Spring 2006

Footnotes about identity [WEB ONLY]

Notes on identity design (see Picture about the Walker Art Center) by Nick Bell

It is the aim of most corporate identity design programmes to comprehend everything that an organisation does, (or doesn’t do but should, or does but shouldn’t do), and distil it down to a single defining image. Corporate identity is not a science. It’s more a public relations makeover exercise commissioned to present an organisation in the best light possible. The desire for a single defining image predominates for reasons of practicality. These are for speed of recognition and to be distinguished against competitors in a cluttered market place. Companies and organisations that offer products and services identical to others depend especially on this kind of single big idea approach in order to engineer difference. Not just any old kind of difference though, not one that is measurable, as one might expect, in terms of quality but instead one that appeals to the emotions. Not information, but a visual display, a front that usually consists of a graphic mark (a logo – sometimes incorporating a name, sometimes purely pictorial), uniform colour and specific weights of a particular typeface. Nothing that will necessarily tell you literally what the organisation in question does but enough for you to detect in yourself a vague sort of reaction to what can best be described as a kind of vibe.

For a boring company producing daily necessities that even they admit are a bit dull it is extremely important for them to make strategic use of graphic design. A new corporate identity will increase the chances that positive public perception of them can be arrived at without too much dissemination of literal information about themselves. The corporate identity will have succeeded for a company such as this if favourable public comprehension of it is not based on fact but instead is utterly emotional. Relying on consumers tuning in to catch the vibe. Nevertheless, ordinary everyday reality catches up with every organisation eventually and far more suddenly if it fails to live up to its own vibe. Even then, some organisations unwilling to invest in innovating and improving their products and services can always opt for another public relations makeover that just might delay the end for a little while longer – ring out the last few droplets of value for the shareholders to feast on. Graphic design is no substitute for good quality products and services, though it seems it can be for the short term at least.