule, and on budget. Not to mention one that you love.

This is also the time to provide the designer with any materials you might have for the project including digital versions of your logo, any photography or illustration you want incorporated into the project, copy, and any previously produced projects that the new project might need to coordinate with.

After the download, the designer will head ‘to the drawing board’ and begin creating ‘thumbnails’ or initial concepts. (Back in the day before computers, designers would sketch out rough ideas for clients to approve before creating mock-ups. Now that nearly everything is digital, only the terminology remains.) This typically takes between 2 days and 2 weeks, depending on the scope of the project and the schedule previously negotiated.

Once complete, the designer will present the initial concepts to the client. At this time the client will make comments, green light a project, or send it back to the designer for revisions, which could be major or minor. Again, allow between 2 days and 2 weeks for turnaround.

The designer will then incorporate the client’s comments, flesh out the design or concept and present the client with a finished concept or concepts. At this point the client may make edits and changes before sending the project into production. Typically these are minor, but sometimes the scope of the project changes or the company’s business needs change and it may be necessary to go back to the concept stage at this phase. Keep in mind that major changes at this stage may incur large surcharges.

Next, the project goes into production. Outside illustrators or photographers get hired, stock images may be purchased, and digital files are created. This will take anywhere between 2 days and 3 weeks.

Once initial production is complete, final files are sent to the client for review. At this stage the client should only have minor copy edits, or may want to swap out photographs. Keep in mind that any major changes at this stage (“I’d like all the products shot on red backgrounds instead of blue”) will likely be prohibitively expensive.

The client will then sign off on the project with any comments or edits they may have, and the designer will then implement all final edits. (This typically takes between 1 day to 1 week.)

The client will then have one more opportunity to check to see that all the changes that were requested were made before the project goes to press (print projects) or live (web projects).

Sometimes for print projects the client will also go to press checks, including ‘blue line’ (where the client gets to check that what was sent in digital format is what’s going on press, as well as checking that binding, folds and cutting are correct) and 1st and second ‘color’ (where, rather obviously, you proof for color).

Finally, the project gets delivered to the client. If the client is purchasing their own printing, the project may be delivered in digital format to the client, or directly to the printer. If the client has the designer purchase printing, the final printed pieces will be delivered. Likewise for web design – files may be delivered to the client for posting, or the designer may upload them to the server for the client.

Creating a Killer Logo

Creating a killer logo may be the most difficult task in creating your identity. Just like your name it should be memorable. It should also be easy to read.

Start with a font.
Pick something easy to read. Classic fonts are always a safe bet: Helvetica, Garamond, Caslon, Futura, Trade Gothic, Franklin Gothic, Bodoni. If you’re business is something conservative or traditional, it’s probably best to use a serif font. If you’re in the trades, or you want a modern or contemporary feel, go with a sans serif font. Avoid highly decorative fonts, unless perhaps your business is selling Victorian wallpaper.

To bug or not to bug?
The bug is the little symbol that locks up with the type that’s your name. Using one is usually a matter of personal preference, but it should speak to your company name or what your company does. For example, Apple Computers uses an apple icon both with their name and without for their logo. Of course, their ‘bug’ has become so recognizable that you don’t need their name to know who they are. Whatever you do, avoid the overused swoosh.

Design in black and white, then add color.
You want to make sure you logo works on a fax cover sheet, your company checks or anything else that will be printing in a single color. So design it in black and white first to make sure it works across all media. Then, and only then, add color.

Avoid gradients.
It’s possible to design a great logo with a gradient, but you’ll find lots of media in which reproducing a gradient becomes prohibitively expensive. Avoid gradients and you’ll avoid cost challenges down the road.

Design your logo in Adobe Illustrator or other vector-based software.
By designing your logo as vector art it will be scaleable up or down to one inch to 100 feet with no loss of quality. If you design it in Adobe Photoshop or another pixel=based software, it won’t be scaleable. That means you’ll have to recreate it on a large scale when you need it for things like storefront or event signage, otherwise it’s going to, um, suck.

Make sure it works large and small.
It should be as legible at one inch as it is at 1 foot. The big boy companies often have slightly different versions of their logo for small and large uses so that type continues to be legible at small sizes but you don’t necessarily have to go that far.

Test your logo.
Finally, you might want to do a little market research. Before rolling out your shiny new logo, show it to customers or potential customers (or at the very least friends and family who can be impartial and who can give quality, honest feedback) to get their opinion. Does it say what you want it to? Is it appropriate to your market and/or targeted customer? If not, head back to the drawing board.