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Corporate Design

Author : Jonathan Foster-Smith


A rough guide to corporate identity

The tabloids report the millions spent by large corporate companies on their logos as a scandal... Those small swathes of colour adorning British Airways’ tail fin, ICI’s letterhead or Sainsbury’s checkout seem to come at a huge price.

So do these companies have too much money and not enough common sense? Are they victims of designer indulgence, or are they getting a good deal?

This isn’t rocket science, but it is often misunderstood, as the tabloids flagrantly show. Let’s start at the beginning. Every company has a corporate image. Every company from Joe’s One-Man Taxi Co. to IBM. It may be good, it might be bad. Put simply, corporate identity is the way in which an organisation is perceived.

Corporate identity describes the individual characteristics by which a company is recognised. It is the organisation’s sense of ‘self’ - the corporate individuality or personality. Visual identity (that’s the logo design) is a pretty big part of it.

So how deep into corporate identity do you want to go? Let’s really confuse matters.

The public, customers, employees, the city, all have a vastly different image of the same company. The image is an accumulation of a company’s past and present identity. Each and every encounter we have with it (by phone, in person or through the media) alters our impression. First impressions (what psychologists call the “primacy effect”) are vital to how we see the company in the future, and extremely difficult to change. Future encounters with the company and its products will only add to the mosaic already constructed in our mind (the “recency effect”), rather than replace it.

But the multi-nationals have bought far more than just a logo. They buy a carefully designed face - corporate plastic surgery, an appearance, an identity. And they’ve paid for a lorry-load of thinking behind it. They have funds and enough at stake to really do the job properly. The logo isn’t plucked from the sky, but selected with precision from thousands of others which were cast aside during its design.

A research team identifies the company’s needs (they are all so very different). A corporate ID programme uses the results and a design team is briefed. Ideas lead to solutions, and stage by stage presentation to the client for discussion and refinement.

Once completed, the ID is usually ‘rolled out’ gradually, strictly enforced by lengthy guidelines covering all possible applications. The advent of desktop publishing has both helped and hindered in-house bastardisation of corporate identity. Without consistency, the identity is ineffective, probably damaging.

There are companies in the UK still unconcerned by their image. Some feel the company is not developed enough to begin work on its image; others perceive astronomical costs, or just don’t care that their corporate communications look like the office dog ate them. And some just slap a logo on everything in sight.

You don’t have to spend millions on corporate Identity

Many household names would not exist without painstakingly designed and instigated schemes that we as customers seldom even consciously consider.

So what of those companies who don’t have millions to outlay on corporate identity programmes? Fortunately, the corporate identity for a smaller company tends to be far simpler.

Your corporate identity programme can be conducted in-house, just as the research and much of the development. Always keep it very simple, and brief an appropriate designer not a print company. Make sure you get on with them, and see some of their past work. Get a rough quote before you start. Cut down any wrong trees they are likely to bark up. Inspire them. Be direct. Be patient. Be decisive. Give them ‘creative freedom’. Ensure they get to know and understand your business. Try to see your company from the point of view of your target market.

Keep the number of presentations they make to you to a minimum. This adds importance to those meetings. Don’t compromise, but do stay open-minded. It doesn’t have to be expensive, and an investment in a well thought-out corporate identity for your business will reap its cost many times over, not to mention giving you a massive advantage over your badly-dressed competitors.

Next time you walk down the street, look out for Sainsbury’s which is certainly tasting better at last. It took their designers nearly three years to lose the ‘J’ and find a replacement for that ghastly orangey-beige. Check out Barclays’ gorgeous new global eagle. And while you’re there, you might remember that Tesco not so many years ago looked a little bit like Kwik Save does today. Next time you decide to skimp on the presentation of your company, think how much you spent on your best suit. Don’t turn up to the ball in your jeans!


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