July 23, 2019

Beyond the logo: what makes up a visual identity system

Wherever you are reading this from, there is a logo within your view. From the Apple mark behind our Macs to the swoosh or three-striped symbol on our sneakers, we see logos all the time. Apparently, logos do the entire work of helping us to identify products or brands? Well… maybe not. 

If the most distinctive brands around us are anything to look up to and learn from, differentiation and identification are infused in many more ways than the logo. 

Think about choosing between Coke or Pepsi in a refrigerator. You don’t wait to spot the logo. Red or blue and you have your choice. Now if you are thinking “oh yes logo and colour”, you are getting there but you have got to keep coming. 

Beyond the logo and colour, let’s talk about the distinctive Coke ribbon. The brand would probably come to mind even if it was carved in a metallic surface where the red colour was absent.

Maybe you think you have not noticed but your brain has and you are always identifying and setting a brand apart by all the details. Hence, businesses looking to be wholly different and memorable—booking a place in the minds of people—know better to ask for more than a logo design.  

So, now you want to ask…

What should an ideal visual identity project for a business entail?

First, the logo itself

The name and logo remain at the centre of the entire identity system. The logo is usually the most travelled visually element that brings the brand to mind.


Number 2 is the colour

This is usually decided alongside the logo design and is evidently one of the most differentiating elements for brands. From MTN’s yellow to Globacom’s green, brands easily stand out with dominant use of colour, from their logo to all their communication.

Up next we talk about typography.

This begins from the choice of type, or say fonts used to display the company’s name. Typography also goes further to include the entire system of how text is displayed across all communication; from brochures to websites, ads and more.


MTN’s Creatives showing the consistent use of typography and colour

Another key component is around unique shapes & composition.

There are certain shapes you identify in ads and expressions of certain brands. Uber’s new identity explores a certain flow that is u-shaped while MasterCard does a lot with the circles in their designs. These, alongside examples like Airtel’s bubble and Budweiser's bow tie, make examples of unique shapes and composition styles.

Budweiser’s Creatives showing the use of the bow tie shape 

Another key part of the visual identity system is custom iconography.

Top brands pay attention to owning their own design elements up to the level of icons that most other businesses would resort to Google for. Creating your own unique set of icons allow you to style them to suit your brand and it also allows for uniformity and coherence, giving that sourcing from the internet per time and need means different types of icons per time.

ONDIPA’s custom icons designed by FourthCanvas in 2017 

Brands also stand apart with illustrations.

There are key messages every brand exists to communicate. They are central to its purpose and it will always say these things from time to time. An extensive visual identity system would usually include a set of such illustrations that can continue to play a vital role in its communications over time. The style also remains a template for future artistic portrayal of the brand’s messages. 

Patterns for The Future Awards Africa (TFAA 2017)

Closely related to illustrations are patterns.

Patterns are there to fill in space and create an impression deeper than blank space. There is a lot more that patterns can be used but major applications include back covers, banner backgrounds, tote bags, wrappers, clothing. They make watermark textures and help to maximize empty spaces for easier recognition.

In a photo-centric world of new media communication, another key section is imagery.

Brands that pay attention to detail and intend to maximize every expression for distinction understand that images have a mood to them and it helps to pre-define image composition styles, filters, tones, emotions and other key factors as to what type of pictures to create or purchase for use across different mediums. 

Tying it all up is the guidelines document.

that helps to document all the elements already discussed and guide on how to use them. The goal of this is to ensure standards and consistency, no matter who handles what and at any time. However, the best guidelines can only do so much, and this is why companies sometimes keep the creative agency on a retainer to continue to be responsible for the brand’s expressions over time. However, it’s important to make the guidelines as helpful as possible, with agency partnership or not.

Pages from the Brand Guideline document for ONDIPA by FourthCanvas

Given its potential effect on the brand, the visual identity system should be built on a foundation of understanding and strategy. The vision should lead the conversation, followed by research into the target audience as well as existing and potential competition. This guides key decisions around the brand’s personality, tone, essence and more. It is best when the visual identity is an expression of the defined strategy for what the brand is to become rather than a creative guess. 

