What is a Visual Identity?

What is a Visual Identity?

As soon as a group of people is formed, and they want to act as a group, they need to agree on key values which define their group. This is the moment they construct their identity as a group, which ultimately also will lead to their Visual Identity (VI) and Visual Communication (VC). 

This group could be an organization, institution or corporation. Let’s say this group makes shoes. If they are the only shoemakers in town, a shoe as a symbol to represent their group might be enough to identify their purpose, and people will buy their shoes, because there is no one else selling shoes. They have a generic vi, but a unique product. 

Now let’s imagine that there are more groups selling shoes. They have to make shoes which are different from the ones their competitors make, and communicate (through their VI and VC) that their product is different. Now not just their product has to be unique, their communication has to be too. Communication has suddenly become more complex. 

Until now I just mentioned the groups’ product and how they communicate (sell) it to their recipients (customers). Let’s have a look at the recipients in the communication process. The group is sending out (visual) messages, and hopes the recipients do what they are told – to buy the shoes. They are using the traditional communication channels, such as ads, commercials, banners, etc. These are pretty much one-way communication tools, because their recipients can’t make an ad, commercial or banner to show their response to the product or communication. 

With the rise of social networks, organizations, institutions, corporations and the audience they want to communicate with are using the same media to communicate. The recipient isn’t only a recipient anymore, but someone that now communicates his own messages. He or she can respond and other persons can see their response. Communication has become even more complex. The shoemakers have to realize that they are communicating with different people, who want different things and need to be addressed in different ways.

Now, if not before, the level of complexity of the communication has exceeded the capability of a logo-based visual identity. A logo, as specific or unspecific as it may be, is a very limited communication tool. It communicates the same message over and over again. It doesn’t change according to context. It isn’t responsive. The only way to respond to the increased complexity in communication is to build visual languages, rather than visual messages. A visual language can be used by an organization, institution or corporation to formulate different messages, rather than having to rely on pre-formulated messages. This is why Flexible Visual Identities (FVI) have become more important than ever.

From designing the message to designing the language which formulates the message. 

“From Static to Flexible Visual Identities” Graphisme en France, Nr. 23, 2017, Dr. Martin Lorenz