Graphic identity: its aims

Not all graphic identities are used for the same purposes. Knowing in detail the functions they have to fulfill is basic for its correct design.

Luciano Cassisi Ciudad Autonoma Buenos Aires
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How are used for the graphic signs of Shell, Rolling Stones (the rock band), Dolby, DVD Video, MasterCard, TÜV Certification, Iram, Conferencia Episcopal Española, 50º Aniversario de la Conferencia Episcopal Española, Chupa Chups, Reciclable product, Energy Star, Conformité Européenne , México, Lycra, Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Ministerio de Educación del Ecuador, etc.? Evidently, all its graphic signs are created as a visual reference for the aforementioned entities, of such diverse nature: enterprises, institutions, places, government divisions, products, certifications, communication campaigns, events, commemorations, artists, etc. But if we individually analyze each instance we'll find that is possible to desegregate this notion of «visual reference», into much more specific functions. The Dolby System logotype, for example, applied to a sound equipment, does not work similarly in the same equipment as the Sony logotype: the first one indicates an attribute or characteristic of the equipment, and the other tells us who its manufacturer is. Likewise, the Lycra logotype fulfills different functions when applied to packaging of the material than when used on the label of a product of another manufacturer made with Lycra: in the first instance the logotype points out to the package contents (Lycra), and in the second describe the characteristics of another product (made with Lycra).

If we analyze the more common uses of all kind of graphic signs, we notice eight well differentiated functions: 

  1. Denomination
    This soap bar is Lux and this other is Dove (in the package and the product itself).
    This beer is Corona (in the label).
    These pants are Leviʼs (on the back pocket and in the label).

  2. Ownership
    This blanket is the property of Alitalia (in the blanket on board).
    This is a DHL vehicle.

  3. Physical location
    This is Telefónica's home office (on its tower).
    This is a Zara store (over the entrance).

  4. Social presence
    This is a Movistar town (in a highway billboard).
    Hilton is in this country (in an airport sign).

  5. Signature
    This is a Samsung advertisement (at the bottom of a newspaper ad).
    This is a Claro document (in the cell phone service monthly bill). 

  6. Endorsement
    This is a Unilever product (on the back of the Dove soap bar package).
    This wine is from Concha y Toro cellars (in the «Casillero del Diablo» label).

  7. Patronage
    This park is looked after by McDonalds.
    This event is sponsored by Coca-Cola.

  8. Characteristic. Sometimes the graphic sign performs the function to qualify or express a feature of its own or of another entity. To witness:

    • History
      This enterprise is 50 years old.

    • Warranty
      Garbarino, «confidence guaranteed».
      Carrefour, «the lowest price or your money back».

    • Origin
      This is Rioja wine.
      This is a Cuban cigar.

    • Ingredients/materials
      This product includes NutraSweet.
      This dessert contains Oreo cookies.
      This computer has an Intel processor («Intel inside»).
      This product is made with recycled  materials.

    • Certification
      This is a ISO 9002 company.
      This product fulfills DIN specifications.

    • Compatibility
      This app is available for Android.
      This program is made for Windows 10.

    • Award
      This picture won a Cannes festival award.
      Opel Astra is named «Car of the Year» in Europe 2016.

    • Etc.

    As can be noticed, for a rapport to exist in which an entity qualifies or expresses a characteristic of another it is necessary the interaction between both graphic signs in the same statement or visual context: one will be the characterized sign of the entity and the sign of the other entity will act as characterizer.

We will then have eight functions clearly separated. Let's now analyze which of these functions is generally helpful to different kind of entities. And which kind of entities would be possible?  To expedite the analysis I propose five clusters that, essentially, include every possible case:

  • Organizations

  • Places

  • Productions

  • Campaigns

  • Attributes

Next we enlist the kind of entities included in each group and, at the same time, we state which of the 8 functions would be appropriate for each one of them:

Organizations

Enterprises, institutions, government organizations, political parties, government, government actions, etc.
Functions: all

Places

Cities, countries, regions, tourist names, origin denominations, etc.
Functions: all

Productions

Products, services, events, government programs, management or institutional programs, etc.
Functions: denomination, firm, sponsorship, characteristic

Campaigns (communication)

Advertising, promotions, public interest, proselytizing, welfare or any kind of undertakings, etc.
Functions: denomination, firm, characteristic

Attributes

Guarantee seals, compatibility indicators , norm compliance indicators, commemorative signs, rewards, ingredient lists, features lists , materials employed, etc.
Functions: denomination, characteristic

 

Function Organizations Places Productions Campaigns Attributes
1. Denomination
2. Ownership      
3. Physical location      
4. Presence      
5. Firm  
6. Endorsement      
7. Patronage    
8. Characteristic

And so we arrive to a sort of «possible functions map» for the graphic sign for each kind of entity. Of course the analysis of required functions must be done for each particular case. That's why we said they are functions that  «could» turn out to be applicable, because that will depend of each instance: not every organization need for its make indicate ownership, because not all own property; not all products need to show its endorsement to other brands; not every communication campaign need to boast presence, because most of them do not work in physical spaces; not all places need to sign its messages, etc.

Conclusion

What could be the use of the graphic identity function analysis we have gone through? Certainly to design better, to have more precise technical parameters before starting to develop graphic proposals, to evaluate existing graphic signs. In short, to know that a graphic identity must fulfill some definite functions, and not others, is a vital piece of information to determine a number of technical requirements it must comply with.  Designing a sign that is simultaneously good to close commercial messages and to indicate ownership implies considering graphic renderings, different to those of a brand that only need to act as backing to other entities.  The awareness of these functions can be determining (though surely not enough) to establish concrete graphic guidelines for the brand; how to limit its color palette, decide its identity typography and adequate graphic environment, or define its characteristics regarding other technical parameters (versatility, life span, reproducibility, legibility, call to attention, singularity, etc.).

Editor: Cristian Petit De Murat Atizapán de Zaragoza
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This article does not express the opinion of the editors and managers of FOROALFA, who assume no responsibility for its authorship and nature. To republish, except as specifically indicated, please request permission to author. Given the gratuity of this site and the hyper textual condition of the Web, we will be grateful if you avoid reproducing this article on other websites. Published on 16/11/2016.

Luciano Cassisi

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Elina Urbaneja
5 months ago

Useful information

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Nicole Garzón
One year ago

Great article, very interesting. The analysis you are making is pretty good which help every designer. Everyone should take this characterists in consideration because they would help us design better just like you say. The graphic identity is one of the main things graphic designers do, so itʼs very important this analysis you did.

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Vicente Sandoval
One year ago

Great job Luciano.

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