Scott Lambert
Mar 21, 2017

Six guiding lights, for an age of likes

Creating visual identity with a soul.

Six guiding lights, for an age of likes

Brands should aspire to have a deeper bond with their customers. The decade of technology in our pockets has the potential to connect us in unimaginable ways, but many brands fail to penetrate beyond the fingertip. As digital leaves us aching for more sincere experiences, the ability of a brand to touch our emotions is now as relevant as its ability to react to our touch.

Identity is an essential ingredient in forging meaningful and memorable connections: a sense of craft can convey generations of guardianship at a glance, the way a box unfolds shows the sensibility of the product inside, a rhythmic glow intuitively leads us to tap into an ageless need.

So where to start? Effective identities no longer rely solely on the traditional sequence of fixed design assets like lock-ups, colours and typefaces. They are guided by emotional properties, such as intelligence, tactility or the unexpected. These principles are borderless. They can be applied in the real world, the digital, and everything in between.

An identity with sincerity and depth is a manifestation of something more. It sounds obvious, but behind accomplished identities are usually accomplished brands. The stellar ones know why they exist, and that informs and organises how they deliver products and services, express their personality, and shape their identity.

Think of identity as a beacon. Rather than trying to communicate something to everyone, smart brands compel people to intuitively seek them out. They do this by being true to their own beliefs, and the authenticity this radiates transforms them into a reference point in our world.

The Connaught Hotel in London Mayfair and Guinness are shining examples of heritage brands driven by a bigger ideal, and they use their respective identities to shed any historical baggage that doesn’t serve that.

Contemporaries can also shape their own long-lasting lineage. The Asian nuances of Shanghai Tang begin with ethereal aromas before you’ve crossed the threshold. Rapha’s restless commitment to demonstrate an understanding of the realities of cycling is manifested in the detail and textures of its products, its breathtaking commissioned photography, and its generous customer-care policies. I could go on.

Of course, the reality of igniting or reigniting a brand’s fire is understandably daunting. Making an identity effortless is rarely without effort. But the satisfaction and reward of creating something with longevity, something that people genuinely admire rather than just like, is worth the soul searching. Here’s a constellation of guiding principles for visual identity:

1. Shine from within

Successful brands know themselves. Know their purpose, their why. And above all, they know why that is relevant to their customers. They shape a compelling idea and then inform, instruct and inspire their people to embody it. Every touchpoint and experience is unified by the same pulse.

2. Become unmistakeable

Encapsulate your broader brand story in a moment. It could be as simple as the white rounded star on the peak of a pen: what started life as a reminder of Europe’s highest mountain now caps a century of legend, reputation, and mystique. Or it could be something altogether more arresting, such as the black and white stripes that now represent the subtle shades of make-up.

3. Let emotions guide you

Consistency in expressing the brand’s intent is what keeps an identity alive. Although guidelines still play a role, they no longer chart a course to success. Purpose, however, is such a naturally generous concept that brands can create authentic, more human identities that encourage participation, sharing, and personalisation.

4. Create narratives.

Brands with genuine depth are a catalyst for storytelling. And many empower their customers to tell stories too. Rather than feeling exposed in our world of hyperconnectivity, the most confident brands embrace the opportunity to reinforce their origins, evoke rich connections, and even (whisper it) have a bit of fun.

5. Become adaptive

Along with detail and craft, intelligent identities have in-built reductive ingredients. As devices get small and interactivity increases, brands find ever-smaller bespoke elements that add moments of charm, signpost interactivity and draw people in. Around these simple elements, rich content grows.

6. Show courage

There are few attributes more alluring than self-confidence. The winners are the brands who resolve to live risk-free in the camouflage of the category no longer, instead choosing to sparkle with self-expression. Influential brands know the competition so they can stand apart in their sector, and passionately stand up for what they believe in, above and beyond their category.

Scott Lambert is design director at The Partners Singapore.


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