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Design For the Long Term

Design For the Long Term

Visual identifiers are signs that ensure our brands are noticed, remembered, and bought. 

In a competitive market it is important to differentiate our business to stand out from competitors. However, I would argue that it’s not appropriate to materially change your visual identity to reinforce a new differentiation strategy. 

Just as it would be misguided to chop and change the name of your business, so I believe a brand’s distinctive look and feel must endure long term. 

A brand’s identifiers, that is its name, tagline, logo, visual symbols, colour palette, sounds – its look and feel - should stay the same and be promoted so people readily recognise the brand and distinguish it from its competitors. 

A significant way in which a business remains memorable is if its identity stays constant over time, after its first 5 years or so of life. 

Choosing these elements well is critical because many of them are legally protectable as trademarks, or other intellectual property assets.  That’s if they’ve been well chosen. So, you need an appropriate long-term strategy to secure legal ownership over as many of them as possible. 

The better known your brand name and identifiers become, the more they do their job of containing and enhancing your brand’s value. 

In my view a designer’s creativity is needed to tweak brand identifiers, using existing brand assets in novel ways to give the brand a fresh look. It’s not to radically alter the individual identifiers beyond recognition. 

Had I known what I now know about branding and visual identity 10 years ago, I would never have allowed the graphic designer I hired to tweak my brand elements, to completely change them. 

She gave me a new logo, colours, and tagline. Although I was happy enough at the time, as I’ve discovered more about the role of brand identifiers, I’ve become dissatisfied! 

I still feel sad when I think about how all my brand elements were so cavalierly discarded in favour of new ones. I actually prefer the colours I was using back in 2014 – turquoise, brown and gold. They were far more distinctive than my current colours. 

Preserving existing assets should be the default approach because radically altering a business’ look and feel makes a brand more difficult to recognise. 

We have clear evidence of this from the Tropicana packaging redesign a few years ago. When packaging suddenly changes in a big way, people don’t recognise the brand on shelf. 

While in the Tropicana case the designers successfully met the brief, which was to create a more premium look, they also ended up making the brand unrecognisable in the process. 

The distinctive assets on the package such as the orange, straw, arched logo and orange banner at the top of the pack all disappeared. It was especially difficult to see the Tropicana name because the logo had been turned 90 degrees. 

The altered designs resulted in the loss of a fifth of Tropicana’s sales in a matter of weeks. Unsurprisingly, the redesigned packaging was immediately discontinued. 

While it’s true that the expensive mistake was the business’ own fault for requesting a more premium look, I think the design agency, as professionals, shares some of the blame. They should have known that radically changing visual designs is undesirable. 

There are businesses out there like Stella Artois, Nestle, Heinz and many others who have been using the same logo for a hundred years or more. They clearly understand the role of their identifiers, judging from the fact that they’re still using their old logos unchanged. 

You may want a new look because you’re bored with your branding, but the purpose of your identifiers is to enable consumers to recognise you. They’re not a fashion item. 

What do you think? Have you changed your visual designs? Once the novelty of the change wore off, were you still happy you made the change? 

Let me know.