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How to create a visual identity.

HOW TO CREATE A VISUAL IDENTITY "Visual consistency involves more than just putting your logo on everything you print," says Lynne Marcus, a Boston-based graphic designer who was worked for such firms as MathSoft, Gunn Associates, and ComputerVision. "The secret is to define common visual themes--colors, type styles, publication grids, even text messages--and to repeat those themes over and over."

However, creating a common look can be surprisingly difficult, Marcus concedes, especially for companies that have already hired several different artists to design their magazine ads, packaging, direct mail, documentation, trade show booths, and other graphical materials. "Still, the effort is definitely worthwhile, because a common 'look and feel' really helps establish brand awareness among customers."

Marcus offers several suggestions for creating visual consistency:

* Make a List. Even a small company is likely to produce "literally dozens" of printed pieces--business cards, boxes, letterhead, manuals, order forms, labels, spec sheets, and the like. Creating an inventory of these materials is a good starting point for planning a design upgrade, says Marcus. "Even if you don't plan to make over every piece of printed material, it helps to have a good overview of the company's current look."

* Look for production economies. Before designing new printed materials, Marcus says it's a good idea to consider such issues as the length of print runs, the availability of in-house desktop publishing tools, and the use of common boxes for different products. "If you only produce a few hundred disks at a time, it's probably better to come up with a generic disk label that you can modify than to stock a two-year supply of four-color labels."

* Create a master style guide. Rather than redesign every piece of printed material all at once, Marcus recommends that a company should first bring in a designer to write a general-purpose style guide. "The rules don't have to be tremendously complex," she says, "but they should provide a framework that imposes some basic consistency on every appearance the company makes in print."

* Leave room for differences. "The really tough problem," says Marcus, is to find a balance between rules and the need to change messages and styles occasionally." Generally, strict consistency is less important when printed materials don't show up in the same context. "For example, a direct mail piece doesn't have to have exactly the same look as the product's package design."

* Don't get bored. Companies often get overexposed to their own visual campaigns and decide that customers will also want a fresh, new look. That's a mistake, Marcus warns. "It takes at least four or five repetitions before people even begin to notice you," she says. "When I was at ComputerVision, we ran one ad for a whole year. The ad ran everywhere, and response never dropped off."
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Title Annotation:graphic design for business use
Date:May 7, 1990
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