Everything you need to know about flexible visual identity systems
A new book from graphic designer and educator Martin Lorenz looks at why systems, not logos, are the future of graphic design
By Emily Gosling 26/01/2022
Flexible visual identities are nothing new: in an age where pretty much any identity is as prominent on digital platforms as physical or static ones (if not more), identity design has become a living, breathing discipline rather than a fixed set of rules around logo usage.
Graphic designer and educator Martin Lorenz has long been fascinated by such systems: so much so that he’s spent the past two decades developing them as founder of the studio TwoPoints.Net, and the past ten years researching them at the University of Barcelona. Now, Lorenz has decided to sum up this ever-evolving facet of design and branding into one rather easy-on-the-eye book, titled – you guessed it – Flexible Visual Systems.
Billed as “the design manual for contemporary visual identities”, the book is published by Slanted and presents a variety of approaches on how to design flexible systems, which can be adapted according to any project — from corporate design, communication design, user experience design to textile design — and according to a breadth of aesthetic outcomes.
The book is organised into three sections, the first of which offers the theory stuff by way of an illustrated introduction describing how flexible systems have been used in the past, their contemporary applications and the possibilities for their use in the future — namely, not just as a way of formally organising information within design projects, but by changing the way we work more generally.
The mid section of the book is described by Lorenz as “a hands-on, almost purely visual” guide to the ins and outs of designing flexible systems, covering the basics and their applications while underscoring why systems are the way forward for designers today and in the future.
The third and final section of the book is dedicated to explaining “how transformation processes can become flexible systems for visual identities”, as Lorenz puts it, adding that this is especially relevant to “creative coders, motion designers and people who love to experiment”.
Essentially, the book proposes that designing using flexible visual systems, as opposed to a sum-of-parts approach (usually centred around a logo), is more vital today than ever, since designs have to work efficiently across rapidly changing environments.
Lorenz even goes as far as describing logo-based visual identities as “anachronistic” thanks to their tendency toward being inflexible. “Now, if not before, a visual identity based on a symbol or logo is no longer able to adequately communicate…. It is too monosyllabic when eloquence is required,” he writes.
“We need contemporary visual languages to be able to solve contemporary communication problems. While a logo-based visual identity communicated the same message over and over again, a system-based visual identity is a language capable of articulating different messages in different ways to different audiences in different circumstances.”