Graphic identity: its aims

Not all graphic brands are used for the same purposes. Knowing in detail the functions that they must fulfill, is essential to design them well.

Retrato de Luciano Cassisi Luciano Cassisi Buenos Aires

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What are the logos of Shell, Rolling Stones (the¬†rock band), Dolby, DVD Video, MasterCard, T√úV Certification, Iram, Conferencia Episcopal Espa√Īola, 50¬ļ Aniversario de la Conferencia Episcopal Espa√Īola, Chupa Chups, Reciclable product, Energy Star Compliant, Conformit√© Europ√©enne , M√©xico, Lycra, Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Ministerio de Educaci√≥n del Ecuador, etc.,¬†used for? Obviously, all these logos¬†are used to visually refer to these entities, which are very diverse in nature: companies, institutions, places, government offices, products, certifications, communication campaigns, events, commemorations, artists, etc. But if we analyze each case¬†we will notice that it is possible to disaggregate this idea of ‚Äúvisually referring‚ÄĚ, differentiating much more specific functions. For example, the Dolby System logo, applied on an audio device, doesn't work¬†the same way as the Sony logo applied on the same device: the first one indicates a feature of the equipment and the other indicates who its manufacturer is. In the same way, the Lycra logo fulfills different functions when it's applied in a Lycra material packaging and when it is applied on the label of a product of another brand made with Lycra: in the first instance¬†the logo points out to the packaging contents (Lycra) and in the second one describes a feature of another product (made with Lycra).

If we analyze the typical uses of logos, we can distinguish eight distinct 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¬†Levi ľs (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¬†¬ęCasillero del Diablo¬Ľ label).

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

  8. Feature. 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, ¬ęconfidence guaranteed¬Ľ.
      Carrefour, ¬ęthe lowest price or your money back¬Ľ.

    • 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¬†(¬ęIntel inside¬Ľ).
      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 ¬ęCar of the Year¬Ľ 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 ‚óŹ ‚óŹ ‚óŹ ‚óŹ ‚óŹ
2. Ownership ‚óŹ ‚óŹ ¬† ¬† ¬†
3. Physical location ‚óŹ ‚óŹ ¬† ¬† ¬†
4. Presence ‚óŹ ‚óŹ ¬† ¬† ¬†
5. Firm ‚óŹ ‚óŹ ‚óŹ ‚óŹ ¬†
6. Endorsement ‚óŹ ‚óŹ ¬† ¬† ¬†
7. Patronage ‚óŹ ‚óŹ ‚óŹ ¬† ¬†
8. Characteristic ‚óŹ ‚óŹ ‚óŹ ‚óŹ ‚óŹ

And so we arrive to a sort of ¬ępossible functions¬†map¬Ľ 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 ¬†¬ęcould¬Ľ 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.).

Traducido por Cristian Petit De Murat Atizap√°n de Zaragoza

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Retrato de Nicole Garzón
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Nicole Garzón
Nov 2016

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 it ľs very important this analysis you did.

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Great job Luciano.

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