Visual identity

Brand visual identity – what it is and guidelines for the creative process

70% of the global population has good visual memory. Before we learn how to write or read, we learn to recognize colors, symbols, and facial expressions. The photograph on the first page of a newspaper, a website, or a magazine occupies approximately 70% of the frame. A lot of brands choose a strong color or a powerful logo symbol for their visual identity. they do that precisely so that we, their customers, being the visual beings that we are, easily remember them. Repetition is the mother of all learning. Therefore, utilizing the brand and its collateral materials consistently, in the long run, is good news for brand implementation budgets.

With branding, what you see is what you get. At least this is what your potential clients feel like, They have no reason to offer you their attention, their trust, money, and most of all their loyalty unless you impress them more than your competition. Winning trust pertains to branding.

Long story short, in branding, ‘what you see’ in the open is actually the visual identity of a brand. This is the first thing that says something about your business and the first thing your customer interacts with. Have we got your attention now? You need to understand what your brand’s visual identity consists of, who can build it, and how.

But before we dive into that, there are some important details that you should pay attention to:

  • visual identity is part of the branding process,
  • branding means more than designing an attractive logo. Branding means the sum of all the actions that your business undertakes to communicate its values and promises. Branding is not about “buy it from me, I’m the best!” Actually, it includes all the feelings and thoughts of your audience about your business.

Many people state that the visual identity of their company is their corporate logo. Well, a logo is not a brand, nor is it your company’s visual identity. Keep reading and find out why!

Over the years, INOVEO built more than 200 visual identities for brands in different sectors and industries. These included both famous brands and startups. We helped them all reinvent themselves or start from scratch. Based on our experience, we’re going to give you a free guided tour of what visual identity means and how it helps grow your business.

What is the visual identity of a brand?

Besides its name, a brand can use a set of garments to manifest itself. These garments translate to design elements such as:

  • logo
  • colors
  • font types
  • imagery
  • supergraphic, or distinctive graphic element.

Visual identity is the graphic or visual representation of what a brand is and what it differentiates it from all others.

In other words, the visual identity is all that clients can see physically, namely business cards, brochures, catalogs, websites, office or commercial interior design. The visual identity is the most valuable communication tool that your business can use to express itself. A strong visual identity helps you establish a connection with your potential clients. A weak visual identity, on the other hand, can degrade your customers’ experience with your brand.

Visual identity often includes building a brand manual, or brand book. The brand book offers detailed instructions for presenting the brand visually, at any given time, in any given context.

It is easy to assume that having built a visual identity in the form of a logo, some colors, font types, imagery, and supergraphic is the end of the story. But it’s not. If the visual identity is used inconsistently – meaning, utilized in divergent ways in various media – it misrepresents the brand. In that case, the image of your company is incoherent and damaging to the business. It actually stops the customer to connect to your brand. For example, a visual identity implemented by two different designers, working separately, may lead to the perception that the materials belong to different brands. This happens when there is not a coherent set of procedures to unify the designers’ work. This kind of discontinuity affects the brand perception and its reception by the customers. So, our primary objective should be that the brand and its communication materials are as coherent as possible. This way, the brand becomes memorable in the long run. Have you ever come across a website that had a certain color or layout that immediately stuck with you, and you had to search for it because you forgot the brand name?

Often the visual identity is mistaken for brand identity.
On the one hand, brand identity is the holistic expression of what makes the brand a brand. It includes the visual identity and its key non-visual elements, such as the brand’s tone of voice, its mission, vision, and values.

At the same time, visual identity is a distinct discipline that implies a different thinking process and approach than brand identity. Although there are certain superpositions, these are different tasks for different professionals. Brand identity is supervised by marketing and communication specialists while building a visual identity requires designers and other creatives.

Brand identity includes visual identity, not the other way around.

What is the function of a brand’s visual identity?

The function of visual identity is essential for building a brand. Remember that people generally tend to be visual. The image is what significantly contributes to memorizing a brand. Who hasn’t heard the saying: “an image is worth a thousand words”?

Aims of the visual identity:

  • create an emotional connection with the viewers
  • inform the viewers on the nature of products and services
  • unify numerous sides of a business through coherent images
  • create memorable associations with trustworthy brands – because people buy from the brands they trust.

