I’ll never forget the most-devastating interview of my life. I was fresh out of college, circa 2000, and the interviewer laughed me out of the room for creating a logo with more than three colors. He was unable to see past the merit of my design based on a set of rules created during a different generation of design. And then, a funny thing started to happen. Logos started popping up everywhere with four or more colors, and some with gradients (gasp). I felt like marching straight to my interviewer’s studio and taping the FedEx Kinkos logo and MSN butterfly to his window! Who’s laughing now, buddy?
But now, it’s a decade later, MSN has moved on to its latest version of the butterfly logo, and there are even more rules that have been challenged as we adapt to a growing digital era. And so, I present to you the first installment of my take on the changing landscape of identity design.
Physical letterhead is on the decline.
I was shocked the first time, oh, say six months ago, when one of our clients wanted to omit letterhead from their new identity system. In fact, since then, many of our clients have expressed no desire for physical letterhead as they rarely send printed letters and are looking for new ways to save money. For these more digitally-inclined clients, we still create a “letterhead” design, but as an electronic template that can then be populated with text and sent electronically or output on their own office color printers when the need arises.
It’s bad news for printers and lovers of beautifully-crafted paper letterhead (like myself). But even as we at Sullivan consider our next generation of letterhead, it’s something we are pondering, given how costly yet under-utilized this element in our identity system has become. We’d rather spend the savings on something we actually use.
With more content-driven applications on the rise, it is even more imperative to build your brand with words alone.
When copy is your only opportunity to distinguish your brand in situations like twitter feeds, blogs, mobile apps and paid-search advertising, how your brand demonstrates is unique personality is just as important as your subject matter. Is your brand’s tone snarky, professional, serious, or friendly? And how does that personality manifest itself when delivering content appropriate for your brand? Done right, you can craft a brand experience that not only provides valuable information, but also gives the illusive glimpse of your brand’s soul.
How small can your brand go?
What a pity it would be to a design a beauty of an identity system that completely breaks down when constrained to a mere 16x16 pixels. That’s the standard size for a favicon which is the Mini-Me of your brand online. Besides providing an opportunity to brand the browser chrome next to the url, favicons are also useful when your brand’s website is saved as a bookmark. The favicon is saved in the bookmarks menu alongside the name of the entry, providing another level of visibility and access to your brand. If the interpretation of your brand works at this scale, then creating your twitter icon or the interface for your mobile site will suddenly feel liberating!
Don’t underestimate the value of your email signature.
It’s easy to overlook this more utilitarian player in a brand’s identity system. However, it’s a wonderful tool to communicate something unique about your brand beyond its contact info—especially if you’re a service-provider with lots of client contact through email like us. This once-lowly afterthought will probably get more face time with clients than any other element in your system. Consider how you can use this space to engage the recipient with a meaningful glimpse into your brand. It’s a perfect opportunity to communicate news, links or feeds to social media channels, or any other content that provides access to your brand.
Oh, and this is a personal pet peeve: do not rely on images to make your signature unique. There’s nothing worse than looking for a specific attachment from a sender who has an attachment on every email thanks to their image-laden signature. Instead, stick to HTML type stylization that is consistent with your online brand standards. A little ingenuity and good old-fashioned type skills go a long way.
That’s all for now. Look for more to come. In the mean time, I encourage you to share your own findings in our ever-evolving world of identity design.