Timeless Branding

Published on: June 1, 2017

Of the thousands of branding books, almost without exception they define a brand as a promise to the customer or client. To that end, a brand is encapsulated in every aspect of a firm’s performance and behavior. However, the synthesis of a firm’s brand is in its visual representation.

Corporations have always embraced the logos and logotypes to create awareness of their services and products.  In the decades of the 60’s and 70’s, businesses introduced elaborate graphic standards programs with prescriptions for the treatment of every nuance of their visual identities.  

When developing a new visual brand you must understand graphic design. It is helpful to think of graphic design as a language. Its vocabulary is quite simple, including color, type, form, layout, graphic devices, materials, photos, illustrations and reproduction techniques. By combining these elements effectively you can visually communicate the essence of your brand.

What does your brand stand for? What do you want to convey about the attributes of your firm? Answers might include professional, progressive, contemporary, creative, or any of the adjectives that represent your brand promise. Translating these attributes through design means understanding the associations of the graphic vocabulary. Type fonts, for example, can reflect the period during which they were designed or came into popularity. Wood type from the old west, art deco style from the 1920s, or the Didone classic serif fonts from the late 18th century would each make a very different statement about your brand. Similarly, the psychology of color will have a significant impact on the perception conveyed through your identity.

Almost universally, new identities seek to be timeless. That is to say, “let’s design a logo that will last” is a common criteria for any new brand. There are many reasons to redesign a brand, but to design for obsolescence makes no sense. What makes an identity timeless?

The best way to answer that is to look at corporate identities that have stood the test of time. Coca-Cola has used the same logotype since 1886. IBM, CBS, Apple, McDonald’s, and FedEx are all examples of corporate logos that have represented their brands since their beginnings. Technology, media and reproduction techniques may have mandated minor modifications but these brands remain true to their roots. Simplicity, clarity, boldness, personality, elegance and especially the flexibility to adapt to the many context where they are used are all factors that have allowed these brands to thrive.   

Another brand that has aged well is SMPS. The logo was created for the fledgling Society in the late 1970’s as a pro bono contribution by California design firm, GNU Group. 

Describing the logo, the designers explained, “We’ve chosen a sophisticated typeface, Bodoni, and underscored the initial ‘M’ to represent the Society’s focus on marketing. We’ve encased the initials in a square, a fundamental form in the built environment and chosen bold primary colors for their energy and impact.”

If a new brand identity is in your future, study identities that have lasted through the years. Thoroughly understand the attributes you want to communicate and challenge your design team to demonstrate how they will be translated and how that will assure their qualities are enduring.