How do contemporary Flexible Visual Identities work?
Although Gerstner’s approach comes pretty close to the functionality of contemporary FVI’s, there is one big difference between the programmed FVI’s of Gerstner and programmed FVI’s of today. Many recent FVI’s use external data to influence the output of the system. One of the most interesting examples for a FVI using external data is the FVI Neue developed for Nordkyn.
Other examples are oi, the sound-reactive FVI developed by Wolff Olins or the also sound-reactive FVI for Swisscom by Moving Brands. I have to adMIT that Open FVI often seems gimmicky, but the potential is huge.
In order to offer my students a comprehensive, but concise explanation of how contemporary FVI’s work, I developed a very simple model.
The basic idea of the model is that every FVI needs to have a visual system which balances constants (which make the visual identity recognisable), and variables (which allow the visual identity to adapt to different formats, messages and contexts). Each of the components can therefore be either flexible or static.
The center of the visual system consists of two different components: 1) the visual elements and their properties and 2) the transformation of the visual elements. The first component is the most common. The designer creates a set of elements which can be used to design the applications. For example a green circle, a red square and a blue triangle. The elements are circle, square and triangle and their properties are their respective colors. The second component, the transformation of these elements, is less common, but does exist. A visual element can be transformed in a specific way and thus establish through its controlled transformation a coherent visual language. Imagine always using the same old copy machine. It doesn’t matter which visual element you copy – graphic, typographic or photographic element – the copy machine will always add its very specific texture and create a recognisable visual language. A transformation of a visual element can be as well achieved through a changing perspective (see Swisscom by Moving Brands), the projection of visual elements onto changing objects and surfaces (see NAi by Bruce Mau or OVG by Studio Dumbar) or even a visual transformation through time (see De Buitenwereld or Z33 by Edhv).
Both the visual elements and their properties, and the transformation of the visual elements may be self-sufficient or influenced by an external source. A self-sufficient or closed system works with predefined rules and data. An open system allows the influence by an external source, as for example the outside temperature or the wind direction.
A similar source of flexibility can be the application of the visual system. A flexible visual system can be able react to the format, message and/or context it is applied to. A static visual system usually only scales up or down the same image, but doesn’t adapt form and content. This also means that FVI’s can become static if they are applied wrongly or if the media they are applied to cannot display multiple images.