When I started out in this business, there was one main objective when it came to the look and feel of a brand: consistency.
A visual identity was compared across all channels when it came to colour, type, layout and grid, and everyone would pull out a pantone book to be sure that the brand colors matched perfectly. The font had to be exactly right, and template grids were used for every ad size set in the millimeter or picas. There was a single focus and easy measure of success for designers, production, strategists, and the client…and it worked.
Through this kind of process, consistency was achievable because there were only a small number of channels being used to promote your brand. You really just had to make sure the visual identity worked with TV, Magazine, Newsprint, and outdoor billboards.
Today, a logo has to be versatile enough to work for an incredible number of different channels both on and offline. Realistically, there’s a good chance your brand’s twitter icon gets more audience views than a TV commercial did a few decades ago. Users will be exposed to your visual identity in a variety of circumstances that are practically impossible to control without spending a fortune, and even that’s no guarantee.
Essentially, branding systems need to adapt. To cope with these new challenges, a visual identity can’t only focus on consistency across the board. It needs to be able to survive in the mud, to get dirty and still be recognizable. Your visual identity needs flexibility.
Flexibility – also known as liquid layout – doesn’t mean you throw consistency out the door, it just means you have to be more adaptable in different mediums. The question to ask is “does the viewer know it’s me?” instead of worrying about how far to the right the logo is at the footer of the ad. Chances are, your brand will still be recognizable.
While flexibility is key, there are definitely some rules you can follow to work around this new liquid visual identity system. For example, you’ll want to maintain consistency when two elements are going to be compared by the audience at the same time.
Strategists and designers can still communicate the character and purpose of a brand, we just need to refocus from striving for 100% uniformity to a 50/50 between consistency and flexibility. Striking this balance is the best way to survive the evolving technology of marketing, and to give your brand the resiliency it needs to withstand a little mud.