Back in the 1920’s, a clever group of psychologists in Berlin came up with a theory of the mind that attempted to describe how people’s brains organise visual information. Inspired by the works of great philosophers such as Goethe, Kant and Hume, they came up with the Gestalt theory – a set of principles, which together try to explain how people systematize and apply meaning to visual objects.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” at some point. As simple as that phrase appears, it is a complex concept, which forms the essence of Gestalt theory. So what exactly do a bunch of early 20th century theorists have to do with corporate branding? Quite a lot, actually.
So what is a brand, anyway?
The word ‘brand‘ is one of those words that everyone knows and uses, but seems to mean different things to different people. Originally, a ‘brand’ name was a name assigned to a product to differentiate it from other similar products on the supermarket shelves. This still applies, but as almost anyone who has ever watched an episode of Mad Men will attest, there are greater forces at play in brand differentiation these days.
In a 21st century context, a brand can be described as the ‘personality’ or ‘image’ that is attached to an organisation, service or product, as perceived by the public. A designer cannot create a brand; only your audience can do that. But a designer can help you create the building blocks of a brand, which may include a logo and other visual devices.
The important thing to note is that audience perception is everything when it comes to building a brand. The potency of a brand relies on many things, but ultimately it depends on the audience’s perception. If an audience’s expectations align with the business’s objectives, then the brand has high potency.
All I need is a great logo, right?
Yes, and no.
A great logo is important. In a single glance, a logo can help identify a company or product. In an instant, a great logo can bypass all other forms of written or visual communication to convey a sense of the type of business you are or the type of products you produce.
But a logo, on its own, has no meaning. A logo, without a story, is simply another image on the landscape for people to interpret. Even the most beautiful logo in the world will be meaningless, unless its viewer assigns a value to it.
Put simply, how a logo looks is less important than what it means. And what it means is determined by the perceptions of the audience.
The role of identity design
This is where the art of identity design plays a leading role. While a designer cannot create your brand personality – only you can define the values that are important to your business – they can help you develop a visual identity that is aligned with your brand personality, which subsequently creates meaning in the minds of your audience.
Identity design is primarily concerned with the development of visual devices used to create the identity of a company or product. It is not your brand, but the arsenal of tools that you use to build and reinforce your brand.
The most obvious visual device used in identity design is a logo, but this just a starting point. Your identity extends beyond this. Your identity is embedded in the business cards you hand out to prospective clients; in the packaging you chose to wrap your product in, and in the music you choose for your corporate video. Your identity is communicated in the palette of colours you use, the choice of fonts, and selection of images you adopt across a range of different marketing scenarios; each decision designed to support your brand personality.
A great designer or creative director will not only help to create a good-looking set of tools for your toolbox, they’ll make sure that each tool is a distillation your brand values, and they’ll also guide you on how and when to use the right tools in a wholistic fashion to reinforce your brand in the minds of your audience.
So, while those German academics had probably never heard of corporate branding or logo design when they developed their Gestalt theory, they had a pretty good grasp on how the human mind works, and how it pays to consider the big picture when creating your corporate identity.
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