Main elements of visual identity

The visual identity manual or brand book is a technical guide that presents graphic standards and usage principles for the logo and other visual elements. The purpose is to specify compositional principles used in building the brand, for further use.

A visual identity manual presents the correct uses of certain graphic components so that the design choices reflect the brand’s personality. These components work together as a logical system that defines the application rules for various print or digital communication materials.

The guide includes technical info – color codes for print and digital products, recommended sizes and ratios, related symbols, fonts, and applications. The visual identity manual comes in handy for a designer working on promotional visuals, who has to keep in line with the brand’s aesthetics.


In the context of visual identity, ‘graphics’ stands for all the visual elements created by a designer. These may have a simple shape like a Lego block or a bottle of Coca-Cola, which are immediately linked to the respective brands based on their recognizable silhouettes. Graphics may also be more complex and may include textures, pictograms, illustrations, or even animations.

“Good graphics” is coherent and places in context certain elements that are brand specific. This way the designers can create a series of multimedia assets – print, video, online, collaterals.

The logo

A basic logo is the name of the company written in a certain font (logotype) and with a certain color. A symbol may or may not be associated with the name. The logotype should not be confused with the brand font, used on communication materials. The logo helps identify the brand, but most of the time its function is more complex than that. A good logo is the foundation of a brand: it helps you relate to what your brand is, does, and shares. A lot of responsibility for a tiny image, don’t you think?

The logo design is at the center of establishing a visual identity. It influences all the other components of the visual identity: imagery, supergraphic, and types of fonts used in brand communications.

A common confusion between the logo and the brand
It might seem complicated, but it is really simple: the brand is the whole range of perceptions that people have of your company, product, or service. In other words, the overall impression that your company, product, or service makes on its clients. This impression may be instrumented using a number of marketing tactics such as commercials, client service, and product quality.

The logo is part of the brand, not the other way around
The Apple logo is iconic and instantly recognizable, but it does not exhaust the brand identity by itself. Apple is elegant, highly usable, and friendly to its customers. These qualities are also present in Apple prints, TV commercials, web designs, and the aspect of their physical or online stores. The logo is the element that serves as a common denominator of all these things. Let’s face it, Apple would not be the same without its apple with a bite.

The fonts

‘Font’ and ‘typeface’ are now used interchangeably, and we won’t get into clarifying the difference. The important takeaway is that you better use certain styles of letters in your company’s branded communication. These styles should be coherent across multiple media (prints, website, social media). There is a great number of fonts out there and each of them has a different effect on the viewer, depending on its legibility and other factors. Don’t mistake the visual identity font with the logotype (meaning the font we use to write the brand name in the logo). Most of the time, the logotype is not even a font. It may start from one, but the designers work on it and modify it to make it unique. It sometimes (rarely) happens that our clients ask for the logo font, but we explain the difference and point to the chosen brand communication font.

A text is defined by phrasing, tone of voice, semantics, and syntax. In terms of shape, the letters are geometric elements that contribute to a brand’s personality. This is the graphic interface of the letter – the actual font. You may think of the font as mirroring the emotions conveyed by the words. A text written in round letters expresses joy and innocence, while a text with sharp angles may express anger or fright. The reason why we tend to reject sharp angles is that we associate them with danger. Such is our natural defense mechanism system, encrypted in our DNA.

This is something we can also observe in real life. Analyzing facial expressions and body postures, you may tell immediately whether a person signals safety (by smiling, or by her friendly body language) or, on the contrary, danger.

Practical rules of typography allow for functional associations that reflect what we tried to describe above. A brand may use a certain font family for titles, and another family for body text, or micro-copy. Fonts are usually categorized into several groups: serif, sans serif, slab, mono, etc. Font families work hand in hand. The serifs are considered more conservatory because they have been with us since the beginning of printed press. The sans-serifs are thought of as being more modern because they are largely used in websites and digital media.

The color palette

The order in which the human brain perceives the external environment is colors, symbols, numbers, and text. Color may be used to rapidly identify a brand. A color palette for a brand consists of a custom color scheme, most of the time no more than three colors, with particular tones and shades. In branding, we don’t talk of red and green. It may be shiraz red or seafoam green. A brand may utilize both primary and secondary colors. Secondary colors usually complement primary colors and make them stand out. Color functions are multiple, ranging from contributing to the brand identity to making the navigation of a website easier.