A comprehensive brand visual identity system ensures that the brand is unified in all its visual communication and as a result builds a distinctive brand that is easier for its people to sell and for customers to choose. This can be essential to standing out and being noticed, as well as staying in the minds of the customers and influencing them to stay with the brand. If it stands out, then it is more easily noticeable and the more conscious people are about the brand, the longer they stay and this contributes greatly to market leadership, huge profits and sustained success.  

January 18, 2019

Designing from the Heart

The role of empathy in the design process.

How would you feel if you pick up a design or product and realise that the designer had you in mind when creating it? Let me guess, a tiny bit of growing loyalty? It sure feels good when it is evident that you, as a user or member of the “highly esteemed target audience” was right at the centre of the thought process as a brand, material or product was designed.

In an increasingly individual and personalized world, with customers jumping ships to alternative experiences that just feel more right, empathy makes an important ingredient in creating a product that will stand the test of time. In simple terms, it would help to endear your brand to the people you have in mind. All you have to do is to indeed have them in mind— understand their thoughts, feelings, and probable response from their point of view, rather than from your own.

If you ask me what makes a product/design a successful one, my yardsticks would be divided in three:

  1. Functionality/Usability
  2. Desirability/Appeal
  3. Feasibility

Practically and innovatively factored in the design thinking process for any brand, the above-mentioned yardsticks can help to create a product/design that works. Importantly, it clearly performs the intended function with relative ease in terms of understanding how to use it, it appeals to the emotion, wants and logic of the target audience and the contextual application is spot on.

Hence, in trying to achieve functionality and desirability, empathy is key. It is arguably one of the most important elements as it precedes ideation, prototyping and design execution. Designing from the heart is simply putting the end users in mind while thinking up a solution for your client.

Design should primarily solve problems — be it designing a basic information website, communication materials for an event, an app that makes financial transactions easier or a simple piece of equipment etc. Whatever it is, there has to be a problem your design solves for the client or end users, an important reason to design from your heart.

Your design will be “consumed” by a myriad of end users with different personality types, backgrounds and characteristics. While it is very difficult to appeal to everyone that use your design, it’s imperative that you appeal to almost everyone — since you’re designing for them. This is like democracy, your design wins when almost everyone if not everyone likes it and are able to use it.

That said, how do you design from the heart?
It’s really simple; ask them questions and then, think for and with them. That’s it? Think for them? Yes, think for them.

The first step is to understand why you or the client wants to create the product/design. What is the problem that needs to be solved? Does this product/design really solve the problem? Understanding the problem and how your design will help to solve it is very important; it’s the very first step in creating a design that works.

The next step is to understand your client’s target — this is where you conduct market research. What does an average user of the product look like? Are they conservative or reactionary? What is their age range: youths, middle-aged, upwardly mobile or middle class? What appeals to them? Would they be attracted to a lot of colours, images, illustrations or icons? What would make them use/keep using the product? Honestly answering these questions helps you create a design that an average user can relate with — a product/design that actually works for them.

To successfully design a product that works, you need to set aside assumptions and make decisions based on facts and findings. Every new brief becomes a chance to start afresh and create something new.

Imagine if you have to design the user interface of an adult education web/mobile app, using a lot of script fonts is something you would essentially avoid because they are a lot harder to read. This is what designing with the heart is about; factoring in the reaction of your end users into every decision making process. Hence, it’s important to get your facts and figures right as the usability of your design depends on it.

Conclusively, empathy is important for every designer because it gives us a chance to understand and discover the needs and emotions of the people we are designing for. This, in turn, helps us create solutions that meet the parameters of a successful product or service: functionality, appeal and feasibility.

Designing with empathy helps us create a human-centred products/designs.

  • Aluko Brown (Senior Designer, FourthCanvas)

December 31, 2018

Moving in on with our Clients; Our 2018 Story

While we started the year largely known and respected for our visual identity and graphic design service, we saw a need to do more, in order to help our clients meet their set objectives. Design, as we always had it, was good but our clients needed more, and that transition, was really the highlight of the past twelve months of our lives.