Generally speaking, colors may play a functional role:

  • primary color (main color for a brand)
  • secondary color (use it for backgrounds)
  • accent color (use it for contrast, on various graphic elements, such as a CTA button).

Although the color palette generally applies to the logo, it should also apply to all the elements that form the visual identity of the brand. When used correctly, colors may elicit from viewers some of the richest emotional reactions

The supergraphic

The supergraphic is that distinctive element that acts as a signature of your brand. We usually derive it from the logo, but sometimes it may be totally unrelated. To exemplify supergraphic uses, we don’t show the logo on the inside pages of a brochure, but we recommend using a supergraphic to subtly maintain the connection with the visual identity. The supergraphic also plays an important part on street billboards or on branded cars. You may identify it from afar, whereas the logo becomes distinguishable only from a closer range. The supergraphic is also useful when you need to create certain dynamics for your visuals. You can use it in various styles, but you should not do that with your logo. Ever. Bottomline, the supergraphic gives the designers a creative element to play with, in various formats.

The imagery (pictures)

Brand imagery refers to the photo and video content associated with the brand, as well as to any brand ambassador that has to project a certain visual style. As part of the visual identity, brand imagery has to be selected in such a way as to mirror the brand’s personality. Also, it has to really help make a connection with the audience. Brand imagery consists of images that play an emotional part in conveying brand attributes. It is not functional and, therefore, it should not consist of factories, offices, and stores. Used together, imagery and functional images offer a complete and complex image of the brand.

Brand imagery is the visual identity component that your customers can relate to the most. That is because people tend to resonate with familiar images and they wish to see themselves reflected by the brands they consume.

In branding, we need to make a strategic decision on whether the images and videos we use have a corporate look and feel or portray regular people. This depends on the audience. The branding specialists set out a series of rules for the brand pictures, whether they’re stock or custom-made (in a professional photoshoot). The specialists specify the preferred lighting, atmosphere, mandatory elements, shooting angles, perspectives, and other compositional instructions.

Branding materials (layouts)

A brand’s tangible assets are the material objects that contribute to the brand’s visual identity. Strictly speaking, this may not apply to brands that have no physical presence. For brands that do have a physical presence, the nature of their tangible assets may vary greatly.

Branding materials may include the overall look and design of a store. You can think of the very similar look and feel of all Apple stores out there, with their white interiors and large glass walls. Branding materials also include employee uniforms, or the porcelain, cutlery, and table cloths used in a restaurant. All these send messages to customers, and you want that message to be as coherent as possible.

In order to accommodate all these applications of the visual identity, we design a series of graphic layouts that project a unified image. The layouts include business cards, Word templates, PowerPoint templates, e-mail signatures, and so on.

Usual brand materials:

  • business card
  • envelope
  • electronic signage
  • brochure
  • catalog
  • flyer
  • poster
  • document case
  • website layout
  • online banner
  • e-mail signature
  • newsletter layout
  • social media layouts
  • custom clothing
  • interior and exterior signage
  • exhibition stand
  • street banner
  • fleet graphics

What does it mean to create a visual identity strategy?

To fully develop a visual identity, we need to go through two stages:

  • audit and analysis
  • brand strategy

These lay the foundation for creative pursuits.

During the brand audit, you come to know all your competitors and benchmarks (your brand landmarks). There is no other way to fully understand your brand’s main competitive advantages. Then you make sure to align the brand design to these advantages.

We built the brand strategy on the findings of the audit, as well as the segment, market, and trends analysis. A good brand strategy helps keep track of the red thread in promotional campaigns and strategies. This also influences the efficiency of the company in reaching its objectives through marketing actions.

The first step in drafting a brand strategy is to clarify the purpose of the company: what is the vision, why will it work, and what is it after (besides making a profit). To this end, we create a plan that specifies the objectives of the branding process. This way we offer valuable guidelines for future developments.

With the brand strategy in mind, we begin creating a new image for your company, product, or service. Then we develop the name of your future brand, and right after that its visual identity. The agency goes through all these stages and presents a highly distilled version of its findings, translated into creative routes for the brand identity.